The Magic of Growth Factors in Skin Care
If there is one topic within skin science, cosmetology, and even dermatology that could be considered the “holy grail”, it is anti-aging and growth factors in skin care. Developing ways to fight the appearance of lines, wrinkles, as well as inflammation and hyperpigmentation efficiently, has long been one of the main interests of skin researchers.
Over the last few years, one type of ingredient has made more headlines than most others. Growth factors (GFs) in skincare are treated like a magic ingredient we have been looking for. And whilst they are powerful, they are also very complex and unlike any other kind of skincare ingredient.
Throughout this and our next blog, we invite you to join us in the lab and look behind the scenes at cutting-edge skin science. This blog will dive into the science behind GFs and explain why they are so different from other skincare ingredients. In our next blog, we investigate why the source of growth factors is essential to their effectiveness and how you can tell what is in your chosen skincare products. Plus, we consider how GF skincare products complement in-clinic treatments.
Benefits of Growth Factors in Skincare
Before we dive into the science behind growth factors, it is worth looking at the benefits they have when it comes to your skincare regime.
Here are our top five benefits. GFs are:
- Anti-inflammatory: they reduce inflammation in the skin, which is crucial to improving skin health, alleviating inflammatory skin conditions, and preventing overall skin aging caused by permanent, low-level inflammation known as “inflammaging”.
- Anti-aging: GFs will help boost the production of collagen, elastin, and glycan, the structural fibers of the skin. This leads to an improvement in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and large pores.
- Cell multipliers: GFs help cells divide and multiply faster. This leads to a thicker, firmer, and tighter epidermis and dermis. You will notice that your skin appears firmer and tighter.
- Healers: GFs accelerate and promote healthy skin healing after in-clinic procedures such as micro-needling.
- Kind to scars: GFs can also minimize scarring during wound healing.
With this many characteristics in their favor, it is becoming clear why growth factors in skincare are so popular right now.
Growth Factors or Stem Cells?
Let us start by clearing up a common misunderstanding: skincare products taking advantage of the benefits of growth factors don’t contain actual stem cells. Some products claim to contain stem cells, but this is simply wrong. The science just doesn’t stack up. Instead, stem cells are cultivated in a laboratory to derive growth factors from them – more about this process later.
A Bit of Background on Stem Cells
Stem cells are incredibly powerful and intelligent cells that can replicate themselves multiple times. They can also change and differentiate, effectively becoming an altogether different type of cell.
This ability forms the foundation of regenerative medicine. What does regenerative medicine have to do with skincare? The two fields have much in common. Anti-aging skincare is all about repairing damage to your skin. By utilizing active ingredients like growth factors, we are trying to encourage the skin to undo the damage years of sun exposure, stress, and other environmental factors have done.
Within regenerative medicine, there are two pathways of bioactivity stem cells can take – engraftment and cell signaling. Bone marrow transplants, for example for the treatment of leukemia, are one instance of engraftment. In this case, the stem cells are injected into the patient where they will attach themselves to the damaged cells. The stem cells will cause their “host cell” to change its behavior and characteristics, thus stimulating healing.
Cell signaling or paracrine signaling makes up the second pathway of bioactivity of stem cells. In this case, the stem cell does not attach to another cell. Instead, it releases its own portfolio of proteins to communicate with other cells. These proteins are known as growth factors or cytokines. They are effectively creating a symphony of communications between cells. These communications are crucial to all cellular, biological, and molecular activity.
It may come as a surprise, but cell signaling makes up 95% of stem cell activity.
When we are exploiting the benefits of growth factors in skincare, we are taking advantage of the stem cell’s ability to produce and release those growth factors. Those GFs are the magic ingredients we apply topically to the skin.
Growth Factors or Cytokines?
Another common misconception to clear up! If you have already done some reading on this topic, you may have come across both terms – growth factors and cytokines, which are often used interchangeably. To be correct, the word cytokines refers to a broad category of tiny proteins that are important for cell signaling. Growth factors are merely one type of cytokine.
A great way of thinking of GFs is to consider them as messenger molecules. Our bodies produce thousands of them naturally, and they work according to a lock and key principle. When a growth factor protein travels to a nearby cell, it effectively becomes a key looking for a suitable lock. This lock is a surface receptor, ready to receive a message.
As they meet, the key delivers a message which travels to the cell’s nucleus or core. The cell will hear the message and execute it, which leads to changes in its biological function.
Both growth factors and other cytokines can deliver messages. Whilst growth factors tend to deliver messages encouraging cell proliferation, differentiation, and healing, cytokines more often deal with immune responses and inflammatory responses. As a result, GFs are what we want to utilize in skincare.
Putting Growth Factors Into Skincare
Growth factors are different from any other active ingredient you may have considered for your skincare regime. We have already mentioned that they are derived from powerful and intelligent stem cells.
One way of thinking about GFs compared to other active ingredients is to picture the relationship between a conductor and his orchestra. Growth factors mastermind the activity of other skincare ingredients. They optimize activity and allow the other components to realize their full potential.
By the way, if you are interested in the potential of other skincare ingredients, check out these recent blog posts:
Creating the best growth factor products for your skin requires time and attention to detail. With many other active ingredients, it is (simply) a case of extracting the ingredient and adding it to a cream or a serum.
Follow Us to the Lab
To make skincare products with growth factors, manufacturers need considerable time in the lab. The process starts by harvesting stem cells and isolating them (more about the sources in our next blog). Once that is done, they are sent to a laboratory for culturing. Imagine a somewhat more sophisticated petri dish filled with a liquid that scientists generally call broth.
From Stem Cells to Growth Factors
The broth is packed with nutrients such as enzymes and carbohydrates that the stem cell can feed on. The goal is to help the cell or cells to thrive and multiply. To create the best possible conditions for this process, scientists try to mimic the environment from which the stem cells were taken. Depending on their origin, the contents of the broth will differ as will the temperature.
We know that stem cells grow best in an environment that feels like home. If this environment is successfully recreated in a lab, the stem cells are more likely to behave like they would “at home”. They grow three-dimensionally, replicate, and divide.
They also start communicating by giving off cytokines and growth factors. If the setup is successful, the petri dish will run out of space eventually. At this moment, scientists extract the original cell to a new petri dish to start a new cell culture.
From the Petri Dish to Your Favorite Serum
What is left is an extremely rich broth full of growth factors. Those growth factors are the magic ingredient of your powerful skincare – not the original stem cells. The stem cells remain in the lab where they form the basis of new cell cultures to produce more growth factors and cytokines.
At this stage, you are left with a broth full of proteins ready to nourish your skin and prevent signs of aging. However, it is not as easy as adding the broth to a cream or a serum.
The proteins in their current form are not yet able to penetrate the external lipid layer of the skin. They are also unstable and would react to changes in temperature and other environmental factors. In other words, they would deteriorate and more or less fall apart on the skin or even in the bottle.
One way of stabilizing them is to wrap the proteins in nanoparticle envelopes. It’s not something you would see, but it helps preserve the integrity of our magic ingredients and allows them to penetrate the top layer of your skin, allowing them to do their anti-aging work.
Marie’s Favorite Growth Factor Products
There are vast differences between growth factors depending on their source and how they are combined into skincare products. We will talk more about that in our next blog and tell you how to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
Here are three of Marie’s favorite growth factor skincare products.
- 1) AnteAGE MD Serum
- 2) Aliquote Skin Ageless Neck Complex
- 3) Aliquote Skin BioMatrix Serum (available in-clinic, soon to be available online)
- 4) Aliquote Skin Genesis Eye Creme (coming out in March 2022)
Why Limiting Inflammation Is Key to Anti-Aging
To understand the potential benefits of growth factors in skincare it is worth considering some of the adverse effects of aging.
When we talk about anti-aging and skincare, we are really talking about healing. If you compare a child’s ability to heal to that of a middle-aged person, for example, you will see that the child heals much faster. No wonder we say that children fall and simply bounce, whereas adults take longer to recover from the same fall.
Fetal surgeons know this phenomenon only too well. Operations performed on a fetus during the second trimester generally leave no scars because the fetus is in a low-inflammation environment that facilitates healing. When we use growth factors in skincare, we tap into this heightened healing capacity.
Here are the figures: when humans are young, their healing capacity is high because bone marrow stem cells are abundant. As we get older, their number diminishes. By the time an adult is 50 years old, they only have about 2.5% of the stem cells circulating compared to the number they had during childhood. At the same time, we are more likely to develop low-level chronic inflammation known as inflammaging, which makes it harder for the skin to heal.
Despite that, many current anti-aging treatments cause some initial inflammation. They are based on the principle of causing a superficial injury to the skin that triggers healing and eventually leaves clients with healthier skin.
Growth factors in skincare allow scientists and clients to avoid inflammation completely and encourage healing straight away.
By applying growth factors in skincare, we are effectively restocking what we had in our youth. GFs are telling your skin to look and behave the way it did when you were younger. True anti-aging.
Growth Factors Were Not Made Equal
Throughout this blog, we have simply referred to growth factors as if they were one single, homogenous ingredient. That has helped set the scene but is a bit too simplistic.
In our next blog, we look closely at the sources of different growth factors and how they influence the outcome you can expect by using them. We also tell you how to tell the difference between higher and lower-quality growth factors when checking the labels of skincare products.
Plus, we will consider how GFs can benefit in-clinic treatments and where the future of GF-based skincare lies.