As one of the most potent and dynamic pro-youth ingredients at our disposal, peptides are able to reduce and freeze wrinkles, promote cell regeneration and collagen synthesis, prevent damaging and aging environmental aggressors and minimize the appearance of pores.
Before we talk about peptides, it’s important to understand what amino acids are. “Peptides are strings of amino acids, which are the building blocks that make up proteins in our body, including collagen in the skin” explains Dr. Whitney Bowe, renowned New York City–based dermatologist and author. “Without these proteins, we will see wrinkles, brittle nails and dry hair that’s prone to breakage.”
“Peptides serve as the building blocks for not only new collagen, but also elastin fibers,” adds Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, partner at Modern Dermatology in Westport, CT. “These fibers are the building blocks of our skin and add to tissue firmness and elasticity.”
So if peptides are already present within the body, why do we need more of them? The answer, according to experts, is aging. “We lose 1% of our remaining collagen per year after age 30,” says Dr. Robinson. “Our skin’s natural communication channels also slow down over time.”
Peptides work to rebuild and repair damaged cells and signal skin to produce collagen, slowing the aging process.
But simply slathering peptides onto your skin doesn’t necessarily give you more of them. According to Dr. Bowe, how they work is a little more complex: “Your body sees these peptides as ‘signals’ that you need to heal, which tells your body to produce more collagen where you need it most,” she explains. “If you are healing from an injury in your ankle, those peptides will signal your body to focus its repair efforts in that joint. If your skin is aging prematurely, those peptides might signal your skin to boost its production of collagen and even hyaluronic acid, plumping up your skin and restoring a healthy skin barrier. When you introduce exogenous peptides onto the skin in the form of a moisturizer or serum, it tricks the skin into thinking there’s been an injury or wound, and it stimulates our collagen-boosting processes.”
When it comes to skin care, not all peptides are created equal. “While there are hundreds of peptides, there are specific peptides that are more efficacious for the skin than others,” explains Dr. Robinson. For example, carrier peptides deliver trace minerals to the skin to boost collagen, while enzyme inhibitor peptides work to slow down the skin’s natural breakdown of collagen. Signal peptides send messages to different parts of the skin to promote collagen, elastin and other proteins; and neurotransmitter peptides, touted as “Botox-like,” block the release of chemicals that cause the muscle contraction of expression lines, thus smoothing wrinkles.
Finding the right product type can go a long way too. For example, instead of choosing a peptide-enriched cleanser, Dr. Robinson recommends opting for products that are not easily washed off the skin, like a moisturizer, eye cream or serum. She also suggests opting for products with copper peptides, which “help not only generate collagen but also maintain the collagen you generate.” She also suggests looking for products that also introduce niacinamide, vitamin C and antioxidants into the mix, in addition to peptides.
A Key Point to Remember is that while you can find peptides in all kinds of topicals, the dermatologists unanimously agree that it’s best to look for them in a serum. Not only will these contain a higher concentration of peptides, they’re also better able to penetrate the skin than thicker moisturizers.
It’s also helpful to seek out specific types of peptides, depending on your skin goals, says Dr. Klein. Pentapeptides induce and stimulate new collagen growth; hexapeptides may help relax wrinkles; palmitoyl oligopeptide and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 promote the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid and help protect against UV damage, as well as fight inflammation; copper peptides enhance regeneration and healing, as well as increase skin elasticity and firmness.
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