Growth factors are proving to be a breakthrough in anti-aging skincare. When I am asked if anything really works, I say look for products with growth factors. These powerful anti-agers are the key actives in some of the very best serums that I have discovered. And what are they? Well, here is my 2012 roundup of the Five Best Serums with Growth Factors. But first, what are they and why are they so effective?

Growth factors, or cytokines, are naturally occurring proteins that stimulate cells to go forth and multiply and differentiate themselves from other cells. Growth factors bind to specific receptors on the cell surfaces. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) was the first growth factor to be discovered and studied. One of the first practical uses of EGF by scientists was to accelerate the healing of skin. Some of the actives highlighted in this roundup of Five Bests started out as wound healers. Recently, many more types of growth factors have been found, specializing in many different things.

The starting point is a gene directly isolated from a human cell that codes for growth factors. Nowadays the growth factors are synthesized in the lab, which is why they are becoming ubiquitous enough to appear in face serums. Some of these Five Bests use complex recipes of different growth factors, others are major on one. They all, in my experience, give results:

AQ Skin Solutions Active Serum ($149 in the TIA shop). When I first reviewed this in May of this year, I said: “It works. I mean really works. And really what more is there to say. No ifs. No buts.” Being me, I did find a few more things to say including noting that the AQ active is at a 42% concentration. The AQ recipe has three groups of growth factors – TGF-Beta (stimulates collagen amongst other things, but also rather bossy and tells other cells what to do), GM-CSF (stimulates cell proliferation), PDGF (promotes wound healing). The rest of this serum’s formula is mercifully simple with vitamins and lactic acid. Read the full review.

Skin Nutrition Cell CPR ($170). Although there have been new kids on the block, I drift back to Cell CPR time and again. I like it because it uses a slew of interesting anti-aging ingredients as well as an epidermal growth factor. The one of choice here is Rh-oligopeptide-1 (Egf), a recombitant human epidermal growth factor consisting of a single chain protein with a maximum of 53 amino acids. I have seen it in hair-growth products, and it repairs wrinkles and wounds. It is rounded out with an interesting ingredient: adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is the main energy source for the majority of cellular – and muscular – functions. Cell CPR also has copper peptides and a peptide that helps exfoliate the skin. There are over 50 actives in all! Cell CPR is a light lotion that always gives me a healthy glow. Read the full review.

E’shee Cellular Repair Serum ($179 in the TIA shop). This a very effective serum based on one unique growth factor FGF1. E’shee says it works with Professor Chiu of Ohio State University, who patented the human FGF1 gene. FGF stands for fibroblast growth factor and a fibroblast is a type of cell that synthesizes the extracellular matrix and collagen. They also support angiogenesis, which is the growth of new blood vessels. Certainly, broken veins seem to diminish with this serum. Two hydrating ingredients ensure it isn’t drying. I saw the erasure of fine lines and a much better complexion overall. Read the full review.

ReLuma Skin Illuminating Serum ($145-$220). This highly effective serum has quite a complex combination of growth factors that can be isolated, such as PDGF, VEGF, FGF, IGF3 and TGF-B. Of these, TGF-B is thought to be the most important because its signals are recognized by the majority of cells. But it is the combination of them that is supposed to get results. For example, in order for TGF-b to stimulate fibroblast cell growth, the presence of PDGF is required. Overall the serum’s formula is super simple, just focusing on what matters. Read the full review.

Avitalin Radiance Growth Factors ($100). Avitalin focuses on improving skin texture and repairing the outer layer of skin. Its Radiance serum uses epidermal growth factor BT. The BT part is for “biotechnology” and it simply means that the protein has been synthesized in a laboratory. This intriguing serum has some other fascinating ingredients: a synthetic form of kinetin, water-retaining phospholipids, and deer antler velvet. I find Radiance very good at smoothing red, rough sun damaged areas. Avitalin is a brand to have on your radar. Also note that in response to feedback from the TIA community, Avitalin has improved the aroma of Radiance. Read the full review.

Finally, an honorable mention should go to BioEffect. This has a barley-derived EGF and I, personally, have had good results with this serum. However, several members of the Truth In Aging community find it oily and report breakouts. Also worth checking out is Nutra Lift’s Nano Reneu With Growth Factors. You still get what you pay for in the high-tech world of growth factors, but as always Nutra Lift is keenly priced at less than 50 bucks.

For those squeamish about human growth actives (although, as I said, they are artificially replicated in labs), there are many formulations that get their stem cells from plants. Coming soon: My Five Best with plant stem cells.

Ingredients in AQ: Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media, Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Polysorbate 20, Cellulose Gum, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Lactic Acid, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Phenoxyethanol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

Ingredients in Skin Nutrition: Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dipropylene Glycol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Lecithin, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Vitex Agnus Castus Extract, Stearic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Phytosphingosine, Malus Domestica Fruit Cell Culture, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Steareth-21, Panthenol, Retinyl Palmitate, Cyclodextrin, Hexanoyl Dipeptide-3, Norleucine Acetate, Centella Asiatica Extract, Lycium Barbarum Fruit Extract, Rh-oligopeptide-1 (Egf), Rh-polypeptide-1 (Bfgf), Copper Tripeptide-1, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Peg-12 Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Sodium Polyacrylate, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum, Isohexadecane, Polysorbate 60, Butylene Glycol, Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi Leaf Extract, Mitracarpus Scaber Extract, Superoxide Dismutase (Sod), Saccharomyces Ferment Lysate Filtrate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Adenosine Triphosphate (Atp), Yeast Polysaccharides, Acetyl Tyrosine, Proline, Oleyl Alcohol, Dioscorea Villosa (Wild Yam) Root Extract, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols, Perfluorodecalin, Ceramide 3, Rhodochrosite Extract, Hematite Extract, Phaeodactylum Tricornutum Extract, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Sodium Pca, Trehalose, Allantoin, Peg-32, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Steareth-2, Peg-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Alcohol,Disodium Edta, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hexylene Glycol.

Ingredients in E’Shee: Aqua, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Distillate, Propylene Glycol, 1.3 Butylene Glycol, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract, Glycerin, Morus Alba (Mulberry) Extract, Tinocare GL, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Triethanolamine, D-Panthenol, Lactic acid, Carbomer, Allantoin, Phenoxyethanol, FGF 1 (Recombinant Human acidic Fibroblast Growth Factor).

Ingredients in ReLuma: Human Adipose Derived Stem Cell Conditioned Media, Water, Glycerin, Sodium PCA, DL-Panthenol, Hydroxy Ethyl Cellulose, Allantoin, Phenoxyethanol.

Ingredients in Avitalin: Aloe barbadensis (aloe) juice, Cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, Olea europaea (olive) oil, vegetable glycerin, emulsifying wax, phospholipids, Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) oil, 6-Furfurylaminopurine (kinetin), deer velvet extract, EGF (epidermal growth factor BT), sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid), Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel), Persea americana (avocado) oil, tocopherol (Vitamin E), xanthan gum, Salix nigra (black willowbark) extract, Leuconostoc (radish root) ferment filtrate, Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oleoresin, fragrance (essential oils) .