Woman using moisturizer

What Are Peptides in Skin Care?

Peptides seem to have become the new must-have ingredient in skin care, but what exactly are they, and how do they help your skin?

Here is everything you need to know to decide whether or not your skin would benefit from the use of peptides…

What Are Peptides?

To put it simply, peptides are made up of small chains of amino acids. Variations in each chain result in different peptides.

Illustration/infographic of peptide structure

Peptides are the building blocks of all proteins in the body, including the proteins in the skin, with the three main ones being:

    • Collagenprovides the skin with structure, therefore giving the skin its smoothness and firmness. Collagen makes up for around 75% to 85% of your skin
    • Elastinresponsible for the skin’s tightness and elasticity
  • Keratinforms a protective layer over the skin, while also enabling skin cells to adhere to each other

Your skin produces all three of those proteins itself, and does this quite prolifically when you are young. However, as you age, your skin’s production speed begins to slow down. Not only that, but the proteins in your skin end up severely damaged by environmental factors, with everything from UV light to pollution causing this depletion.

This is one of the main reasons as to why people develop fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin as they age. The skin is simply not able to produce enough of these proteins to keep skin cells thriving.

What Do Peptides Do for the Skin?

There are hundreds of different peptides out there, and each one performs a specific function. They play an important role when it comes to how different parts of the body communicate with each other, and are able to have an influence over the signals sent to skin cells.

When applied topically, peptides send signals to the skin to amp up their production of important proteins, including the three mentioned above.

This results in a number of benefits, such as:

    • Minimized wrinkles and fine lines, not only in terms of quantity but also their depth
    • Increased skin elasticity and firmness, along with a reduction in sagging
  • Anti-inflammatory effects soothe the skin and reduce redness

There are numerous studies that prove the effects that peptides can have. 

Of course, as mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of different peptides, each one made up of a different combination of amino acids…

They each function in their own way, making it important to know the difference between each peptide when it comes to choosing peptide skin care products.

The Different Types of Peptides

While peptides can be naturally derived, these compounds are extremely unstable and delicate, making them near-impossible to formulate into a reliable skin care product.

Wondering where the peptides in skin care products come from?

After experimenting with natural peptides for a while, scientists soon realized that they could lab-engineer peptides, and this is when research started focusing more on the many individual peptides out there. Lab-engineered peptides are created to target specific skin issues, whether this may be collagen production, hyperpigmentation, or anything else. They are much more stable than their natural counterparts, enabling the skin care industry to put them to good use.

Here are a few of the different peptide types that you are likely to find in skin care products:

    • Signal Peptidessuch as Palmitoyl Oligopeptide-7, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 and Copper Peptidesthese are the peptides that send signals to your skin to tell it to increase its collagen and elastin production
    • Enzyme Inhibitor Peptidessuch as Soybean Peptides and Silk Fibroin Peptidesthere are certain enzymes that break down your skin’s collagen and elastin. This group of peptides prevents those enzymes from causing their destruction
    • Carrier Peptidessuch as Copper Peptidesthese carry trace elements, such as copper and manganese, to your skin, bringing about a number of anti-aging results
  • Neurotransmitter Inhibitor Peptidessuch as Palmitoyl Tripeptide-38, XEP-30 and Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-28these relax the muscles under the skin, preventing expression lines from forming and deepening

You might be thinking…

Why should I use peptides to increase collagen production instead of applying collagen itself directly to my skin?

Because while applying collagen topically may have a temporary effect, collagen molecules are too large to penetrate into your skin’s deeper layers. However, peptides are the perfect size for this.

Plus, stimulating your skin into producing more of its own, natural collagen is always going to be far more beneficial than supporting your skin with collagen from another source.

How to Choose a Quality Peptide Skin Care Product 

Think that your skin would benefit from the use of peptides?

That wouldn’t be surprising, because this is an ingredient that can benefit just about everyone, no matter your age, ethnicity or skin type.

Using dropper to apply serum

However, don’t go reaching for the very first peptide product you see…

Just like with many other superstar skin care ingredients, many brands only use peptides as a marketing ploy. Their products contain such a small concentration of these peptides – definitely not enough to make a difference to your skin!

The only way to know for sure is by checking the product’s ingredient list…

The peptides should be listed as near to the top as possible (keep in mind that they are unlikely to be one of the first few ingredients), and should definitely not just be an add-on at the end.

One thing that makes this slightly more difficult than when looking for other ingredients is the way in which peptides are composed…

As mentioned earlier, peptides are basically short chains of amino acids. Just about any short chain of amino acids can be referred to as a peptide, so you need to also look into the specific peptides that have been used in a product.

Cleansers vs Serums vs Creams

So, now that you know how to ensure that a product contains enough of the specific peptides you need, which type of product should you actually go for?

Well, let’s begin with the one that you shouldn’t go for…

This would be a cleanser. Cleansers only remain on your skin for such a short period of time before they are then washed away. This would mean that you would be washing all of the peptides away too!

How about a cream?

These can be beneficial to an extent. Creams are formulated with quite heavy ingredients. While they don’t penetrate very deeply into the skin, they do work wonders on the skin’s surface.

While peptides in creams can be beneficial, the proteins in your skin (collage and elastin) are made in your skin’s deepest layers. This means that the peptides in the cream that you apply are unlikely to make a significant difference when it comes to protein production. Nevertheless, they can still help with skin hydration, protection, and many other things.

As you have probably guessed by now, the best type of peptide product to go for would be a serum.


Serums may look quite thin and lightweight, but they actually contain a high concentration of active ingredients. Due to its consistency, the skin is able to absorb a serum, along with its ingredients, much more effectively than with a moisturizer.

This means that a peptide-packed serum would be able to penetrate deep into your skin, bringing about changes that are more significant

Face masks that contain peptides can also be useful, so long as you leave the mask on for long enough.

Ingredients to Use Alongside Peptides

Peptides will usually always be formulate with other beneficial ingredients, but which ones work best with peptides?

    • Hyaluronic Acidthis helps to keep skin cells hydrated, while increasing collagen production. Look for sodium hyaluronate, as this is the form of hyaluronic acid that the skin can absorb most easily
    • Retinyl Palmitatethis vitamin A derivative boosts skin cell turnover and stimulates collagen production. It is one of the best when it comes to reducing the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles, so can really make a big difference when combined with peptides
    • Vitamin E has powerful antioxidant properties, meaning that it can prevent free radicals from destroying the collagen and elastin that the peptides are helping to produce
    • Resveratrol a potent antioxidant that comes from red grapes, red wine and other sources, resveratrol works hand-in-hand with vitamin E when it comes to protecting skin cells from damage
  • Green Tea Extractanother fantastic anti-ager, green tea extract protects skin cells from damage, particularly UV damage, while encouraging the production of new skin cells

Prolonging the Shelf Life of Peptide Skin Care Products

Although lab-engineered peptides enjoy a much longer shelf life than their natural counterparts did, peptides are still quite fragile and do need to be taken care of.


One important way to preserve the peptides in a product is with the packaging. If a product is contained in packaging that is going to expose the product to light or air each time you need to use it, then you may be better off avoiding this. Both light and air will degrade the peptides in your products, making pump-dispensers and similar designs much more protective.

Make sure that you store your skin care products in a dark and dry environment. Stable temperatures, rather than extremes, are required in order to keep your products effective for as long as possible.

What happens if you use a skin care product that has “gone off”?

You may think that the only effect of this would be that the product doesn’t work, but it’s actually much worse…

Not only would that product not bring any benefits to your skin, but it could also cause quite a bit of damage.

When certain ingredients oxidize, they end up creating free radicals in your skin when they are applied. These free radicals cause so much damage to your skin cells and tissues, resulting in cell death in many cases.

Side Effects of Peptides

It is uncommon to experience side effects when using peptides, but, just like with every other ingredient out there, reactions do happen.

Side effects can include:

    • Redness and inflammation
    • A rash
  • Itching

Of course, it can be difficult to know, especially at first, whether these side effects are due to the peptides themselves, or to the other ingredient that were formulated into the new product you used.

Whichever the case may be, this is why it is so important to always perform a patch test before using a new skin care product for the first time.

If you do experience any of those side effects, a cold compress and some anti-inflammatory lotions or gels should help quite quickly.

Dietary Sources of Peptides

Assorted foods on chopping board

Just like with almost every other skin care ingredient out there, nourishing your skin with those ingredients from within helps to boost the way in which their topical versions work.

Didn’t know you could get peptides from your food?

There are a number of dietary sources of peptides out there, such as:

    • Milkafter milk has been digested, the casein and whey protein in it are turned into various peptides. Of course, milk can also lead to inflammation for many, so make sure to opt for a grass-fed and organic variety
    • Eggsin addition to containing peptides, eggs are also a fantastic source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds
    • Soybeansthe peptides found in soybeans also boast antioxidant properties
    • Marine fishthese peptides have been proven to protect the skin from photoaging, while fish skin itself is high in collagen
  • Certain meatsbeef, pork and chicken in particular are known for being high in certain peptides

As you can see, peptides are an ingredient that really could make a big difference to the health and appearance of your skin. Of course, you do need to be smart when choosing peptide products to ensure that you end up with quality – after all, your skin deserves nothing less!

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