Many skincare products use peptides to treat wrinkles. But what are peptides? And do they actually make you look younger?
Skin is made up mostly of collagen; it is the foundation that gives your skin its support and thickness. Young people have lots of collagen and taut, smooth skin. In contrast, older people have much less collagen and thin, wrinkled skin.
Collagen is protein and is made up long chains of amino acids strung together, like chains of linked building blocks. When it is broken down, short segments of 3-5 amino acids form, called peptides. Peptides are not just junk collagen; these “mini proteins” are active molecules — and you pay a whole lot for them in your wrinkle cream.
Here are three ways that peptides claim to improve wrinkles and make you look younger:
1. Peptides Signal Your Skin to Make More Collagen
When we age collagen is destroyed but not replaced. As a result young, smooth becomes thin and wrinkled over time.
One strategy to improve winkles and to make you look younger is to replace lost collagen. When collagen breaks down, it forms specific peptides. These peptides act as a signal to tell your skin it was damaged and to make new collagen.
Applying peptides directly to your skin is a way to trick your skin into thinking that it has lost collagen recently and needs to make more. The most popular signal peptide for cosmetic use is palmitoyl pentapeptide (Matrixyl). It can be found in many peptide skin products and might be effective in improving the appearance of fine lines. Be a smart skin care consumer — you can find this active ingredient in Strivectin and many other expensive peptide creams. Yet, it can also be found in the much less expensive products like Oil of Olay’s Regenerist, which I recommend to my patients.
2. Peptides Deliver Copper into Your Skin
Because peptides are small, they can penetrate the skin’s protective barriers to get to the deeper layers. When copper is attached to a peptide, the peptide can deliver copper to the living layers of the skin. There is research showing that copper is an effective agent in skin healing which is why it has been used for years to treat chronic wounds.
Copper peptides seem to promote collagen production and act as antioxidants. They are needed for natural healing and regeneration of your skin and to help remove damaged collagen. Copper peptides can be found in pricey product lines such as Neova or Osmotics as well as less expensive products like Neutrogena’s Visibly Firm Night Cream.
3. Neuropeptides Might Act Like Botox
Some peptides might block transmission of signals from nerves to your facial muscles. In particular, a neuropeptide called argireline has been shown in the laboratory to block the release of neurotransmitters from nerves. If argireline was absorbed all the way through the skin to the level of the muscle, then it might block contraction of the muscle, leading to smoother skin, similar to Botox. However, it would be like pouring a small glass of water onto a mattress and expecting it to soak through the underside of your box spring– it’s very unlikely.
Neuropeptides are sold in products often called wrinkle-relax creams and are a big part of Dr. Perricone’s line. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of their efficacy but essentially no good published scientific data. Although they sound great, until there are good studies to show they actually work, I would skip neuropeptides for now.
Peptides Might Not Do Anything
There are many things that have to go right in order for peptides to actually have a benefit. Because they are break-down products of proteins, they have to be stabilized or they might continue to break down further in a topical cream, becoming useless. Also, they have to be in a cream that allows them to penetrate the skin. If a great peptide is in a thick cream that only sits on the surface, then it will never penetrate and will eventually be washed off, without any benefit.
That being said, signal peptides and copper peptides seem to have the most evidence for their efficacy and can be found in products that cost less than a tank of gas.
Photo credit: Misha Brittleson
Disclaimer: I do not receive any money or free products from any of the companies listed. I have no conflicts of interest to disclose.