In a world jam-packed with "must-have" skin-care products and "buzzy" new ingredients, it's trickier than ever to sort the wow from the waste of time. Should you be using retinol or is glycolic acid your best bet? And what even are ceramides?
Any qualified skin specialist will tell you that you don't need to use all of these hyped-up ingredients to achieve smooth, glowing skin. But one ingredient in particular is piquing the interest of skin-care enthusiasts, aestheticians and dermatologists, and popular beauty brands across the board, and that's epidermal growth factors — or EGF.
What are epidermal growth factors (EGF) and where do they come from?
Epidermal growth factors aren't as confusing as the name hints. "EGF is a type of peptide or protein chain that was developed specifically to speed up wound healing at the cellular level," explains Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist, founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skin Care, and author of "Glow From Within." (If EGF could have an ambassador, it would be Vargas.) EGF stimulates skin cell growth, and beyond healing wounds, they have a place in anti-aging skincare, too.
Claire Williams, skin specialist and founder of WOW Facial in London, suspects EGF's rise in popularity is due to the fact that, when applied topically, EGF encourages new skin cell growth while boosting collagen and elastin. Both of these things are found in skin naturally and help to keep it plump and youthful but production slows down as we age, leading to sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles, Williams says. "Using epidermal growth factors in anti-aging products can reactivate the skin's ability to produce collagen and elastin, leading to rejuvenated skin."
"It’s the new frontier in biotech skin care," explains Angela Caglia, esthetician and founder of her eponymous skin-care brand. "I’ve never liked retinols because of the way they sensitize the lipid barrier of the skin — the EGFs stimulate collagen, brighten, and reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles without any downtime."
Williams recommends doing your research to know where the EGF in your chosen skin-care product come from so that they align with your personal values. "There are many skin-care ranges that include EGF," she says, "but the thing to consider is whether you want 'bio EGF' (which is human or animal-derived; remember Kate Beckinsale's Korean baby foreskin facial?) or 'phyto-derived,' meaning it comes from plants." Williams adds: "To be clear, bio-EGF doesn't contain any actual human body parts. I'm a vegetarian so the idea of using animal-derived products doesn't sit well with me." Instead, both Williams and Vargas opt for a plant-based option.
What are the skin benefits of EGF?
All those naturally occurring peptides are good for more than just helping to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Vargas shared that some of the benefits of EGF also include the evening of skin tone, moisture replenishment (which makes skin smooth, soft, and glowy), and conditioning. It can also help with preventing pigmentation caused by anything from skin staining left behind by acne, to dark spots caused by sun damage.
That's not all, though. Shirley Madhère, MD, holistic plastic surgeon and founder of Jet Set Beauty Rx, explains that EGF also can help strengthen the skin's natural barrier. "When applied as a topical ingredient, its effects on the skin may be to stimulate collagen and elastic, thereby improving the skin health, tone, and barrier function," says Dr. Madhère. That extra barrier help is a flex: EGF can also help defend against external factors like pollution, so you can avoid seeing further effects of aging.
How do you use EGF and what are the best skin-care products containing the ingredient?
Williams likens EGF to popular skin-care ingredient retinol, which speeds up skin cell growth and minimizes pigmentation, fine lines, and spots. EGF are a less irritating alternative, she says. Typically, retinol can lead to sore, flaky skin when overused. Caglia adds that EGF is best to use on clean, dry skin, ideally in the evening, while avoiding retinols or products that may be over-exfoliating to the lipid barrier.
EGF are a staple in plenty of luxury skin-care products, but affordable beauty brands are also harnessing the ingredient and making it accessible for all budgets. Thanks to TikTok, one very in-demand product right now is The Inkey List's 15% Vitamin C and EGF Serum, $15.99, which combines brightening vitamin C with smoothing and rejuvenating EGF. It can be used in both the morning and the evening. In the daytime, follow with sunscreen to maximize the benefits of vitamin C and to protect your skin from UV rays, which exacerbate fine lines and pigmentation.
If you're happy to splurge, Dr. Madhère recommends plant-based BIOEFFECT EGF Serum, $169, which is another TikTok favorite. Dr. Madhère discovered the products during a trip to Iceland, where the brand is headquartered. The serum promises to boost collagen and elastin, making it the ultimate product for those who are interested in putting together a mature skin routine. It's formulated without irritating fragrance, drying alcohol, or pore-clogging oils. Also try the Hydrating Cream, $79, which is an excellent day and nighttime moisturizer.
Vargas incorporated EGF into her line of Twilight products, including the Twilight Night Serum, $195, and Twilight Night Cream, $145, which feature a botanical complex of amino acids that help to repair and condition dry skin, diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with each use. Both of these products also help to restore your skin barrier with continued use. Vargas also offers the Twilight Face Mask, $75, which she calls "the most healing thing I’ve put on the face. It’s made from 40 different plant and vegetable stem cells, making it one of the most potent ingredient combinations in my line."
Ampoules (individual vials containing a single dose of skin serum) are also gaining traction among skin-care obsessives. MDO by Simon Ourian MD Powerful EGF Ampoules, $75, are developed by Beverly Hills cosmetic dermatologist Simon Ourian, MD. Using them is simple: Smooth over your skin after cleansing and follow with your moisturizer of choice.
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Are there any side effects of using EGF?
As with any topical application, not every skin-care product is made for every type of skin. "Side effects of any product may not necessarily be related to the primary ingredient, but perhaps to the additives, preservatives, or fragrances added to the formulation," explains Dr. Madhère. Some adverse reactions may include but are not limited to mild irritation, rash, itching, pustules, and acne. There's good news for those who don't get on with retinol — Caglia says that EGF are known to be gentler on the skin compared to the ingredient, as they do not have the same flaking effect.
"With any ingredient it’s important to pay close attention to the formula it’s in and if it works for your skin," adds Vargas. "There shouldn’t be any harsh reactions, but if you have sensitive skin, consult with your dermatologist first." As always, it pays to follow the instructions on your chosen product very carefully. The same thing can occur if you're using the product and your skin is very sensitive or prone to reactions.
If this is the case, consult a skin expert for advice before using any new skincare products.
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