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Peptides for Skin: Everything You Need to Know

You’ve probably seen “peptides” pop up on loads of new products, from lip balms to moisturizers—this new it-girl ingredient is taking the skincare world by storm. And while considered a trendy new ingredient with loads of potential, peptides are actually nothing new. 

Peptides occur naturally in the body and play essential roles in a variety of functions, so much so that we couldn’t function without them. But when it comes to skincare, their functions are a little less unknown. Studies are still being done on all the benefits they may boast. Still, most experts agree that peptide-infused products can make a beneficial addition to any skincare routine. 

What Are Peptides?

Peptides are made up of short chains of amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Protein, as we know, is the foundation of collagen, keratin, and elastin fibers, the key components that keep our skin healthy, youthful, and strong. Collagen stores, in particular, can benefit from topical peptides as they can help increase the amount of collagen proteins in our skin or limit the amount broken down. 

What Do Peptides Do for the Skin?

There are hundreds of different peptides, each with its own set of functions and combination of amino acids. Most peptides you find in skincare products are known as signaling peptides, which help the skin stimulate more collagen production or prevent collagen from breaking down. There are also carrier peptides, which bind to other ingredients or elements (such as copper) and help deliver them to skin cells. 

Structural or keratin peptides – typically derived from keratin ­– are ideal for promoting plump, hydrated skin and improving skin barrier function. Neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides relax the facial muscles by releasing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, inevitably decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

And lastly, there are enzyme inhibitor peptides which, like neurotransmitter inhibitors, inhibit aging-related activities. More specifically, these peptides prevent the breakdown of collagen and other necessary proteins. Silk fibroin proteins, for example, are a common enzyme inhibitor. 

The Skin Benefits of Peptides

  1. Strengthens the skin barrier.

Peptides are integral to the production of skin-strengthening proteins, like collagen and elastin, that keep the skin barrier strong. Their antioxidants also support the skin barrier’s defense against environmental stressors. 

  1. Prevents signs of aging.

You can expect anti-aging benefits no matter what type of peptide(s) you use. Signaling and carrier peptides stimulate collagen and elastin production, helping improve visible signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. While neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides relax the facial muscles to soften fine lines, similar to Botox.

  1. Improves skin texture.

Because peptides support collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid production, incorporating them into your routine can help improve skin texture, most notably by plumping and smoothing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

  1. Firms skin.

By boosting collagen and protein production, peptides can promote firmer, younger-looking skin. Equally as helpful, enzyme inhibitor peptides improve skin firmness by slowing the breakdown of existing collagen and elastin.

  1. Reduces inflammation. 

Peptides contain anti-inflammatory properties, primarily antioxidants, that can help calm the skin. Specific peptides, such as palmitoyl tetrapeptide, have been scientifically shown to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.

Who Are Peptides Best For?

Peptides work for all skin types and tones. Because of their anti-aging prowess, peptides make a fabulous addition to any skincare routine targeting concerns like fine lines, wrinkles, loss of firmness, and lack of elasticity. Peptides are also perfect for dry skin types as they help smooth and hydrate.

How to Spot Them:

The best peptide products will have peptides near the middle or (ideally) high up on the ingredient list. Peptide-infused skincare products are expensive, so you want to be sure you get the most bang for your buck.

With so many peptides out there, spotting them on the back of an ingredient label isn’t the easiest. But if you want to see if your skincare products contain peptides, look for words containing “peptide” or beginning with “palmitoyl.” This won’t work for all peptides, but it covers the vast majority. You’ll also see prefixes attached, such as -tri, -tetra, -hexa, -oligo, etc., that indicate the number of amino acids. (Fact: oligo translates to “few” and means peptides with fewer than 20 amino acids.)

Check for these commonly used peptides:

  • Tripeptide-1 and tripeptide-3
  • Trifluoroacetyl tripeptide-2
  • Palmitoyl oligopeptide
  • Argireline
  • Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-28
  • Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7
  • Palmitoyl oligopeptide
  • Copper peptides
  • Palmitoyl pentapeptide (Matrixyl, MatrixylTM, MatrixylTM 3000, etc.)

The Best Peptide Skincare Products:

Revision Skincare Revox Line Relaxer

This dermatologist-loved formula includes five peptides known to improve the appearance of expression lines, while a Dermal Support Blend of three additional peptides prevents fine lines and wrinkles.

Dr. Zenovia Essentials Hyaluronic Acid + Peptide Serum

Ultra-lightweight and super hydrating, this Hyaluronic Acid + Peptide Serum visibly plumps and firms skin for a moisturized, youthful complexion.

PCA Skin ExLinea Pro Peptide Serum

The ingredients in this peptide serum are ideal for targeting signs of aging. In addition to efficacious moisturizers and plant extracts, it utilizes enzyme inhibitor peptides to reduce unwanted muscle contractions and minimize wrinkle formation.

Obagi Professional-C Peptide Complex

Peptides, vitamin C, and plant-sourced growth factors work together in this serum to improve wrinkle depth, stimulate collagen production, and give your skin a healthy glow.

Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Wrinkle Resist Moisturizer

This intensely nourishing moisturizer is packed with 21 peptides and neuropeptides that visibly lift and firm skin. Hydrating squalane, cactus flower extract, and a hyaluronic acid complex plump skin and help prevent moisture loss. 

DefenAge 3D Eye Radiance Cream

This radiance-boosting eye cream features a cooling metal applicator that reduces puffiness and gently delivers a blend of smoothing, firming peptides to the skin.