Where do growth factors in skin care come from? Considered the “holy grail” of anti-aging and 21st-century skincare, growth factors (or GFs) are one of the most promising ingredients skin scientists work with. 

In our previous blog, we explained why GFs are different from any other skincare ingredient. We talked about the huge benefits these proteins have for your skin and introduced the difference between stem cells, cytokines, and growth factors. Then we invited you to join us in the laboratory and learn more about how GFs are harvested. 

Part 2 picks up where part 1 left off, so if you have not had a chance to read it, check it out HERE. In this blog, we take a look at different types of growth factors. Understanding those variations allows you to spot what is in your favorite products. Last, but not least, we show you how and why GF skincare products complement in-clinic treatments. 


How Growth Factors in Skin Care Work: A Quick Recap


Growth factors are small proteins derived from stem cells. Despite some confusing labeling, skincare products do not contain actual stem cells, but GFs derived from stem cell cultures in a laboratory. Our bodies produce thousands of GFs every day. 

Those growth factors work like messengers. They travel from the stem cell to other cells and convince those cells to act in a certain way. Simply put, a GF protein can convince skin cells to act like they did when they were younger and, for example, rejuvenate.

As we age, our bodies create fewer GFs and send fewer rejuvenation messages. When you are using GF skincare products you are telling more cells to rejuvenate.

When our bodies produce and release growth factors, they release what dermatologists consider a full, physiologically balanced GF portfolio. No stem cell produces one single GF. In skincare, we mimic this behavior and look for the most beneficial combination of GF proteins.


Sources of Growth Factors in Skin Care


Choosing the most suitable combination of GFs for skincare products starts with picking the right stem cells to cultivate in the lab. Stem cells come from different sources, including humans, animals, and plants. Their characteristics and benefits differ widely. 


1. Fibroblast Stem Cells

Ex: SkinMedica Skin Care Line

Fibroblast cells were the first type of stem cells harvested from humans. GFs derived from those cells came to the market about 20 years ago, when this technology was in its infancy. 

They have several benefits. One of those advantages is a substantial amount of scientific research on their mechanics and the effects they have on other tissues. 

Another benefit is their abundance. This type of cell is very common in our body’s connective tissue. Fibroblasts are powerful collagen and elastin producers, which means they play a big role in anti-aging skincare. However, their ability to produce growth factors is limited. Compared to bone marrow stem cells, they only produce a fraction of GFs. 

Moreover, fibroblast-derived GFs have pro-inflammatory characteristics and may well cause sub-clinical inflammation in the skin. As we discussed in part 1 of this blog, inflammation is the single biggest reason for skin aging. As a rule, skin scientists want to limit inflammatory skin responses. 


2. Adipose Stem Cells

Ex: Osmosis Skin Care Line

Adipose or fat stem cells have become a favorite choice of manufacturers. They are abundant, cheap to harvest, and easy to grow in the lab. In many cases, adipose stem cells can be taken from liposuction waste. Unlike fibroblasts, they produce a lot of growth factors. 

However, there are a few disadvantages to using adipose cells. 

First, they have not been studied as thoroughly as fibroblasts. Despite some clinical trials, we may not yet know all the risks associated with using these GFs. 

Second, adipose cells have important endocrine functions in our bodies. They secrete hormones into the bloodstream, which may have unintended effects on tissues. 

Third, they are considered highly inflammatory, releasing several GFs that may disrupt healthy biochemical pathways in the body. 

What does that mean for your skincare? Applying GFs derived from adipose stem cells is not a great idea because of the inflammatory reaction. You may not notice this as a negative straight away. 

In its initial stages, low-level inflammation may even plump up your skin. That is because it leads to water retention, which makes fine lines disappear. However, what happens beneath the top layer of the skin is less healthy. Once the inflammation settles down, the visible effects of aging will be greater. 


3. Cell Lysates

Ex: NeoCutis Skin Care Line

You may want to skip this part if you don’t have a strong stomach. 

Cell lysates are liquids that result from a process of breaking down cell membranes. Some of the lysates used to derive GFs are highly controversial because they come from pre-embryonic sources including unfertilized human eggs. They may also be harvested from aborted fetal tissues. 

Bottom line, they are not great for any aesthetic applications. This is not because of their origin but due to the treatment process. It makes it very hard to filter out intact GFs, and would not result in the natural, intact GF portfolio skin scientists are looking for. 


4. Animal Derivatives

Ex: Calecim Professional Multi-Action Cream

Some GF-based skincare products advertise growth factors derived from animal-based sources like sheep placenta or snail slime. There is very little research available about any benefits, and most of it has been produced by the respective manufacturers.

Snail mucosa especially causes inflammatory reactions. Plus, they cross-react with common household dust mites, putting you at risk for allergic reactions and other detrimental side effects. 


5. Plant Derivatives

Ex: ZO Growth Factors Serum

Plant-derived growth factors are also known as botanicals. Botanicals have their place in skin science and skincare. They can have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may also have antimicrobial components. 

Nevertheless, they are not as powerful as GFs derived from different types of human stem cells. Growth factors work by communicating with cells and encouraging them to work in a specific way. Plant derivatives cannot achieve the same effect because of the “language barrier” between plants and humans. Both organisms speak a fundamentally different biological language. 

What plant-derived growth factors can do is complement human derivatives. They cannot stand out on their own and equal the potential of human-derived GFs.  

6. Bone Marrow Stem Cells

Ex: AnteAGE MD Skin Care Line

We have mentioned the “holy grail” of growth factors in skincare both in the first part of this blog and in this one. Here is the closest source of GFs we have: bone marrow stem cells. 

Bone marrow stem cells are more powerful than the cells we have previously mentioned. They control regeneration and repair throughout all parts of our body, including the skin. 

The process is fascinating, even if you are not a scientist: from the bone marrow, these stem cells travel through the body via the bloodstream. They are the only type of stem cell that can move like this. All other types of stem cells remain in their original niche. 

Like a police patrol, bone marrow stem cells check for problems. If they find injured or damaged tissue, they remain in place and repair it. These stem cells do this by secreting the exact cytokines and growth factors the damaged cells need. Think of it as a drugstore filling your prescription. 

Apart from patrolling the body and healing damaged tissue, bone marrow stem cells have a few other roles to play. 

  • Conductor: imagine your body as an orchestra. If all instruments play well together, the result is simply beautiful. Likewise, if all cells of your body work optimally, you are healthy and full of energy. Bone marrow stem cells conduct the orchestra of cells, telling other cells what to do and when. 
  • Building blocks: these stem cells can transform themselves into different types of cells and become part of another tissue.
  • Firefighters: bone marrow stem cells are capable of reducing inflammation. This sets them apart from fibroblasts and adipose stem cells. 

There is nothing superior to bone marrow when it comes to healing adult tissue.

All cells produce proteins but in very different patterns, with very different effects. The bone marrow is the only source of stem cells designed to heal. Umbilical or amniotic stem cells have created headlines, but their job is to help generate a new human. This makes them less than ideal for healing adult tissue. 

Sourcing Bone Marrow

Scientists, physicians, and skincare manufacturers can source bone marrow from government-regulated donor banks. 

Donating bone marrow requires a spinal tap, so it is a somewhat more involved procedure than, say, a blood donation. Donors are routinely screened for general health and any infectious diseases. 

For the cultivation of growth factors for skincare products, the age of the donor matters. As we age, even bone marrow stem cells slow down. The growth factors they secrete reflect those aging characteristics. Ideally, donors are between 18 to 24 years of age for their bone marrow stem cells to be viable for this purpose and optimal for the generation best blend of growth factors.


Read the Label

With all of this science behind you, how do you choose the best growth factor product for skin? Be sure to read the label. 

“Conditioned media” is the term denoting growth factors in a product. Before those words, the manufacturer should specify the source. For example, “bone marrow stem cell conditioned media” tells you that this serum contains GFs derived from the best possible source.

Be aware of designations like “human stem cell-derived conditioned media”. Whilst this does confirm that the source of the growth factors was not a plant or an animal, it is a little generic. In most cases, generic descriptions like this mean that the GFs were derived from adipose stem cells. Remember, those are cheaper to cultivate but also highly inflammatory. This practice is legal, but perhaps not the most honest way of communicating. 

In addition, take a look at our previous blog for some of Marie’s favorite growth factor skincare products.


Growth Factors and In-Clinic Treatments

The benefits of growth factors in skincare have been well established, especially when it comes to GFs derived from bone marrow. Using them as part of your skincare regime means taking advantage of the most powerful and effective anti-aging skincare available. 

Beyond that, you can benefit from combining GF-based skincare with in-clinic treatments at our SkinScience clinic. These skincare products work in synergy with the following treatments: 


We use bone marrow-derived growth factors post-procedure. These products speed up healing and minimize any scarring. 

Remember, bone marrow stem cells have unique healing capacities. Whilst some treatments cause micro-damage to the skin, growth factors in skincare are the ideal product to maximize skin repair and reduce any redness or irritation. 

Making these products part of your post-procedure skincare regime allows you to recover even sooner and enjoy fresher, healthier-looking skin.  


The Future of Growth Factors in Skin Care

Growth factor-based skincare products are on the cutting edge of skincare. In the future, we are likely to see them be used more widely in more skincare products, as the cultivation process becomes more cost-effective. 

Another critical element of the future of growth factors in skincare is the delivery of protein to your skin. As we cultivate them in the petri dish, GFs are not stable enough to sit in a bottle on a shelf waiting for you to purchase a product. Scientists currently wrap them in nanoparticles to stabilize them and help them penetrate the top layer of the skin. 

The future lies in what we call the exosome delivery system. Think of exosomes as small, fluid-filled bladders. They will make the delivery of growth factors into the deeper layers of your skin much more efficient. In fact, the potential of this technology stretches well beyond skincare. 

However, at this stage, exosome technology is not yet far enough developed to create stable skincare products. Manufacturers laying claim to this on their creams and serums are not telling the whole story. 

The most powerful and effective skincare regimes focus on reducing inflammation. Selecting bone marrow-derived growth factor products for your skincare is part of that. Looking after your skin following treatments and procedures is equally important. Follow these guidelines, and enjoy the benefits of leading anti-aging technology and science for your skin.


 - SkinScience