1st December 2022

Growth Factors: Demystifying The Science Behind Their Use In Skin Anti-Ageing

Last Modified: December 3, 2022

The skin is the largest organ of the human body and protects it from external factors such as bacteria, chemicals, and temperature.

It contains secretions that can kill bacteria, and the pigment melanin provides chemical pigment defense against ultraviolet light, the number one external threat to skin cells.

The skin also plays a role in thermal regulation, water retention and cell regeneration.

Despite these diverse and critical functions, the skin is not invulnerable. All thanks to ageing.

This complex biological process is characterised by a progressive reduction in the optimal function of nearly every aspect of skin biology.

  • The epidermis's capacity for self-renewal, which provides vital barrier function, declines with age.
  • The skin's extracellular collagen matrix, which makes up the bulk of the skin and gives it strength and resilience, gradually degrades,
  • Then there is cellular senescence. Senescent cells are troublesome in that they eventually stop multiplying but do not die off when they should. Instead, they persist and continue to release chemicals that can trigger inflammation.

Like a mouldy piece of fruit that corrupts the entire bowl, a relatively small number of senescent cells can persist and spread inflammation that can damage neighbouring cells.

The number of senescent cells in a person's body increases with age, leading to skin detoriaration along with a host of other age-related issues.

Depending on genetics and environmental factors, the normal physiological functions of the skin may decrease by 50% in one's lifetime!

It is no surprise, then, that the effects of the passage of time are most noticeable on the skin. In addition, UV radiation, excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco abuse, environmental pollution and other factors can influence and accelerate this physiological process, causing the skin to age prematurely.

This is why finding ways to slow or even reverse the effects of skin ageing is of great interest to researchers. One such is the discovery of the power of growth factors when it comes to fighting skin ageing.

What Are Growth Factors?

Growth factors are signaling proteins that are naturally secreted by cells to reach receptors on the cell surface and stimulate cell growth, differentiation, survival, inflammation, and tissue repair.

These cellular responses stimulated by growth factors are involved to a greater extent in organ development, angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) and wound healing.

The effect of growth factors has been clinically demonstrated, for example in bone grafting and wound healing in orthopaedic and cardiac surgery, in addition to promising results in reducing hair loss.

More recently, interest in growth factors has been aroused in dermatology and cosmetology, especially in skin rejuvenation.

There are several types of growth factors, including vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), epidermal growth factor (EGF), and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)

However, in this post, we shall focus on fibroblast growth factor (FGF), which stimulates the synthesis of type 1 collagen and plays an important role in the control of skin ageing.

Why Fibroblasts Are So Important

If you read our blogs regularly, you know that stimulating collagen formation is one of the most important pillars of skin revitalisation.

This is because collagen produced by cells called fibroblasts is the protein responsible for the structure, elasticity and firmness of the skin.

These fibroblasts, found in the various layers of the dermis, produce an abundance of extracellular matrix proteins that promote skin health and slow skin ageing.

Unfortunately, during the ageing process, the proliferative and metabolic activity of fibroblasts decreases and their functions are impaired. This leads to a decrease in the synthesis of structural substances such as collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin.

In addition, decreased levels of growth factors, collagen and a reduction in epidermal and dermal thickness lead to wrinkles, sagging, skin blemishes, loss of tone, and other signs of skin ageing.

Fibroblasts thus play a critical role in preventing the formation of signs of skin ageing by producing these basic structural substances.

Collagen and elastin fibres provide skin firmness and elasticity, respectively while hyaluronic acid and chondroitin ensure the skin stays hydrated.

Growth Factors and Skin Anti- Ageing

The search for new ways to prevent or mitigate the ageing process is never ending and leads to the continued development of new cosmetic treatments.

Some are a great success while many don't go anywhere (or at the very least need more time to be perfected).

Fortunately, growth factors fall in the former group.

Research has shown that topical application of growth factors leads to improvements through the formation of new collagen, thickening of the epidermis and visible reduction of wrinkles.

Therefore, this class of growth factors has attracted the interest of cosmeceutical manufacturers as a promising anti-ageing agent.

Studies on the use of growth factors in the area of cutaneous wound healing (the process by which the skin repairs itself) have already shown positive results.

In the last decade, the application of growth factors as an skin anti-ageing solution has also been presenting promising results.

By stimulating the proliferation of cells such as fibroblasts and keratinocytes (the most dominant cell type in the epidermis), growth factors play an important role in the skin repair process.

This is done by replacing weakened collagen and elastin structures and repositioning the extracellular matrix, which helps cells to attach to and communicate better with neighbouring cells.

The use of growth factors has quickly become the new anti-ageing strategy to rejuvenate the skin and reverse the signs of photoaged skin.

Best Way To Use Growth Factors On Your Skin

Now for the big question: How can I benefit from growth factors?

For one, you will not harvest the little growth factors you have left and pump them into another part of your body.

At least not your own . Generally, growth factors are sourced from cultured human stem cells.

The best source being foetal cells from human embryos. No surprise this specific idea quickly fizzled out and went nowhere!

Today, growth factors found in serums, gels and creams are now bioengineered in the laboratory from all kinds of sources, from human stem cells (non-baby) to barley seed stem cells.

But do not worry, there are no actual human cells in these serums, only the proteins they give off. The cells from the donors' skin samples are fed a cell culture medium that provides them with all the essential vitamins and nutrients they need to thrive and secrete growth factors and cytokines.

The result of this process is a combination of hundreds of individual dermal growth factors and active proteins that is optimal for skin repair.

In general, growth factors are too large to penetrate well through the skin. For this reason, creams and serums containing growth factors applied after nighttime skincare routine can only do so much.

The best time to take full advantage of the potency of stem cell growth factors is directly after microneedling. Why?

Because microneedling creates thousands of microscopic punctures on the skin. These openings are large enough for the growth factors to slip through and start working in the skin immediately.

This promotes collagen formation and cell regeneration as well as shortens the recovery time after the Stem Cell Microneedling treatment. And let's not get started on all the wonderful benefits of microneedling alone.

Add growth factors to the mix and you can easily triple your skin gains!

Post Reviewed by: Dr Baldeep Farmah
Medically Reviewed on: 1st December 2022
Dr Baldeep Farmah is the Medical Director and lead Doctor of Dr Aesthetica, a Medical Aesthetic Clinic.

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