Ingredient Check: What’s A Growth Factor? What’s EGF?

Every once in awhile, a particular ingredient (edible or otherwise) gets a ton of press and starts appearing in everything from drinks to lotions. Why? Is it all hype, or are there any real benefits? If there are benefits, what’s the best way for you to incorporate this new ingredient into your already-crowded life? We sort through the hype and do the research so you don’t have to. Welcome to Ingredient Check

WHAT IS IT?

Growth factors are a substance—like a hormone, vitamin, or protein—required for the stimulation of cellular growth. They’re naturally occurring, and typically act as signaling molecules. In the scientific world, “cytokine” is interchangeable with growth factor, though growth factor puts a more positive spin on the job; some cytokines can also inhibit cellular growth.

EGFs, specifically, are epidermal growth factors; they are responsible for cellular growth in the epidermis. That’s why, in skincare, we most often see the phrase EGF.

FUN FACTS

The Italian scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work and identification of growth factors (so did her research partner, Stanley Cohen); following her scientific career, she worked in the Italian senate. She lived to be 103!

According to Dr. Michael Longaker, who collaborated on this Stanford study of how EGFs accelerate wound healing, animals lick their wounds because their saliva contains a high concentration of EGFs.

WHY ARE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT IT?

In terms of skincare, growth factors, or EGFs, are included in creams and serums that claim to boost collagen production, lighten dark spots, and improve the overall appearance of skin. In the past, serums included human growth factors developed using stem cells. More recently, the elements of a human EGF are copied and grafted into apples or barley. Sounds like some wild beauty frontier? Yep—it is. 

DO YOU NEED IT? WHY?

Though EGFs have officially been linked with wound healing, they have yet to be officially linked to wrinkle-fixing. Some people equate “wounded skin” with aging skin, but that’s just not the case. However, some people have found success using it—others, the opposite. Peach & Lily’s Alicia Yoon told Glossier, “There are controversial studies around whether it can be harmful in high doses for different reasons, but it is commonly agreed on that there is no conclusive set of data that shows that the ingredient is truly dangerous.”

HOW TO GET IT

EGFs are present in a variety of serums, including BioEffect’s EGF Serum, made of genetically engineered barley in Iceland. There’s also DHC’s sumptuously jarred EGF Cream, Rodial’s Bee Venom Moisturizer, and Osmosis Stem Factor Serum. The DNAEGF Regeneration Serum by cosmetic surgeon Dr. Ronald Moy out in Beverly Hills also relies heavily on EGF.

Illustration by Rebekah Flores

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