I’ve been meaning to talk about peptides for a while now. They’re the new buzzword in skincare, that miraculous new group of ingredients that can, supposedly, help us turn the clock back and rejuvenate skin. But, I don’t understand them. Actually, no one does.
Peptides are a sort of anomaly. They shouldn’t work. Yet, it seems they do. While brands are more than happy to add them to their products anyway, those of us who are into cosmetic science and are curious to know how ingredients work have been scratching our heads to find an explanation, and decide if it’s really worth it to spend our hard-earned cash on them.
So, here’s what we know about peptides at the moment, and whether it’s worth using them:
What Are Peptides?
Made up of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), peptides have the same chemical structure as proteins, but are shorter in length. The number of amino acids they contain is usually mentioned in the name. For example, a dipeptide has two amino acids, while tetrapeptide four. The most common types of peptides used in cosmetics are acetyl hexapeptide-3, palmitoyl oligopeptide, matrixyl-3000, and palmitoyl pentapeptide-3.
Why Peptides Shouldn’t Work
Have you ever heard of the 500 Dalton Rule? Also called atomic mass unit, dalton is, basically, an unit of mass. As a rule, anything that’s under 500 Daltons can easily penetrate skin, and anything that’s over 500 Daltons can’t.
Of course, there are exceptions (there’s always at least one of those, isn’t it?), but these are very few. Peptides aren’t one of them. Over 500 Daltons, they shouldn’t be able to penetrate skin at all. And if they can’t, how the heck can they possibly work?
According to some experts, they don’t. Dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D. believes them to be another useless fad. Maybe she’s right. But then, how can we explain the results of these studies?
What Science Says About Peptides
Most of the studies on peptides were conducted by the companies that make and sell them. Not exactly the most reliable of sources, are they? Independent studies are, unfortunately, few and far between, but they seem to suggest peptides are, actually, effective.
An example? A 12-weeks, double-blind, placebo-controlled, split-faced clinical study comparing a moisturizer with palmitoyl pentapeptide to a placebo has found that the former significantly reduced fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen (you know, that thing that is essential to keep skin firm and elastic?).
Then, there’s another study confirming the ability of palmitoyl oligopeptide to stimulate the production of collagen when used twice a day for six months.
Although the evidence is still scant, it seems we can’t just discontinue peptides as useless. They do something good for the skin. But, how?!
How peptides may work
It has been suggested that peptides are cell-communicating ingredients that work through signalling. Basically, when collagen breaks down, our bodies create specific peptides that send a message to the skin that it’s time to produce some more.
So, when you apply peptides topically, they tell skin, “hey, you’ve just lost some collagen. Make some more, please. And quickly, too!”. Your skin falls for it, and complies. It now has more collagen, which helps keep it firmer, more elastic, and wrinkle-free.
Of course, this is just a theory. While we all wait for science to prove (or disprove) it, should we buy products with peptides? Yes, but only if they meet certain criteria.
What are the best products with peptides?
As we don’t know how peptides work yet, I wouldn’t recommend you spend a small fortune on a peptide-rich serum or moisturizer. Instead, if you want to add them to your skincare routine, choose products with proven-to-work antioxidants and exfoliating acids (such as glycolic and salicylic) that also happen to have peptides.
That way, regardless of if and how peptides work, you’ll still get amazing results. So, where can you find such products? Here are my favorites:
Dr Dennis Gross Hydra-Pure Firming Serum ($95.00)
This serum is expensive, but worth every cent if you have dry skin. Lactic acid and sodium hyaluronate boost moisture, keeping your parched skin hydrated for hours. Vitamins A, C, and E, and a bunch of other antioxidants prevent and fight premature aging. The couple of peptides in the formula should help with that, too. Available at Sephora.
Olay Micro-Sculpting Serum Fragrance-Free ($16.49)
One of the best products in the Olay line, it contains peptides and antioxidants, plus another anti-aging superstar: niacinamide. Very underrated, niacinamide can do pretty much anything, from hydrating skin to treating acne, from reducing wrinkles to soothing rosacea. Because this serum is fragrance-free, everyone, including those with sensitive skin, can use it. Available at Amazon.
Paula’s Choice Resist Barrier Repair Moisturizer With Retinol ($32.00)
Suitable for all, but very oily, skin types, this moisturizer contains retinol (which, alone, would be a good enough reason to buy it), antioxidants and peptides that can stimulate the production of collagen, helping skin look its best, at any age. Available at Paula’s Choice.
The Bottom Line
Although they shouldn’t, it seems that peptides really work. But, until we know more, choose products with scientifically-proven-to-work ingredients, like retinol and vitamin C, that also happen to have peptides. Best case scenario, the peptides are an amazing bonus. Worst case, they won’t harm your skin, and wallet, at all.
What do you think of peptides? Do you use them, or are you waiting until we know more about them?