Miracle ingredients are a dime a dozen in the grooming industry. And while impossible promises are par for the course in an industry hell bent on making sales, there are a few occasions when a piece of bona fide science rises to the surface, clinical evidence in tact.
In fact, the beauty industry is unusually fast to market with some of the latest breakthroughs in modern medicine, mostly because there are fewer loopholes to jump through when it comes to selling a moisturiser versus saving someone’s life. A glimpse of potential – yet to be fully verified or rigorously tested by the medical community – can become an infallible claim in the grooming industry. This was the case with sirtuins, a miracle cure for maturity that covered magazine pages but ultimately failed to live up to all the hype.
But EGF or epidermal growth factor is something of an anomaly. It is not an overnight sensation or fleeting trend. In fact, interest has grown at an uncharacteristically steady pace since its discovery in 1986 when its founders, biochemist Stanley Cohen and one Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, were awarded the Nobel Prize. It has taken the best part of three decades for EGF to find its way into an anti-ageing unguent, a comparatively minor achievement given its involvement in revolutionising cancer drugs and organ regeneration over the years.
As its name suggests, this polypeptide stimulates epidermal tissue growth by triggering a receptor that activates the renewal of different cells, including keratinocytes – the ones that make up most of the outer layer of skin. In other words, it causes skin to grow at an accelerated rate making it, among other things, an invaluable wound healer (to be precise, EGF is the exogenous substance your body releases when you get a scrape). To hammer home its miracle status, it is worth noting that EGF has been used since the late 80s to treat burn wounds and chronic ulcers.
Given that ageing is tantamount to slow cell turnover and poor collagen synthesis, EGF is a veritable elixir of youth. Which begs the question: why hasn’t EGF become bigger news?
The growth factor has already found its way into cult Japanese brand DHC and Iceland’s Bioeffect, among others. For reasons I’ll explain later, it was once the focal point of super-premium brand ReVive. But EGF’s relatively low profile in the world of grooming is ultimately down to fears over its safety.
The concern is that ‘forced’ cell division at an unnaturally fast rate could play a part in the development of cancer. Growth Factors are mitogenic, meaning they do not cause cancer but they can cause cancerous cells to multiply. In other words, EGF, for all its intelligence, doesn’t actually discern whether the cell it binds to is healthy or not. Naturally, this fear is more prevalent among those who have come into contact with the prescription grade stuff and not designer moisturisers, which have an incredibly low concentration of EGF.
It is worth noting that, in a culture where everything from your microwave to bottled water can supposedly cause cancer, there are no conclusive studies that substantiate the ill-effects of EGF (mostly because the stuff is hugely expensive).
And so there are two camps: those who will not touch EGF without further testing, and those who have first-hand experience of its magical effects and refuse to let go of the stuff.
ReVive who, rather worryingly, obtained EGF from human sources, were an easy target. Here was an expensive brand that used ethically questionable technology to cover up something as normal and silly as the cosmetic consequences of ageing. Even though there was / is no conclusive proof of EGF’s harm, the brand swiftly deleted all mention of EGF (but, cunningly, retained the exorbitant price tag).
In stark contrast, Nordic brand Bioeffect addressed fears around growth factors straight on, in a way few brands have the courage to do. They maintain that EGF is very effective at low concentrations, and that you’re not dealing with particularly heavy-duty dosages when it comes to cosmetic application (as in their hugely effective EGF serum). And while their forumlas can penetrate the upper layers of the skin in this low concentration, “proteins as large as EGF are very unlikely to reach the deeper layers of the skin, or the bloodstream to produce any undesired systemic effect (Hayes BB et al 2000)”. They cite that in the cases of burn wounds and ulcers there are no reports of malignant formations. Not only are doctors are dealing with much higher dosages in cases such as these but they’re treating open wounds that would have direct access to the blood stream.
But the biggest reassurance is that Bioeffect’s human-identical EGF is made in barley seeds rather than obtained from human sources (it turns out that barley is surprisingly good at producing and protecting proteins in its seeds and “because it is a biologically isolated system”). The results are formidable and fast, the data solid. After a couple of days of use, I’ve been amazed at how quickly some old scars have healed. But for some people, all the reassurances in the world might not be enough to outweigh the controversy.
EGF Serum by Bioeffect is available for £125 for 15ml from bioeffect.co.uk