If you’re curious about the peptides touted on your skin care’s label, get ready for some science. Peptides are molecules that consist of a small chain of amino acids (considered the building blocks of proteins). These molecules communicate with cells and instruct them how to function. For instance, some peptides (there are hundreds!) can signal collagen or elastin production. Others prompt wound healing.
Obviously, the pursuit of skin’s collagen and elastin generation are paramount in the skin care industry. Why? Because as we age, both collagen and elastin tend to break down in skin, the former causing a decrease in skin’s natural suppleness and the latter a decrease in skin’s firmness. The result: wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin, and crepey texture. Applied topically, peptides are believed to signal a variety of actions in skin cells, such as smoothing skin texture, repairing barrier function, decreasing redness and inflammation, relaxing muscles, or increasing firmness. That’s what makes peptides so promising: Several can be combined into one product, allowing a variety of skin fixes to be addressed at once.
The Best Bets
What should you look for on product labels? Most peptide ingredients are created in labs and tend to end in the word “peptide.” Neuropeptides, such as acetyl hexapeptide, work to affect neurotransmitters, relaxing muscles to prevent further wrinkle formation. Pentapeptides, such as palmitoyl pentapeptide (also known as Matryixl), contain five peptide units linked together, work to stimulate collagen and hyaluronic acid production, and claim to be as effective against wrinkles as retinol, minus the irritation. Oligopeptides work much the same as pentapeptides, but contain more than five peptide units linked together. Copper peptides hook up copper molecules with peptides to deliver benefits deeper into the layers of the skin and are believed to help promote skin healing.
No matter the type, peptides degrade easily in the presence of light and air, so be sure to store peptide skin care products carefully (read: not in a transparent jar). And they require diligent use over time — at least one to three months — in order to see results.