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Epidermal growth factors- do they work and are they safe?

November 30, 2011 Reviewed by Marta 11 Comments
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.
  • October 4, 2017

    by Cynthia

    Go over to skinadditives.com and look up EGF's It is a lot cheaper than what you all are paying for it. And, it is the same protein, I checked. I almost purchased the Bioeffet. My arms, bruise easily from being on Cortizon for a year and a half and my skin thinned. It is also thinning because I am 59 and loved the sun when I was younger. I am trying to fix the problem inside me and out. Any suggestions let me know. I have loads of C from the ordinary etc., And, taking supplements etc.,

  • August 26, 2015

    by Jean

    I am going to ask a very dumb question yet can't help to be curious. Have any of you wonder if EGF was derived from saliva, what will happen if we put our saliva on our face or skin? Beside being disgusting, why is EGF much effective than our saliva. I don't think our saliva will cause cancer anyway.

  • April 7, 2014

    by mucca1701

    Hey Marta. I've had the exactly same concern as you are having. I've only tried EGF once, but the morning after I'd used it my skin was SO nice! It was smooth, moist and glowing in a nice healthy looking way that it hasn't been since I don't know, before I turned 16... (I'm 27). I really do think EGF could work some miracles on my skin, and I'd love to incorporate it into my daily skin care routine!!
    But just like you, I do have some concerns about it. Me, myself I'm NOT a doctor nor a scientist - I'm just a nurse student (though half a year from graduating). And these are only thoughts based on my own knowledge: From the education that I've had on cancer, it seems to me that EGF is a mitogen but not a carcinogen.
    That means that EGF itself doesn't cause cancer, but if you do have a cancer it might develop and spread a lot faster due to the increase in cell proliferation that EGF causes. For a cell to become cancerous it implicates two things; initiation and promotion. Initiation implies an irreversible DNA damage (a mutation of the cell), for instance caused by excessive UV radiation. But for that cell to actually develop into a real cancer cell it will also need promotion - factors that indirectly and directly stimulate growth of the mutated cell. And this is where EGF comes into the picture, since it directly helps to upregulate cell growth (cell proliferation) and therefore plays a role in the "promotion process". To sum up, EGF itself is not mutagenic (does not lead to initiation), and therefore does not cause cancer! But if you already do have have a cancer, perhaps an undiagnosed one (if initation has already ocurred) it could, based on my knowledge and hence theoretically develop and spread much faster than it would otherwise have done. That further raises the question if skin cancer (non melanoma) which is normally less agressive than malign melanoma, since it usually develops slow and doesn't necessarily spread, suddenly could become a more serious cancer type with the use of EGF. Well, I don't know since i'm not a doctor! I'm just wondering, considering pros and cons... All in all I love what EGF does to my skin, and I think I will give a shot, a least until my 15 ml bottle is empy!

  • December 1, 2011

    by Denise Brown

    Marta, I appreciate your efforts and response regarding these issues with EFG and trying to make sense of all the conflicting science talk...I do hope you hear back from some of these companies for further clarification, and I look forward to what Bioeffect will be adding to their website. I will continue using the bottle that I purchased - but I will keep checking back to see if you get any further info...Still curious about losing my hair...Sanderson's sheep story still haunts me...Interesting little man...Since he insists that he was quite mild regarding the subject of EFG, I can't help but wonder if he is bald....Anyways, I do like Bioeffect and thank you again for your honest and sincere response!

  • December 1, 2011

    by Julie Kay

    Well written article, Marta. Although I am not worried, EGF skincare products seem to be garnering an astonishing amount disparate dialogue. In venacular enough to be troubling as many... at least my eyes start to glaze over after reading just so much scientific lingo. I use E'shee's serum and Regeniskin daily and have no plans to discontinue. When all's said and done, we probably have our informal uncounted casual inhouse "study" (i.e. those here who also use one or more EFG products). Peace ~jk

  • November 30, 2011

    by Marta

    Hi Gloria, if anyone has cancer they should consult their oncologist about everything they use. There's more on human fibroblast conditioned media here: http://truthinaging.com/ingredient-spotlight/stem-cells-and-human-conditioned-media

  • November 30, 2011

    by Gretchen

    I am wondering if EGF's would be unsafe if a person already has cancer (particularly skin cancer) whether he or she knows they have cancer or not?
    What is the difference between EGF's and conditioned human (adipose) stem cells in some serums? Are these stems cell serums safe?

  • November 30, 2011

    by Marta

    I am asking the companies to give more clarification on these issues and the mechanisms by which these actives work. Bioeffect said they would work on something and add it to their website soon. Looking forward to your review Gloria.

  • November 30, 2011

    by Gloria

    I have to echo what Jaysie and Junko have said Marta. I am very interested in finding out as much as possible. I too just got a new bottle of ReLuma and I have the Eshee serum as well. I so appreciate how much time, and effort you put into checking out the safety of these products. I know sometimes I get blindsided with how great it makes my skin look at the moment and not think about what could happen in the future. I know I have been using the E'Shee for a few weeks and loved the results I saw. I stopped briefly to try a new product I am working on a review of. Thanks Again Marta!

  • November 30, 2011

    by Junko

    Like Jaysie, I very much appreciate your time and work Marta, especially on the topic of EGF's. Relieved and happy with your findings too since I just ordered a new bottle of ReLuma last weekend!!

  • November 30, 2011

    by Jaysie

    Marta, I really appreciate that you invest so much time investigating products and ingredients and then bring it all down to Mayberry for us. The topic of growth factors is really complex, but I expect that a lot more information and opinions will be coming down the pike now that they are being used in beauty products aimed at a very wide market.

    Like with some drugs, cosmetic scientists will have a larger public to research and we'll hear about it.

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