Peptides for Skin
What Are Peptides?
Peptides are proteins composed of long or short chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Peptides may be natural or synthetic. Most peptides used in cosmetics are synthetic because lab engineering these ingredients gives chemists greater control on their stability and effectiveness in skin-care products. One more example of the natural route not always being what's best for skin!
Peptides in Skin Care
In terms of the fuss over peptides, although there are intriguing reasons to consider them, the hype is mostly about the cosmetics industry's perpetuation that there is one magic ingredient or group of ingredients that is the anti-aging answer. It's simply not true. There is no single solution for all the signs of aging—though we admit it would be great if it was really that simple.
Here's what to commit to memory: Just like there isn't one healthy food to eat or supplement to take, there isn't one best, does-it-all ingredient or group of ingredients. Skin is the most complex organ of the human body, so as you can imagine, its needs cannot possibly come down to what a single peptide or blend of peptides can do.
Although peptides aren't miracle-workers, they are good ingredients to see in skin-care products, though we still have much to learn about how to best utilize peptides for maximum skin-care benefits.
Most peptides function as moisture-binding agents and almost all of them have theoretical cell-communicating ability to help skin repair itself. Those are exciting benefits, so long as you don't rely on peptides alone. It takes a great mix of anti-aging ingredients for skin to look its smoothest, firmest, and, yes, its youngest.
No peptide works like Botox or dermal fillers to reduce wrinkles. Peptides are definitely not the topical answer for those who fear the needle! The research aiming to prove otherwise typically comes from the company selling the peptide or peptide blend to cosmetic companies. More often than not, the amount used in the company-funded study is much greater than what is used in skin-care products, so the benefit simply doesn't happen.
Copper Peptides: Fact or Fiction
Some wonder if a specific group of peptides – copper peptides (also known as copper gluconate) – are finally the anti-aging answer everyone's been looking for. The synthesis of skin's chief support substances collagen and elastin is in part related to the presence of copper in the body. There is also research showing copper can be effective for wound healing. But so far, there's not much research demonstrating copper bound with peptides has anti-wrinkle and skin-smoothing benefits, and none that we could find that's independent.
What's more, these studies rarely, if ever, compare the allegedly wonderful results of copper peptides to other, more established ingredients. Wouldn't you like to know if another ingredient (like vitamin C or retinol) performed even better than copper peptides? We sure would!
We've also received many questions about whether copper peptides shouldn't be used with vitamin C, AHA, or BHA because of the interaction between copper (a metal) and ascorbic acid, but superoxide dismutase and zinc both work exceptionally well with vitamin C and have metal chemical properties, too. But specific to copper, there is no research showing this to be true, just as there is little independent research demonstrating copper peptides anti-aging benefits.
Last, when it comes to copper itself there is something called the Fenton reaction, a process where copper generates free radicals that cause inflammation, and we know inflammation is pro-aging (Sources: Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, April 2013, pages 1–8; and Journal of Investigative Dermatology, August 2003, pages 177–183).
We're not stating skin-care products with copper peptides have this effect, or to what degree this effect would amount to in skin if they did, but depending on how the peptides break down it's a possibility. Given lots of other proven, well-researched anti-aging ingredients provide benefits without such a worry, why take the risk with copper peptides?
The Bottom Line
Peptides can be great anti-aging ingredients for skin care products. But as with all other ingredients, they're not the only ones you need to make your skin appear as young and healthy as you'd like. Take those seemingly fantastic claims on products with peptides with a grain of salt, and remember that using products with a cocktail of great ingredients (plus daily sun protection) is the best thing you can do for the health and appearance of your skin!
For more details on peptides, see our Ingredient Dictionary definition.