There are a lot of buzzwords in skincare—so many, in fact, that it can be hard to keep up. Chances are you’ve heard the word “peptide” thrown around quite a bit, but you may find yourself wondering what exactly they are and how they work (or if they even work).
In my experience, peptides aren’t as well understood as their buzzy counterparts, such as vitamin C and retinol. With this post, I hope to change that and open your eyes to the amazing benefits of including peptides in your skincare routine!
What are Peptides?
First, let’s cover the basics with a brief science lesson: Peptides are formed when two or more amino acids are linked together in a chain. Remember that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, but a peptide doesn’t have enough amino acids to be considered a complete protein on its own. Every peptide has a unique sequence of amino acids, and that unique sequence is what gives it its special function.
It’s easy to spot peptides on an ingredient label because they usually contain the word “peptide” somewhere in the name.
How Do Peptides Benefit Skin?
When you get right down to it, almost all peptides serve the same primary function: to build or protect collagen and elastin in the skin. Collagen and elastin (which are both a type of protein) are two major components that make up our skin and keep it looking firm and tight. As we age, we produce less, and what we do have will slowly start to break down. This is where topically applying ingredients that help our skin build collagen and elastin becomes really important. (If you want to go beyond topical products but aren’t ready for professional treatments, learn how you can use microcurrent at home to lift and tone your skin.)
While most peptides can help keep the skin looking firm, you may get additional benefits depending on which type you’re using. Remember how each peptide is made up of a unique sequence of amino acids? This unique sequence is what allows certain peptides to provide special functions such as reduction of inflammation, skin brightening, improved wound healing, and stimulation of native hyaluronic acid production. Not too shabby!
What Are the Different Types of Peptides in Skin Care?
Almost all peptides used in skincare are synthetic, meaning created in a lab. It is possible to get peptides derived from plant extracts, but this is difficult to do and they usually aren’t as stable or reliable as synthetic peptides.
There are four main types of peptides in skincare:
- Signal Peptides. Signal peptides work by generating a signal in cells to elicit a certain reaction. For example, telling a cell to produce more collagen or hyaluronic acid.
- Neurotransmitter-Affecting Peptides. Neurotransmitter-affecting peptides interact with the neurotransmitters in your cells to slow down the signal sent to your brain when you move your facial muscles to make an expression. This softens the movement so it becomes less dramatic, making it less likely to produce a deep wrinkle over time. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is a much milder version of what happens when you’re injected with a neurotoxin to prevent muscles from contracting.)
- Carrier Peptides. Carrier peptides help carry other molecules into cells. An example would be copper peptides; the peptide delivers a copper molecule into the cell where it plays a crucial role in the production of collagen.
- Enzyme-Inhibitor Peptides. As the name suggests, enzyme-inhibitor peptides work to inhibit enzymes that break down collagen and elastin in our skin.
What is the Best Age to Start Using Peptides, and How Often Should I Use Them?
Like most ingredients that improve aging skin, peptides should ideally start to be incorporated into your routine by your late-20s or early-30s. This is right around the age we start to lose our ability to manufacture collagen as quickly. By our early-30s, our native collagen supply also slowly starts to degrade. In addition to a comprehensive, preventative-aging routine for your skin type, supplementing with powerful, synthetic peptides may be a way to mitigate that. The only exception would be if you’re still dealing with a lot of active breakouts, in which case you’d want to get your skin to a calmer place before introducing peptides for preventative aging.
As far as how often to use peptides, the more you use them the more effective they’ll be. Most studies of specific peptides or peptide mixtures report results based on daily or even twice-daily application. One of the great things about peptides is that they tend to be well-tolerated by all skin types (assuming they’re formulated in a base your skin agrees with), so you don’t need to worry about overdoing it the way you do with some skincare ingredients. As usual, consistency is key. Here’s how long you can expect to wait before seeing results from active ingredients, including peptides.
I recommend using peptides in a leave-on product since they work on a cellular level and need to make their way into the skin. This could be an eye cream, a moisturizer, or a serum (serums are great because they’re designed to penetrate deeper than other products). Peptides are notoriously unstable when exposed to air or water, so you either want to look for a formula in airless packaging or keep your jars and bottles tightly sealed.
What Are the Best Peptides for Skin Care?
There are many great peptides available today and as research advances, we’re bound to keep seeing exciting new developments. For the sake of this post, I’ve chosen to talk about four peptides I truly believe in, use personally, and formulate with. One of the reasons I’ve chosen to formulate products using these peptides specifically is that they all have very robust and promising research. Keep reading to learn more about what they do and which one could be a good fit for you!
Acetyl Octapeptide-3 is based on a very large peptide sequence known as Snap 25. This one, known as Snap 8, is a shorter, modified version of Snap 25. It’s a neurotransmitter-affecting peptide that’s been shown to reduce the appearance of roughness and fine lines on the skin.
Good for: anyone concerned with the texture of their skin and the reduction of visible fine lines.
Manufacturer studies have shown palmitoyl hexapeptide-12 works most effectively on restoring skin with age-related damage (mainly loss of tone). It works to restore elastin synthesis, which helps give skin its suppleness.
Good for: those concerned with loss of skin tone and firmness due to aging.
Haloxyl is actually a blend of palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-1, so you get two peptides in there. This combination of peptides has been studied specifically in relation to the under-eye area. Together, these two peptides work in synergy to restore firmness and tone. They’re also coupled with two non-peptide ingredients that can improve the appearance of under-eye circles by reducing the blood that pools under the eyes. I read a manufacturer study done on Haloxyl 2% that showed a 19 percent reduction in the darkness of under-eye color after 56 days of once per day application!
Good for: anyone concerned with the firmness of the under-eye area and reducing the appearance of dark circles.
Palmitoyl Tripeptide-38 (Aka Matrixyl Synthe’6)
Palmitoyl Tripeptide-38 is great because it’s been shown to support six major elements that make up our skin matrix including collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. This makes it a real heavy-hitter and one of the best peptides you can use for visible signs of aging and overall skin health.
Good for: anyone concerned with visible signs of aging and overall skin health.
I hope this post teaches you something new about peptides and shows you what a valuable addition they can be to your skincare routine! While peptides are a great way to build and protect your skin’s natural collagen, remember that healthy skin aging requires so much more than a single ingredient or a single approach. Here are 10 things you can start doing now to prevent wrinkles down the road.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”