Products containing growth factors are some of the scientifically savvy formulas on the market today, and as a result, they can often be intimidating or misunderstood. Here’s how they work, and why experts consider them the crème de la crème in anti-aging skin care.
What are growth factors, and how are they different from stem cells?
“Growth factors are intercellular substances known to influence cell proliferation, mobility, survival and morphogenesis,” says cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline. “Biologically speaking, stem cells are undifferentiated cells that produce growth factors and respond to cytokines [potent proteins]. They have the ability to differentiate into several kinds of cells based on their environment and what they are exposed to.”
Growth factors are found in the liquid byproduct from human stem cells that is cultivated in a lab and referred to as human stem cell conditioned media. Cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko has a great analogy: “Think of it like beer: You could describe beer as yeast cell conditioned media—the yeast grows in the water and grain mixture, culturing and conditioning it, but is then removed to make beer.” In addition to growth factors, the liquid also contains cytokines, enzymes and other molecules that amplify skin cells’ ability to communicate with each other.
How do they work in skin care?
With age, the body’s natural production of growth factors slows down, which is why several skin-care brands have added them to topical products. In skin-care formulation, stem cells are used to promote the production of growth factors. “As natural substances made by skin cells, they support the repair of skin that is damaged as a result of aging or various external and internal factors,” says New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD. “Growth factors improve the skin by promoting the formation of collagen and elastin, providing firmness and elasticity for a younger look.”
Koestline says growth factors in skin care have shown fantastic results with wound healing. “Based on the activity desired, skin-care companies most commonly use Transforming Growth Factor (TGF), which stimulates collagen production, or Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), which stimulates skin cell production.”
In-office, Dr. Levine says that “applying topical platelet-rich plasma (PRP) after a procedure, such as microneedling, can further increase growth factor production.” According to an article in Annals of Dermatology, PRP has drawn the attention of dermatologists for its various growth factors, including TGF, PDGF (platelet-derived growth factor), VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) and IGF (insulin-like growth factor), as well as its ability to treat wrinkles and rejuvenate skin.
Products to Try
Perhaps the holy grail of growth factor serums is SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ ($295), a dual-chamber formula: One chamber contains more than 450 natural growth factors and other proteins; the other holds a highly active blend of botanicals, marine extracts and peptides designed to assist the growth factor blend in supporting skin rejuvenation.
Another favorite is NEOCUTIS Bio Serum Firm ($275), which, like TNS, is beloved by dermatologists for its efficacy in the anti-aging arena. The mix of growth factors, peptides, hyaluronic acid and glucosamine targets multiple signs of aging, from crepey skin to fine lines, and absorbs easily on the face and neck.