This morning my routine took a little more thought than usual. In my mind were epidermal growth factors, EGF, the active ingredient in the Bioeffect serum that I have been using for several months, and in the Regeniskin cream that was recommended recently by Julie Kay. The Bioeffect is nearly empty, so I must decide whether to buy a new one (I have been using a free sample), and I need to consider two questions: does it work and is it safe?

The first question is easy to answer from a personal perspective. My skin is looking great and on that basis alone, I would have no hesitation in forking over my own cash for a new bottle. But what about on a more objective basis - do EGFs improve the appearance of skin, and if so, how?

According to an article published in The Surgeon in 2008, the first growth factor was isolated over 45 years ago, and since then “growth factor therapy has progressed into clinical practice in the treatment of wounds” (source). As a cat-owner, I was fascinated to find that Dr Mike Longaker in the Department of Surgery at Stanford points out that animals lick their wounds because their saliva includes a high concentration of EGF.

There are numerous clinical trials demonstrating that EGF accelerates wound healing, such as this 2006 study on rats. What is less clear, however, is the mechanism.

For example, I spent some time looking at the impact of EGF on collagen production and found the research to be contradictory. There is research that concludes that EGF has a positive effect: EGF “stimulates fibroblasts to secrete collagenase” (source) and “continuous topical application of epidermal growth factor (EGF) to granulation tissue increases the rate of collagen accumulation” (source).

Against this, I came across a confusing (to me anyway) study from 1987: “The proportion of collagen to protein synthesized decreased markedly with increasing concentrations of EGF.” But then the same study also stated that EGF “significantly increased” an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of collagen. Ultimately, this study concluded, “the results suggest that the stimulation of wound healing and collagen production by EGF is due to increased fibroblast proliferation, and not to increased expression of type I and III procollagen genes” (source).

While I don’t profess to understand EGF’s mechanism, I took three things away from what I found: it may, or may not, be helpful for collagen; it stimulates fibroblasts; and heals wounds. So far, fairly good.

However, Skin Biology (a company that makes copper peptide-based products, including Folligen) says that clinical studies on EGFs have been stopped due to “toxicities.” I have not been able to corroborate that. I did find one study on horses' eyes that used a “high dose of EGF” and concluded that the inflammatory response outweighed beneficial responses. On the other hand, a study on humans in 1993 concluded that the “tolerability of EGF was always excellent. These results indicate that EGF is safe and effective in reducing the healing time.” Overall, as far as I can tell, EGF as a wound therapy seems to be alive and well and still under study.

Anyhow, this seems to be a good place to segue to the second question: are EGFs safe? Most certainly not, according someone who has been very actively commenting on Truth In Aging and on my review of Bioeffect. This person said: "EGF is potentially carcinogenic" and  "cancer cells use EGF to create tumor growth."

These statements are very scary and obviously I don’t want to be slathering a carcinogenic gel over my face. I do want to try to get to the bottom of EGFs and their relationship with cancer, and have been reading as much on the subject as I can. This is what I, as a lay person, in summary, make of it all so far.

An overview of EPGs is given by David S. Goodsell, Ph.D, Associate Professor, The Scripps Research Institute, Department of Molecular Biology: “Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is a small mitogenic protein that is thought to be involved in mechanisms such as normal cell growth, oncogenesis, and wound healing." (source).

Now, the important role that EGF has in the regulation of cell growth, their proliferation, and differentiation comes about by the EGF binding to its receptor EGFR.

This receptor, the EGFR, can play a role in cancer. As far as I understand it, cell mutations lead to EGFR overexpression (known as upregulation) or overactivity, and these have been associated with a number of cancers. But it isn’t the EGFs themselves that lead to receptor overexpression. It does seem, though, that some types of cancer “have overactive signaling through the epidermal growth factor system. They either create excess amounts of the growth factor or develop mutant forms of the receptor that are unnaturally active.” In both cases, “researchers are attacking this problem by blocking the action of the receptor” (source).

A lot of reading later, it does appear that it is the receptor that can play a role in cancer. This is not triggered by the EGFs and I do not think that putting EGFs on your skin will cause cancer. This is a complex and fascinating area, and I will continue to keep trying to improve my understanding. For the time being, I feel comfortable making the decision to continue using Bioeffect, Regeniskin, E'shee and Hydropeptide, and continuing to sell some of them in the TIA store.