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Understanding Growth Factors

For those looking to both prevent and reduce the visible signs of aging and maintain or restore a youthful glow, medical grade skin care is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective places to start. One key ingredient doctors and aestheticians across the country turn to for healthy, glowing skin is growth factors.

What Are Growth Factors

Growth factors are naturally found all over our body, including in our skin. They are signal molecules, which tell our cells to divide, repair, and grow. In the skin, they are responsible for repairing everyday damage, such as that from sun exposure, and supporting proper skin cell turnover.

However, one of the most important roles that growth factors play in aging skin is stimulating the fibroblasts (key skin cells within the dermis) which house our collagen and elastin. Collagen plays a critical role in maintaining the health and appearance of the skin and is primarily responsible for keeping skin elastic and plump. Since collagen production declines considerably with age, the role of growth factors in stimulating fibroblasts becomes vital for healthy, firm skin.

Types of Growth Factors

There are numerous types of growth factors, which are derived from a variety of sources. Typically, growth factors are divided into two groups: human derived and plant derived.

The human derived subset has a number of sources which include:

1. Your own blood, known as platelet rich plasma (PRP)

2. Adipose (fat) tissue

3. Bone marrow

4. Skin cells

Human Derived sources contain stem cells which are cells that have the potential to produce growth factors and cytokines that support any type of cell in the body. Keep in mind that unlike bone marrow and fat derived growth factors, skin derived growth factors are taken from the same tissue they are going to support, so their potential to support and stimulate fibroblasts in the skin is much higher (1,6).

Plant derived growth factors on the other hand are bioengineered in a lab to mimic human derived growth factors. Unlike human derived growth factors, they typically mimic a single type of growth factor. Sources for this process include barley and corn (1, 4, 6).

Skin Derived Growth Factors

You may be wondering where skin derived growth factors are sourced from, which has been a topic of contention for some people. While different companies have different sources, we will briefly discuss our two best-selling and favorite lines: SkinMedica® and Neocutis®.

SkinMedica®, whose growth factor line has been around the longest and has racked up tons of amazing clinical studies on its benefits, uses skin-derived growth factors from a single circumcision of neonatal foreskin. Don’t worry, no actual pieces of foreskin are contained in any SkinMedica® products (1,2,6).

The Neocutis® line is hand crafted in a lab from a cell line known as Processed Skin Proteins (PSP) which contains over 100 growth factors and cytokines that have been demonstrated to promote scarless wound healing. Some of the controversy you may hear about the Neocutis® line has to do with the fact that the cells were derived from a 4 cm donation of fetal fibroblasts from a 14-week unviable fetus. It’s important to note however, that the mother donated the fetal biopsy from a pregnancy that was terminated due to medically necessary reasons. Furthermore, no fetus particles are contained in any Neocutis® product. In fact, they have a reputation for being one of the cleanest lines on the market today.

Which is Better – Plant Derived or Human Derived Growth Factors?

Our skin processes are complex and skin rejuvenation does not occur from a single growth factor alone, but from a synergistic interaction of several. Components needed for skin rejuvenation include growth factors (platelet derived, vascular endothelial, epidermal and keratinocyte) as well as cytokines such as TNF-a, IL-6, IL-8, which work together to support the complex skin turnover process. Human derived growth factors have the ability to stimulate the production of all of these molecules, whereas plant derived contain only a select type of growth factor (1,3,4,5,6,7).

Therefore, while both types have been shown in research to be effective for reducing wrinkles, improving firmness and elasticity, and boosting skin cell turnover (2,3,4,5,6,7), we prefer human derived products for most patients as they offer a more complete profile of growth factors and cytokines, as mentioned above.

However, for younger patients, or those who have concerns regarding the sourcing of human derived growth factors, plant derived products such as the Obagi® Professional C Peptide Complex are a great place to start. Plant derived growth factors also tend to be less expensive making them a nice option for patients looking for a test run.

How and When to Use

Growth factor serums should be applied twice daily, on clean, dry skin. Remember to apply to your neck and décollete as well for optimal anti-aging effects. It is important to pair with a broad-spectrum SPF during the day to minimize sun damage and photo-aging. In addition, antioxidants and retinoids work perfectly alongside growth factors, and can help speed up the results. Researchers have found that optimal results occur after 6-12 weeks of use twice per day (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) but many patients find them to work much faster.

Depending on your skin type and needs, there are different products to choose from. For example, those with oily or acne prone skin tend to migrate to Neocutis® BioGel while those with dry or mature skin may opt to use the Neocutis® BioCream Riche. The TNS Essential Serum by SkinMedica® offers a one stop for patients who want to consolidate their daily routines. Feel free to give us a call with any questions on which products may be best for you.


1.Aldag, C., Teixeira, D. N., & Leventhal, P. S. (2016). Skin rejuvenation using cosmetic products containing growth factors, cytokines, and matrikines: a review of the literature. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 9, 411.

2.Gold, M. H., Goldman, M. P., & Biron, J. (2007). Efficacy of novel skin cream containing mixture of human growth factors and cytokines for skin rejuvenation. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 6(2), 197.

3.Hussain, M., Phelps, R., & Goldberg, D. J. (2008). Clinical, histologic, and ultrastructural changes after use of human growth factor and cytokine skin cream for the treatment of skin rejuvenation. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 10(2), 104-109.

4. Katz BE, Bruck MC. Efficacy and tolerability of kinetin 0.1% cream for improving the signs of photoaging in facial and neck skin. Cosmet Dermatology. 2006;19(12):736-741.

5. McCall-Perez F, Stephens TJ, Herndon JH Jr. Efficacy and tolerability of a facial serum for fine lines, wrinkles, and photodamaged skin. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011;4(7):51-54.

6.Mehta, R. C., Smith, S. R., Grove, G. L., Ford, R. O., Canfield, W., Donofrio, L. M., … & Leyden, J. J. (2008). Reduction in facial photodamage by a topical growth factor product. Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD, 7(9), 864-871.

7.Schouest, J. M., Luu, T. K., & Moy, R. L. (2012). Improved texture and appearance of human facial skin after daily topical application of barley produced, synthetic, human-like epidermal growth factor (EGF) serum. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 11(5), 61.

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