Role of growth factors in skin creams

Author: Anoma Ranaweera B.V. Sc; PhD (Clinical Biochemistry, University of Liverpool, UK), 2011.

What are growth factors?

Growth factors are proteins that regulate cellular growth, proliferation and differentiation under controlled conditions. They play an important part in maintaining healthy skin structure and function.

Growth factors are secreted by all cell types that make up the epidermis (outer layer of skin) and dermis (the layer of skin between the epidermis and subcutaneous tissue) of the skin including keratinocytes, fibroblasts and melanocytes.

How do growth factors work?

Growth factors applied to the skin surface penetrate the epidermis and in theory should ‘fertilise’ your skin.

What are the uses of topical skin creams containing growth factors?

Topical skin creams containing endogenous (produced in the body) growth factors are used as cosmeceuticals. A cosmeceutical is a substance that exerts both cosmetic and therapeutic benefits.

Skin creams containing a physiologically balanced mixture of growth factors and other proteins are available to reverse the signs and symptoms of:

Intrinsic ageing

In intrinsic ageing:

Extrinsic ageing

In extrinsic ageing, external factors are responsible, particularly ultraviolet radiation due to sun exposure. Extrinsic factors cause degradation of collagen as well as other key elements of the skin. This leads to:

What are the effects of growth factors in skin creams?

Results from multiple controlled clinical studies have shown that the application of skin creams containing growth factors:

What are the growth factors in commercially available skin creams?

Currently, there are several topical skin creams containing a single growth factor or multiple growth factors and cytokines (small protein molecules secreted by cells) available for sale over the counter. They may also contain soluble collagen, matrix proteins and antioxidants to neutralise free radicals. None of the products are FDA approved. They are available for sale over the counter.

Some growth factors used in skin creams
Growth factorFunction
Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-B) Stimulate collagen secretion
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) Stimulate new blood vessel formation
Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) Stimulate new blood vessel formation
Keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) Stimulate epithelial cell growth
Interleukins (IL-6, IL-7, IL-8) Reduce inflammation
Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) Promote formation of new blood vessels
Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) Promote cell growth and multiplication
Platelet-derived growth factor AA (PDGF-AA) Regulate cell growth and division
Transforming growth factors (TGF-B2 and B3) Stimulate collagen secretion
Granulocyte monocyte colony stimulating factor Increase number of white blood cells

How safe are skin creams containing human growth factors?

Human growth factors are messengers designed to be received or “heard” by specific receptor sites – the “ears” on the surface of skin cells. The main task of human growth factors is to cause cell division and multiplication. For example transforming growth factor (TGF) stimulates collagen production and epidermal growth factor stimulates skin-cell production.

Most of the research on human growth factors for skin has looked primarily at the issue of wound healing, and at short-term use. Much remains unknown at this time, especially in terms of long-term risk or stability, when growth factors are used in cosmetics and applied to skin. Well-controlled clinical studies are lacking.

Current concerns about using growth factors for cosmetic purposes include:

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