The Science Behind Growth Factors: Exploring Their Sources, Penetration, and Efficacy

27 November 2023

Understanding the Different Sources and Applications of Growth Factors in Skincare

Growth factors have become a buzzword in the skincare industry, promising youthful and rejuvenated skin. But what exactly are growth factors, and how do they work? In this article, we delve into the world of growth factors, exploring their sources, penetration into the skin, and their efficacy in improving skin appearance. With insights from dermatologist Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, we aim to shed light on the science behind these intriguing skincare ingredients.

Different Sources of Growth Factors

The oldest source of growth factors in the market was obtained from cell fibroblast cultures of newborns’ foreskins. These fibroblasts, derived from fresh circumcision tissue, are cultured in a petri dish with media until they reach confluence. The resulting conditioned media contains growth factors, cytokines, and soluble proteins. However, the exact composition of these growth factors may vary from batch to batch.

Another source of growth factors is from fibroblasts taken from first-trimester human fetuses. These fibroblasts are cultured, and the spent media, which contains autologous growth factors, is collected. Autologous growth factors can also be obtained from the patient’s blood through platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which contains platelet-derived growth factor, epidermal growth factor, and vascular endothelial growth factor.

Penetration-Enhanced Growth Factors

Topical growth factors are large hydrophilic molecules that have difficulty penetrating the skin barrier. To enhance their penetration, some growth factor serum manufacturers have started incorporating liposomes. These liposomes act as carriers, facilitating the passage of growth factors through the skin layers and making them more physiologically active.

Safety Concerns

One of the concerns surrounding growth factors is their potential to promote the growth of premalignant and malignant cells. However, studies have not shown a significant increase in these lesions among users of growth factor-containing cosmeceuticals. Nevertheless, the safety of growth factors cannot be ignored, and further research is needed to fully understand their long-term effects.

Assessing Efficacy

Determining the efficacy of growth factors can be challenging, as it is difficult to separate the effects of the growth factors from the moisturizing vehicle in which they are formulated. The vehicle itself can provide numerous skin benefits, such as improved hydration, softness, and smoothness. Expert graders often rely on subjective assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of growth factor cosmeceuticals, making it challenging to differentiate between the effects of the vehicle and the growth factors themselves.


Growth factors hold promise in the field of skincare, offering potential benefits for improving skin appearance. However, their exact mechanisms of action and long-term effects are still being studied. As the skincare industry continues to explore the potential of growth factors, it is crucial to conduct further research to ensure their safety and efficacy. In the meantime, consumers should approach growth factor products with caution, understanding the limitations and uncertainties surrounding their use.

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