Growth factors have been a hot topic in dermatology recently for both anti-aging skincare and hair loss treatments. They can be applied topically, injected or even applied and micro-needled into the skin. Some companies are promoting growth factors as a Nobel Prize winning discovery (which is technically the truth) while a few doctors have expressed scepticism.
Here is everything there is to know about growth factors; their history, the current information and how they’re put to use.
What are Growth Factors?
Growth Factors are naturally occurring proteins that stimulate growth, healing and regeneration in living tissues. They’re found in all living cells, including your skin cells and collagen fibres.
As we get older, so do our cells, which results in fewer growth factors being naturally produced by our bodies. This means that muscle, skin and collagen don’t regenerate as efficiently as when we’re young. It’s part of the natural, complex process of ageing.
The role of growth factor proteins in human cell regeneration was first discovered in the 1950s. Scientists observed their ability to regenerate tissues and further research ensued. Rita Levi-Montalcini, who worked on the early discovery of growth factors, won a Nobel Prize for her work in 1986.
When injected into living tissue, growth factors can stimulate and accelerate the process of cell regeneration. They can promote tissue healing in your muscles, revitalise hair follicles in your scalp and stimulate collagen fibres and epidermal cells in the skin to help restore youthful plumping and elasticity.
Where do growth factors come from?
Growth factors can be produced in a laboratory or extracted from a sample of your own blood.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is the golden fluid derived from blood, rich in growth factors. In clinic, we would draw a sample of your own blood and use centrifuge technology to separate the PRP while you wait (it takes about 30 minutes). We would then inject it into the treatment area to promote the skin’s natural healing process, but more on that below.
As the power of injectable growth factors for skin and hair rejuvenation was discovered, investigations into topical applications followed naturally and growth factor serums were developed in laboratories for commercial use.
Lab-produced growth factors are now plant-based, but early versions of growth factor serums made in the 1990s used stem cells harvested from a human tissue sample and then multiplied in a Petrie dish. The sample came from a neonatal foreskin from a circumcision that took place years ago, but it essentially launched the celebrity “foreskin facial,” still gossiped about by beauties such as Sandra Bullock and Kate Beckinsale. Stem cells from a donated skin biopsy were later used in similar laboratories to produce serums for burn patients.
Advancements in bio engineering have enabled laboratories to move away from human sources of stem cells. Most lab-produced growth factors now come from plant sources such as barley seeds. Known in the skincare industry as Epidermal Growth Factors (EGF), these growth factors have the same structure as those found in our skin, but they were extracted from plants.
How are growth factors used for anti-ageing and skincare?
Both PRP and lab-produced growth factor serums can work for anti-ageing and textural concerns in the skin.
PRP injections, often promoted as the “vampire facial,” use a sample of your own blood to harvest the growth-factor rich PRP and inject it back into the skin. We use a specialised injection gun with multiple micro needles for greater accuracy and better diffusion of the PRP. The multiple micro needles also stimulate a micro wound healing response in your skin, which boosts the benefits of the PRP.
When injected into epidermal tissue, PRP acts like a growth factor supplement. It stimulates growth of collagen fibres and epidermal cells. It can help reduce fine lines and restore youthful plumpness and elasticity. It’s also effective at reducing dark circles around the eyes.
In our clinic, we also offer MicroNeedling with Growth factors. We use a clinical-strength growth factor serum (produced in a lab) along with a microneedling technique to help the serum penetrate and to stimulate a natural healing response in your skin. The natural healing response prompts your skin to produce more growth factors while it repairs collagen fibres. These treatments can help improve ageing on the superficial layer of skin, reduce superficial scarring and coarse pores.
What about growth factors for skincare at home?
You can purchase serums for at-home use that contain lab-produced epidermal growth factors (EGFs) such as rh Oligopeptide. When applied topically, they don’t penetrate the skin as deeply as PRP injections, but clinical studies have found improvements in skin texture and measured increases in collagen with regular, ongoing use of topical growth factor serums containing plant based EGFs.
How are growth factors used for hair loss?
PRP is our preferred method of growth factors for hair loss because of the results we’ve been able to achieve with it. As mentioned above, PRP is derived from a sample of your own blood and injected using a specialised injection gun.
The injection gun provides microneedling to the scalp at the same time that it injects PRP, which stimulates a micro wound healing response in your scalp. This healing response prompts your cells to release their own growth factors to repair the hair follicles. It works much more effectively with added growth factor supplement from PRP.
Why are some doctors sceptical?
The growth factor proteins found in at-home serums are technically too large to penetrate the natural barrier and be absorbed into our skin. There is so much evidence, however, that shows topical growth factors increase collagen, moisturisation and youthfulness in skin.
The leading hypothesis at the moment is that growth factors, when applied to the skin, set off a chain reaction that stimulates cells in the deeper layers, which then produce more growth factors themselves. This is still just a theoretical explanation, so it leaves some doctors sceptical.
Some procedures can also be used to help growth factors penetrate the skin. PRP can be injected into different layers of the skin, and microneedling can help topical growth factor serums penetrate the barrier for deeper absorption.
The bottom line is that serums containing growth factors are effective for at-home use, but the reasons why are still somewhat theoretical. They can also be powerfully boosted by professional treatments.