Read The Label: What You Need To Know About Peptides In Skincare

Pep talks probably won’t slow down the skin’s natural aging process, but peptides might. Here’s what you need to know about the versatile active ingredient.
Written by Vivien Moon
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Read The Label: What You Need To Know About Peptides In Skincaregoodluz/Shutterstock

Feel like you need a dictionary every time you look at the ingredient list of a beauty product? Still unsure of the difference between retinol and retinoids? What about the unique benefits of vitamins B, C, and E? Are alpha and beta hydroxy acids the same thing? The skincare aisle can be overwhelming, but you don’t need a PhD in cosmetic chemistry to navigate it. With expert help, The AEDITION is demystifying and simplifying the beauty industry — one label at a time.

Peptides sound, well, peppy. But should they be a fun-damental part of your skincare routine? If the goal is younger-looking skin, then the answer is a resounding yes. Collagen and elastin production slow down with age. Environmental stressors (think: pollution and sun damage) and genetics can speed up the degradation, leading to skin laxity, fine lines and wrinkles, and more. So, how do you slow down the process?

Peptides are known to be the great communicator that signals a ramp up of collagen production. While the ingredient alone can’t stop the skin from aging – a tall order for even the most invasive treatments – it is possible to pump the breaks. Here, top skin experts explain the benefits of peptides in skincare.

What Are Peptides?

“Peptides are amino acids, which are our building blocks for building proteins,” says Morgan Rabach, MD, a board certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in New York City. The short-chain amino acids “are small enough to permeate the skin cells and help with growth and repair of the skin,” she adds. While there is a vast number of peptides (they can be found in everything from food to snake venom), we will be focusing on those used in skincare.

What Are the Benefits of Peptides in Skincare?

Peptides Skincare Benefits Infographic

“Adding peptides can help your skin make more collagen and elastin, which helps with signs of aging while also helping restore the skin barrier,” explains Dr. Rabach. Studies show that peptides help get the message across to the skin that collagen production should increase. Collagen keeps skin smooth (think: free of lines and wrinkles), and research suggests that, when applied topically, collagen-like peptides can have an “anti-wrinkle effect” — easily penetrating the skin and decreasing both the depth and length of wrinkles.

Peptides, like other ingredient groupings (we’re looking at you, alpha hydroxy acids), exist in different forms. Copper peptides, for example, have been making appearances in beauty products since the 1990s. “Copper peptides are known for their ability to improve firmness and smoothness, while healing and soothing the skin,” explain Gigi Chirinos and Rory Semple, co-founders of Overt. “This ingredient is composed of small particles and, therefore, will penetrate and repair the skin.” Palmitoyl pentapeptide (a.k.a. Matrixyl 3000), meanwhile, is a peptide that “aids in smoothing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by signaling to skin cells to produce more collagen,” they share. And there is a whole lot more where that came from.

When it comes to reading an ingredient label, peptides will be listed either beginning with ‘palmitoyl’ or ending with ‘peptide’ – or both, as is the case with Matrixyl 3000.

Who Are Peptides Best For?

Peptides are meant to counteract the aging process, and Dr. Rabach recommends incorporating them into your routine at the first signs of aging. “I would start using peptides at age 30, which is typically when we all start to lose collagen,” she shares. “For people that have premature signs of aging or have used tanning beds, start in your mid- to late-twenties.” Oh, and while some ingredients (think: vitamin A derivatives) can make skin more sensized, there is no such concern with peptides. “They don’t make your skin sensitive to other products or the sun,” Dr. Rabach says, so they can be more easily incorporated into an existing skincare routine.

Finding The Right Peptide Product

To get the most from the products occupying your vanity, don’t shy away from playing chemist — albeit with the proper understanding of how actives can work together. Peptides benefit from being paired with antioxidants (vitamin C is a favorable choice). “Antioxidants help keep your skin hydrated, while protecting it from any free-radical damage and strengthening the skin's barrier,” the Overt founders share.

Found in creams (we like Kate Somerville Peptide K8 Power Cream) and serums alike, peptides are versatile. Serums, in particular, bring a higher concentration of ingredients that can penetrate the skin faster, yet, they do not usually offer the same barrier-sealing benefits that creams do. If you’re in the market for a peptide-packed serum, we’re fans of Paula’s Choice Peptide Booster, Overt The Restorer (which features both copper peptides and Matrixyl 3000), and Elemis Pro-Collagen Super Serum Elixir.

To guarantee you get your money’s worth, Dr. Rabach suggests looking for “a medical-grade product that is backed by science, as peptides are delicate and expensive.”

How to Start Using Peptides

Peptide products are best used daily, and Chirinos and Semple recommend incorporating them into your P.M. routine. “At night, your skin rests and heals, so products you use during this time should focus on restoring your skin,” they share. Because they are so gentle, Dr. Rabach says they can be used twice a day on the face, neck, décolletage, and even around the eyes.

The Takeaway

Pep talks probably won’t slow down the skin’s natural aging process, but peptides might. The amino acids provide the gentle reminder (literally and figuratively) the skin needs to boost collagen and elastin production, which can keep skin smoother and firmer longer.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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