Peptides have become the latest ingredients to be rising in cult status in the world of beauty, and we are seeing formulations with long lists of these. At this stage, evidence is more limited than for retinoids and Vitamin C, and dermatologists do not necessarily agree on whether they are delivering real, measurable benefits to skin. Yet there are perceived benefits and growing research underpinning their usefulness.
Some argue that peptides are too big to penetrate the epidermis and therefore any benefit is a temporary effect from increased moisturisation, while others believe that these peptides are able to send signals from the epidermis to the dermis and this is happening in ways we do not fully understand yet.
Peptides are considered kinder to skin, as they go about their work typically without the irritation, inflammation or allergic reactions seen more often with Alpha Hydroxy Acids, retinoids and Vitamin C.
They are fragments of proteins made up of amino acids that help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and other signs of ageing. We know that proteins are the building blocks of our skin, helping to keep it supple, firm and smooth. By boosting our skin’s building blocks, peptides are thought to be helpful in reviving ageing skin.
Peptides, however, work in quite specific ways, so they do not all do the same things. One of the best-known peptides is Copper Peptide, which was developed into skin care products and made famous by Dr Loren Pickart. He found that the Copper Peptide CHK-Cu works as a regeneration accelerator to improve overall skin quality, particularly after damage, such as a burn, sun damage or a chemical peel.
Between 1986 and 1990, Dr Pickart found that creams containing GHK-Cu increased the thickness of the dermis and epidermis, increased skin elasticity, improved wrinkles and pigmentation, and removed blotchiness and damage marks. Interestingly, research has found Copper Peptide to be more effective than either Retinol or L-Ascorbic Acid in building collagen and elastin. It also has been found to promote the production of Glycosaminoglycans like Hyaluronic Acid and neutralise free radicals.
When used with red LED light, it may increase the skin’s production of growth factors and collagen.
However Copper Peptide works its magic best when it has something to repair, and is particularly helpful to use after clinical treatments targeting skin remodelling.
Since Dr Pickart’s earlier work, other peptides in skin care have been developed to promote skin regeneration and fight skin ageing.
The most widely recognised peptide is Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4, better known as Matrixyl, has been shown to stimulate feedback regulation of new collagen synthesis and to result in the increase production of extracellular matrix proteins (collagen types I and II and fibronectin).
Another highly used peptide is Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, better known as Agireline. The maker of Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 claims this peptide is able to reduce facial wrinkles by relaxing the muscles responsible for their formation.
Palmitoyl Oligopeptide is a second sequence of collagen-stimulating peptides. A 2007 study in Dermatologic Therapy suggests it stimulates collagen production in fibroblasts, thereby slowing collagen degradation over time.
Oligopeptide-34 is linked to skin brightening and the limited research to date points to its potential as an effective, non-Hydroquinone skin brightener. A study by the manufacturer found it decreased melanin production and inhibited tyrosinase enzyme activity, the cause of pigmentation in the skin. The study on 22 Asian people concluded it was more effective than either Vitamin C or Arbutin in reducing the appearance of pigmentation spots.
As with all new ingredients, the hype gets ahead of the science and it is good to keep a reasonable perspective on these little gems too. They cannot do all the work of caring for your skin on their own. Peptides are just one element of an anti-ageing and skin care regime, and they need to be supported by other skin care products, as well as a healthy, nutritious diet and lifestyle.
Remember that skin ageing is a biological process that accelerates as we get older, and current science has not delivered the breakthrough we are all looking for, however it does allow us to delay and counteract some of the damage, specifically photo-ageing.
Peptides are highly suited to more sensitive skin types that may be overstimulated or react when using other anti-ageing ingredients.