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Peptides: Why They’re Good for Your Skin and How to Get More of Them

You’ve likely heard the buzz around peptides as an anti-aging must-have to smooth, repair and hydrate skin, but have you ever wondered what a peptide is and what it does for the skin, exactly? More importantly, is having it as one of the key ingredients in your skin care products worth the price tag? The short answer, according to two prominent dermatologists, is yes.

Here, they break down the science behind how peptides work, what they actually do for our skin and body, how we can get more of them, and the best peptide-infused skin care formulas to look out for.

What Are Peptides and What Do They Do?

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.” 

Aside from being essential to the skin’s structure and function (important factors in firmness, texture and overall appearance), peptides are found in every human cell and play an important role in how the body functions, often acting as a biologic messenger. “We need peptides at all times. If we are deficient in them, our body cannot function,” says Dr. Robinson. “Peptides have a myriad of uses in the body, from being the building blocks for enzymes, hormones and an energy source.”

How Peptides in Your Skin Care Work

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.”

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.”

Different Types of Peptides

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.

Neurotransmitter Peptides 

Neurotransmitter peptides are found in injectables like Botox, and topical treatments such as Argireline —both work to relax your facial muscles so they don’t contract as much, helping reduce wrinkles and laughter or worry lines. A 2009 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that these types of peptides reduced certain wrinkle types by 30 percent. 

Signal Peptides 

Signal peptides, or palmitoyl pentapeptides, are the most common with regard to skin care. They are known to stimulate the production of collagen, elastin and other structure proteins that make the skin appear firmer and fuller. 

Carrier Peptides 

Carrier peptides get their name from their role in delivering trace elements like copper and magnesium to the skin. Copper has been an especially popular ingredient in recent years for its ability to improve collagen production, thereby firming up the skin and enhancing elasticity. Copper complexes have also been proven to combat the appearance of photoaging skin by brightening age spots. 

Enzyme-Inhibitor Peptides 

As their name suggests, enzyme-inhibitor peptides work by putting the brakes on the body’s natural process of losing collagen. Peptides derived from rice proteins work to retain more collagen, while certain soy-derived peptides can help prevent pigmentation. 

How to Get More Peptides in Your Skincare Routine

When it comes to enhancing the skin, Dr. Bowe recommends getting peptides from topical skin care products. However, she stresses the importance of looking at the product’s formulation: the stability of its ingredients and its ability to penetrate the skin barrier. This is where a consultation with your dermatologist may be helpful.

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 include niacinamide, vitamin C and antioxidants into the mix, in addition to peptides.

Once you find the right cream or serum for you, Dr. Robinson recommends applying it to clean skin twice daily, under makeup and SPF.

Aside from topical products, incorporating collagen-rich foods like bone broth and adding a reputable collagen supplement to your diet, can also work wonders for your skin.

The Best Peptide-Infused Skin Care Products

Are you ready to pack a punch with peptides? Here are our top products to boost collagen and kick up your skin care game.

  1. Eminence Organic Skin Care Marine Flower Peptide Night Cream
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    Eminence Organic Skin Care Marine Flower Peptide Night Cream

    Rich in moisture, this night cream uses plant power to hydrate and tone while you sleep. Botanical peptides from rice protein work to minimize the look of crepey skin while blue-green algae extract acts as a natural retinoid to enhance this formula’s anti-aging abilities. With continued use, skin can look well-nourished with a reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.

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  2. Neocutis BIO Cream Firm
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    Neocutis BIO Cream Firm

    This peptide-infused cream boosts the complexion by promoting increased collagen and elastin production. It also features growth factors—which work to support hyaluronic production— glycerine, wheat germ oil, and borage seed oil to leave the skin feeling nourished and hydrated with application. All together, this moisturizer can target uneven-looking skin tone and texture and help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

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  3. PCA Skin ExLinea Pro Peptide Serum
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    PCA Skin ExLinea Pro Peptide Serum

    Aging skin requires a focus on hydration and this serum packs a punch. Formulated with hyaluronic acid to give skin an added dose of moisture, plus peptides to promote collagen production and elasticity in the skin, the formula is a must-try for preventative skincare. In addition to peptides and hyaluronic acid, the formula features rice bran wax for a smoother-looking complexion and vitamin E as an added precaution to protect against environmental aggressors such as the sun and pollution.

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  4. Revision Skincare Revox™ Line Relaxer
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    Revision Skincare Revox™ Line Relaxer

    Made to specifically target expression lines, this breakthrough serum boasts a blend of five peptides plus gamma-aminobutyric acid to address those pesky crow’s feet wrinkles around the eyes, lip lines, marionette lines, nasolabial fold, and even horizontal forehead lines. With its potent peptide formula, regular use can result in skin that appears more radiant with increased skin elasticity.

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  5. Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Wrinkle Resist Serum
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    Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Wrinkle Resist Serum

    This product features a 73% complex of 21 peptides and neuropeptides, plus two gamma proteins derived from Asian natto gum, to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin elasticity and even skin tone and texture. As if that’s not enough, this power-packed serum is also infused with squalane, a hyaluronic acid complex and vitamins A, C and E to nourish and hydrate your skin.

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  6. SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum
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    SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum

    The upgraded version of SkinMedica’s best-selling serum, this product comes in a dual chamber airless pump to combine two active formulas that target the appearance of deep wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin. The first chamber dispenses TNS complex, with growth factors and a skin-nourishing peptide complex, while the second chamber contains the brands Renessensce Advanced complex, a combination of botanicals, marine extracts and peptides. The dual formulas work in synergy to encourage cell renewal and support collagen and elastin levels.

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  7. SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex
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    SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex

    A.G.E., or advanced glycation end-products is a major factor of the natural aging process and can lead to under-eye bags. Fortunately, peptides in this cream work with antioxidant flavonoids and blueberry extract to combat dark circles, puffiness and crow’s feet over time while optical diffusers give the eye contour a healthy dose of radiance.

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  8. Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Moisturizer
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    Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Moisturizer

    Formulated with phyto peptides, vitamin C and mineralizing thermal water, this advanced anti-aging moisturizer works to correct multiple signs of aging, including wrinkles, dullness and loss of definition. Its creamy texture transforms into a powder-feel and hydrates skin for up to 48-hours, unveiling a lifted and firmer complexion.

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  9. iS Clinical Super Serum Advance Plus
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    iS Clinical Super Serum Advance Plus

    Copper tripeptide growth factor plus a 15% concentration of L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) smooth skin and improve scar tissue, stretch marks and uneven skin. Known for its wound-healing powers, copper tripeptide is released naturally in the body during an injury, making it a perfect regenerating compound to be utilized in the skin.

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  10. Jan Marini Transformation Face Cream
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    Jan Marini Transformation Face Cream

    Peptides work to rebuild and repair damaged cells and signal skin to produce collagen, slowing the aging process. This is a go-to moisturizer for a large range of women and men, including those with sensitive, dry and acne-prone skin. The “transformation” comes from a patented balance of not only peptides but also alpha hydroxy acid, aloe vera, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants.

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Beauty Reporter

Alisha Racker

Alisha Racker’s beauty career has spanned over a decade, beginning in the treatment room as a master esthetician, then onto the corporate world, working in PR for high-end skin care brands. A love for research and writing, coupled with her passion for beauty and wellness, blossomed into her new career: freelance writing. She’s had the privilege of contributing to DAYSPA magazine, Beauty News NYC and The Spa Insider, to name a few. When Alisha’s not spa-hopping, masking or investigating product labels, she can be found oil painting, planning her next book club meeting or hiking the beautiful Utah mountains, where she resides with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Instagram.