The role of topical growth factors
The role of topical growth factors and cytokines in wound healing has stimulated research to uncover the evolving benefits of growth factors in skin rejuvenation. Dermatologist Dr Zein Obagi explains the science
Growth factors are proteins that regulate cellular growth, proliferation and differentiation under controlled conditions. They play a critical role in maintaining healthy skin structure and function. Growth factors are secreted by all cell types found in the epidermis and dermis, including keratinocytes, fibroblasts and melanocytes.
Numerous growth factors are involved in complex and synergistic combinations to stimulate collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). They are also involved in regulating epithelial proliferation, differentiation, and other cellular functions. TGF-α (transforming growth factor- α) is involved in the regulation of systemic inflammation, including the pro-inflammatory condition psoriasis.
The use of topical growth factor agents has been demonstrated to speed the healing of open wounds. Furthermore, when used in conjunction with cosmetic procedures including chemical peels, laser and light based treatments, growth factors can also be effective in minimising downtime and optimising outcomes.
Essential agents for healthy skin
I classify topical agents in terms of falling into the categories of Essential and Supportive. Essential agents are fundamental for restoring skin health. These have been scientifically validated as having beneficial activity, and they are the only known substances that can return the skin to its best possible original state.
Topical agents in the essential category must offer one or more of the following features: intracellular activity, therapeutic effect, anti-inflammatory benefit, activation of cellular function, and/or improvement of the barrier function. The products, which are crucial to achieving Skin Health Restoration and successful maintenance include: vitamin A derivatives (tretinoin and retinol), hydroquinone (HQ), antioxidants, DNA-repair agents, anti-inflammatory agents, and growth factors
Growth factors are chemical messengers between cells to turn on or off specific cellular activities such as cell proliferation, chemotaxis, and extracellular matrix formation. Topical application of growth factors also reduces signs of photoageing by promoting fibroblast and keratinocyte proliferation, and inducing extracellular matrix formation. Growth factors can be derived from several sources including epidermal cells, human foreskin, placental cells, colostrum, recombinant bacteria, yeast, and plants. Growth factors can also be produced synthetically.
The use of human-derived growth factors in topical skin care products is controversial. Although human growth factors have been shown to repair photodamage through the induction of cell proliferation and differentiation, the associated increase in angiogenesis (secondary to excessive VEGF exposure) has also been shown to be a critical step in the transition of dormant tumours to malignancies. Furthermore, various types of melanomas have receptors for growth factors (e.g., VEGF).
Therefore, alternate, non-human sources of growth factors have been sought out to offer the same cutaneous benefits as the human-derived growth factors, but without the potential for stimulating skin cancers. Animal derived growth factors, such as one derived from a mollusk, have been shown to be effective substitutes in repairing photodamage. Kinetin, a plant derived topical growth factor, has similarly shown promise in repairing photodamage.
Synthetically-produced growth factor, composed of lipopeptides (the main active portions of growth factors, composed of small-chain amino acid sequences), has shown great potential in terms of providing the building blocks necessary for fibroblasts to produce collagen and elastin. These synthetic lipopeptides are one of the main ingredients in the best-selling ZO Ossential Advanced Growth Factor Serum. Since no human or animal product is directly applied to the skin when synthetic growth factors are used, their safety profile is enhanced.
Skin Health Ossential Growth Factor Serum Plus
This lightweight gel was formulated to help strengthen skin, support skin repair and protect against future signs of ageing. It is easy to tolerate for all skin types, even the most sensitive skin.
This unique formula contains the following advanced ingredients that offer extensive skin health benefits:
• Disodium acetyl glucosamine phosphate and fermented red ginseng extract: Stimulates cellular regeneration, collagen production and
synthesis of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)
• Retinol: Stimulates epidermal renewal and collagen production, and helps even skin tone
• Hydrolysed sericin: Enhances production of collagen and
• Dipeptide diaminobutyroyl benzylamide diacetate: Minimises the
appearance of expression lines
• Buddleja stem cell: Helps prevent future signs of ageing by protecting against cellular damage and collagen degradation
• DNA repair and protection complex: Enhances DNA repair and protects DNA from future damage
• Beta glucan and angelica polymorpha sinensis root extract: Calms and soothes irritated skin
Dr Zein Obagi is a board certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, and the Medical Director of ZO Skin Health and is responsible for the development of new skincare treatments, protocols and products to achieve healthy skin.