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

22 November 2023

Growth factors have become a buzzword in the skincare industry, promising to rejuvenate and revitalize the 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 efficacy. We also address concerns about their safety and the challenges in assessing their effectiveness.

The Different Sources of Growth Factors

Growth factors can be obtained from various sources, each with its own advantages and considerations. The oldest method involves obtaining growth factors from cell fibroblast cultures of newborns’ foreskins. Fibroblasts from fresh circumcision tissue are cultured, and the conditioned media containing growth factors, cytokines, and soluble proteins are collected. Another source is fibroblasts taken from first-trimester human fetuses. The newest method involves obtaining growth factors from the patient’s own tissue, either through punch biopsy or platelet-rich plasma (PRP) derived from the patient’s blood.

Penetration-Enhanced Growth Factors

Topical application of growth factors faces a challenge due to their large size, which prevents them from penetrating the skin barrier. To overcome this obstacle, some growth factor serums are formulated with liposomes. These liposomes encapsulate the growth factors, allowing them to pass through the skin layers and potentially exert their effects on the viable epidermis and dermis.

Safety Concerns

There have been concerns about the potential of growth factors to promote the growth of premalignant and malignant cells. However, considering that growth factor products are primarily used by individuals with actinically damaged skin, the increase in these lesions would have been noticeable if such promotion were occurring. Nonetheless, the safety of growth factors remains an important consideration.

Assessing Efficacy and Challenges

Determining the efficacy of growth factors can be challenging due to the complex nature of skincare formulations. Moisturizing vehicles often accompany growth factors, making it difficult to separate the effects of the vehicle from the growth factors themselves. Studies that claim improved skin appearance often rely on expert graders’ assessments, which cannot differentiate between the effects of the vehicle and the growth factors. This poses a significant challenge in evaluating the true efficacy of growth factor cosmeceuticals.


Growth factors hold promise in the field of skincare, offering potential benefits such as improved skin barrier function, enhanced moisturization, and increased skin softness. However, their large size impedes their penetration into the skin, necessitating the use of techniques like microneedling or liposomal encapsulation. Safety concerns regarding the promotion of premalignant and malignant cells persist, although evidence suggests no significant increase in such lesions. Assessing the efficacy of growth factors is complicated by the presence of moisturizing vehicles in formulations, making it challenging to isolate the effects of the growth factors themselves. As the skincare industry continues to explore the potential of growth factors, further research and careful evaluation are necessary to fully understand their benefits and limitations.

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