Peptide is one of those words that you regularly see on face creams and serum labels. Beauty brands often highlight the ingredient as an all-singing, all-dancing age-defying superstar.
Even if the term isn’t on the front of the label, if a formula promises to replenish, rejuvenate or restore your skin, it’s likely to contain at least one or two peptides. But what the hell is a peptide? We break it all down.
What is a peptide?
“Collagen is a protein comprised of long segments of amino acids arranged like a chain,” says consultant dermatologist Justine Hextall. “When collagen breaks down, short segments of amino acids are formed.” Peptides are these short chains of amino acids and are fundamental for healthy skin. They are the building blocks of proteins, including keratin, collagen and elastin.
What are the skincare benefits of peptides?
From smoothing out lines and reducing sagging to strengthening your skin barrier and locking in hydration, the benefits of peptides are impressive, to say the least.
In skincare products, synthetic peptides are used to support and boost the skin proteins. There are three main types—signalling peptides, neurotransmitter-affecting peptides and carrier peptides—and all three work in different ways.
“Signalling peptides, such as pentapeptides (think Matrixyl) is the most commonly used and stimulates collagen and elastin production,” says dermatologist and Eudelo founder Stefanie Williams. Signalling peptides can also help to prevent the breakdown of collagen. Neurotransmitter-affecting peptides, such as Argireline, have a Botox-like effect on your skin and prevent the nerve-to-muscle movement to ease lines and wrinkles.
And last, but by no means least, carrier peptides, such as copper tripeptide complex, help to enhance collagen and elastin production, as well as protect and soothe your skin thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. Before you panic that you might have to buy three different products, most formulas include at least two of these—look out for the term peptide complex.
What are the best peptide skincare products?
With hundreds of peptide-focused lotions and potions on the market, finding the right one for you can be a minefield—and an expensive one at that. Don’t waste your money on peptide cleansers or scrubs; instead, invest in leave-on treatments.
When you think of peptides, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Olay came to mind as the brand has been using and promoting them for years—and the Regenerist range is still top of its game to anti-ageing. Derma E Advanced Peptides & Collagen Serum (£35) teams palmitoyl tripeptide-38 (signalling) with acetyl hexapeptide-8 (neurotransmitter-affecting) while Paula’s Choice new Peptide Booster (£47) contains a whopping eight different peptides to hydrate, strengthen and repair your skin. In terms of eye creams, Drunk Elephant Shaba Complex Eye Serum ($60) utilises copper peptide and is your one-stop-shop for smoother, brighter looking eyes.
Are peptides overhyped?
“The term peptide has been over-generalised to a degree. There are specific roles of peptides and some are more active and successful than others,” says Hextall. As with all ingredients, including retinol and vitamin C, there are different qualities of peptides. “The best ones are highly sophisticated ingredients. They’re the designer clothing of the skincare world,” says Begoun. And as science evolves, so does the quality of peptides, so watch this space.