Human Growth Factors: Skin Care Science or Marketing Scam?

flawless skin
  • Many experts believe human growth factors will soon revolutionize skin care.
  • The anecdotal evidence suggesting they actually work is uniformly positive, although the science regarding growth factors remains largely mixed and inconclusive.
  • Buyers beware: many skin creams containing epidermal growth factors provide no benefits whatsoever.

There have been few, if any, new beauty products introduced to the market that have generated as much excitement or debate as those containing human growth factors, particularly with respect to their effectiveness as anti-aging serums and creams.

However, most of the literature currently available on the subject has been generated by the skin care companies themselves — very few double-blind peer-reviewed scientific studies have been performed to validate these products’ purported benefits.

The good news is that the legitimate studies which have been conducted on growth factors have generally been positive. Here’s what you need to know before trying it for yourself.

What exactly are human or epidermal growth factors?

Epidermal growth factors are tiny proteins naturally produced by skin cells. Made of 53 different amino acids, they stimulate cell growth, differentiation and proliferation.

There are dozens of different growth factors that work in our skin, producing components that provide firmness and elasticity while helping to maintain the skin’s natural protective functions. As we age, our bodies progressively produce fewer and fewer of these proteins.

Growth factors are also know for being the communicators involved in stem cell development. The ones used in many so-called “cosmeceuticals” tend to be produced through bio-engineering plant-based replicas of actual human protein.

What is a cosmeceutical?

The term “cosmeceutical” is used by cosmetic companies to describe certain high-end skin care products.

Bear in mind however that the US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act specifically states that it does not recognize any such category. A product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the law.

In other words, the FDA has not yet been convinced that cellular messengers or any other bio-engineered particles in beauty products function with the same degree of efficacy as pharmaceuticals, which are subjected to rigorous — and expensive — testing prior to approval.

This is why every cosmeceutical currently marketed in the United States is carefully labelled to avoid stating that the product in question has any actual drug properties.

How much do skin creams with growth factors cost?

“If one gram of gold cost around 30 euros, then one gram of growth factor can cost between 80,000 and 200,000 euros ($93,271 – $233,177 USD),” says Dr. Bjorn Orvar, a pioneering scientist in the field of growth factors and plant molecular genetics.

Incidentally, Dr. Orvar is also the Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of Bioeffect, a skincare brand born and produced in Iceland. Bioeffect’s skin creams containing EGF will easily run you over $100 per unit. Their 30 Day Treatment costs $290 at this moment.

According to Bioeffects, these products have proven benefits: independent double-blind studies have shown that the depth of wrinkles decreases significantly, skin thickness increases by more than 60%, and skin density increases by more than 30% over a period of two months use.

Which products actually work?

It depends on who you ask, of course. Most anecdotal reports are overwhelmingly positive, which is significant but hardly science.

That being said, one study published in the United States Library of Medicine states that “although several studies indicate that topically applied growth factors and cytokines have been clinically shown to promote skin rejuvenation, their large molecular size limits their ability to penetrate the tightly packed stratum corneum.”

In layman’s terms, growth factors applied topically are too typically too large to penetrate the deeper levels of the epidermis, where they really might have the potential to reverse some of the age-related damages caused to the skin.

Nevertheless, the study concludes on a generally positive note, adding that “one possible route of entry for larger molecules like growth factors and cytokines is through hair follicles, sweat glands, or compromised skin, for example, after microneedling or laser resurfacing. In addition, it may be possible to improve the penetration of growth factors and cytokines by chemical modification with lipophilic molecules.”

Bioeffect’s Dr. Orvar doesn’t dispute this, acknowledging that their serum is 10 to 15 times too thick to actually penetrate the skin. According to the company, its patented product is formulated to instead “send a message” to the relevant cells below the surface that it’s time to start producing collagen and elastin.

Other studies have demonstrably shown that isolated EGF’s can stimulate wound healing and skin regeneration. This isn’t a new revelation, however — it’s long been known that one of the reasons why some animals lick their wounds is because their saliva contains a high concentration of EGF.

There are many different EGFs and they do different things. TGF-b, for example, is alleged to stimulate collagen production, promote the synthesis of extracellular matrix proteins, and inhibit the thinning of your skin.

According to Linda Katz of the FDA, this is a common — yet illegal assertion. “To say something increases collagen production is a drug claim,” meaning that if true it would need to be subject to FDA scrutiny prior to being approved for the marketplace. “To date, only retinoids have been proven to increase collagen.”

The bottom line

If you have the money to maintain a daily skincare routine using products containing EGF, then it’s definitely worth investigating. Scientific evidence largely supports the claims of certain products, and the anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be dismissed.

However, you need to be very careful about which products you choose, as not all serums are created equal. Speak with a board-certified dermatologist before purchasing any anti-aging skin product. Many of the most effective brands are only available in private practices and sold by licensed skincare professionals.

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