On beauty shelves, there are skin care ingredients that have an obvious origin — like blueberry extract and clay — and those that seem to come from a sci-fi movie. In the latter category, epidermal growth factor (EGF) would probably top the list.
The skin care ingredient is actually something your body already produces. Essentially, EGF is a molecule in your skin that starts to decrease in your twenties. “From birth until adulthood, our bodies produce these signaling proteins called growth factors,” says Dr. Björn Örvarm, PhD, a plant molecular biologist and chief scientific officer of BIOEFFECT, a beauty brand whose star serum uses EGF as its main ingredient. “These proteins communicate with cells [and] send messages to repair and rejuvenate.” A more digestible way of putting it? “Think of EGF as musical conductors instructing all the different cells how and when to perform in harmony,” says Örvarm.
Though it’s been increasingly added to skin care formulas over the past couple of years, EGF is not new. “In 1986, Stanley Cohen won the Nobel Prize in Medicine based on his work recognizing the role EGF plays in cellular development by stimulating the growth of epidermal [the outermost layer of skin] cells,” says Anna De La Cruz, educational medical esthetician and formulator for brand Glo Skin Beauty. After that, research into EGF continued through the 2000s, she explains — first into medical-based applications and later into cosmetics, all because of its reparative powers.
If this sounds like collagen to you, that’s because the two are very similar. You lose EGF and collagen as you age, explains Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care. And using both ingredients in your beauty routine can boost the strength of your skin — though in different ways. Read on for expert intel on how these mysterious growth factors in skin care can benefit your complexion.
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The Benefits Of EGF In Skin Care
When used topically, EGF’s main perk is as an anti-aging superhero. “EGF shows the most benefits in photo-damaged skin with pigmentary issues and fine lines and wrinkles” says Ciraldo. Studies have also shown it reduces pore size and dark spots as it improves your skin texture, so consider adding it to your regimen if you’re battling hyperpigmentation.
Applying EGF topically stimulates your collagen levels, which is another reason why it’s an MVP for skin-smoothing concerns. “[EGF] will turn on receptors to accelerate collagen production and reportedly signal other changes we associate with healthy youthful skin,” Ciraldo adds. This is where the ingredient differs from collagen in beauty product formulas: EGF penetrates the skin and ups your collagen levels, says Ciraldo, while collagen is too big of a molecule to penetrate topically into your skin. “For this reason, collagen is classified as more of a moisturizing ingredient than a wrinkle improver,” she explains.
Growth factors are also incredibly strengthening. “I would say EGF is the ultimate ingredient for repair,” says De La Cruz, who explains it accelerates wound healing and promotes skin renewal. Since your complexion gets thinner as you age, EGF swoops in to counteract this by leading to the development of thicker skin, she says. Ciraldo adds that “EGF is reported to help in the production of elastin and keratinocytes in the epidermis.” Those are two components that keep your skin strong and plump.
Where Does EGF Come From?
There are all sorts of rumblings about where EGF comes from — including the rumor about being taken from foreskin — but there are essentially two common methods of sourcing the ingredient. The first is by producing it in bacteria, and the second is using extracted human or animal cells… the latter of which presents ethical, moral, and legal issues, says Örvarm.
Recently, there have been developments that have allowed for vegan EGF sourcing, says De La Cruz. If you’re looking for an EGF product that is not animal-sourced, Ciraldo recommends looking for labels marked as cruelty-free, Leaping Bunny certified, and vegan. These are typically derived from barley and a tobacco-like plant, she explains.
How To Use EGF In Skin Care
The good thing about EGF is it plays well with other beauty ingredients, so it’s easy to incorporate into your routine. Ciraldo says to determine the application time and frequency based on the actual product you get. Some serums can be applied twice a day while certain EGF eye treatments are meant to be used a couple of times a week. “It’s best to follow the directions on the particular formula you’re using,” she tells Bustle.
With that in mind, shop EGF-spiked skin care products below if you’re interested in adding the ingredient to your regimen.
Shop EGF Skin Care Products
A Radiance Boosting Face Mask
This face mask from celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas packs a real punch. The crux of the formula is multitasking niacinamide, which gets boosted by the EGF. Ultimately, a 20-minute session with mask will leave you with smoother and more radiant skin.
An Everyday Serum
Glo Skin Beauty’s EGF drops are vegan and cruelty-free, and can be easily blended with your moisturizer as a skin-plumping booster. The formula, which is sensitive skin-friendly, also hydrates via glycerin and sodium hyaluronate, so you’re getting two benefits in just one bottle.
A Science-First Serum
Overt’s EGF-packed serum is formulated by a group of doctors and chemical engineers that wanted to create science-backed skin care without any fillers. At $50 a pop, this serum is one of the most affordable ways to experiment with the ingredient.
A De-Puffing Eye Treatment
These Bioeffect eye masks gently hydrate the delicate area of your skin to help smooth wrinkles and fine lines. They also reduce those early morning signs of fatigue and puffiness — thanks to EGF, hyaluronic acid, and soothing Icelandic water — and only take 15 minutes to work their magic.
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Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare.
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