are copper peptides more effective than retinoids

Have you heard? Copper is the latest metal to make its way into your serums and moisturisers, in the form of copper peptides. Once again, The Ordinary made this active popular – and confused skincare fanatics who have no idea how to use them or what they even do.

Using metals in skincare is nothing new. Beauty brands are literally mining the skincare world for gold and shiny metals they hope can fight wrinkles, fade away dark spots, and even treat acne. We’re all familiar with those 24K gold-infused masks and colloidal silver serums that promise to turn back the clock. They don’t – in fact they’re pretty useless.

Copper peptides seem to be the exception to the rule. Rumour has it, they work even better than retinoids, the only anti-aging treatment approved by the FDA. Should you throw your retinol serums away and switch to copper peptides yet? Here’s all you need to know about copper peptides in skincare.

What Are Copper Peptides?

Peptides are proteins made up of amino acids, the building blocks of life. Some of these peptides have an affinity for the metal copper. When they meet, they hug and bind to each other really tightly. That’s when peptides and copper become one: a copper peptide.

It can happen naturally in the body. Copper peptides are present in trace amounts in saliva, blood plasma, and even urine (eww, I know). Or it can happen in a lab. A scientist mixes amino acids with a solution that contains copper and a copper peptide comes out. In case you were wondering, the copper peptides found in our skincare products come from a lab. Phew!

There are different types of peptides in skincare. Copper peptides are carrier peptides, a.k.a. messengers that tell your skin how to behave. Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Idriss Dermatology in New York, says “They work as signals telling our skin to produce more collagen where we need it the most. Carrier peptides, like copper peptides, deliver trace minerals to the skin to boost collagen.”

FYI, you won’t find copper peptides on the ingredient lists. Instead, look for Copper tripeptide-1 and Tripeptide-1 Copper Acetate. The former is the most popular one while only a handful of products use the latter.

Related: Types Of Peptides In Skincare: Which Ones Are Best For You?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

Benefits Of Copper Peptides For Skin

Copper peptides have become popular in skincare because they’re said to deliver a wide variety of benefits, from boosting collagen to repairing wounds and even keeping breakouts under control. Let’s take a look at them:

1. They Boost Collagen

Copper peptides are powerful allies in the fight against premature aging. According to celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, copper peptides “serve as an antioxidant, promote collagen and elastin production and also remove damaged collagen and elastin from the skin.”

Collagen is the protein that keeps your skin firm. From the age of 21, your skin naturally loses 1% of collagen a year. Eating too much sugar and processed foods, unprotected sun exposure, pollution, and menopause are just some of the factors that speed up this process, leaving you with wrinkles and saggy skin.

The more collagen your skin can make, either alone or aided by actives like copper peptides, the less likely it is to sag and wrinkle. There are also a few studies that say copper peptides produce more collagen than vitamins A (retinoids) and C, two of the most powerful anti-aging superheroes ever.

Related: 8 Science-Backed Ways To Rebuild Lost Collagen

2. They Repair Wounds

Collagen doesn’t just help to keep skin firm and prevent wrinkles. It also plays an essential role in wound repair by stimulating the breakdown of large collagen in scar tissue and promoting the production of new, healthy collagen. A 1998 studies confirms that copper peptides can increase the production of collagen for wound healing.

3. They Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Copper peptides also have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is the main cause of wrinkles, dark spots, acne, and pretty much every other skin condition you can think of. By reducing inflammation, copper peptides soothe skin, reduce redness, and help acne, rosacea, and other inflammatory skin conditions heal faster.

4. They Hydrate Skin

Copper peptides promote the production of elastin (the protein that keeps skin elastic) elastin, glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans. These are all natural components of your skin’s protective barrier. This barrier keeps moisture in and irritants out. By strengthening it, copper peptides help to keep skin hydrated and protect it from environmental aggressors.

5. They Have Antioxidant Properties

Finally, copper peptides produce enzymes that are essential for healthy, younger-looking skin. This enzymes include Superoxide Dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme that destroys free radicals before they can give you wrinkles, and Lysyl Oxidaze, which weaves together elastin and collagen. But copper peptides are not substitute for other antioxidants. Don’t throw away your Vitamin C serums yet, ladies!

Related: Is Superoxide Dismutase The Most Powerful Antioxidant Of Them All?

Copper Peptides VS Retinoids: Which Are Better For Wrinkles?

Retinoid is the name for all forms of Vitamin A in skincare. The stronger is Tretinoin, available only by prescription. Other forms used in OTC products include retinol, retinaldehyde, and granactive retinoid. Here’s how they help skin stay and look young:

  1. They have antioxidant properties that destroy the free radicals that cause premature wrinkles and dark spots.
  2. They accelerate cellular turnover (i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process), reducing the appearance of dark spots, wrinkles, and acne.
  3. They boost the production of collagenthe protein that keeps skin firm.

Retinoids are the gold standard for anti-aging, the only actives approved by the FDA to reduce wrinkles, not just their appearance. Can copper peptides work better? According to a 1998 study, they do. Done on real people, the study showed copper peptides boost collagen better than Tretinoin and Vitamin C. After one month, copper peptides increase collagen production in 70% of people, while vitamin C only in 50% and tretinoin only in 40%!

This is SO impressive. So why WON’T I be switching from retinoids to copper peptides anytime soon? First of all, as impressive as this study is, it’s just one study. I need to see more research backing up this claim before I hail copper peptides as a holy grail. Plus, this study measured just one marker, collagen-boosting. Unlike copper peptides, retinoids can improve the texture of your skin, reduce roughness, and fade away dark spots.

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It

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When And How To Use Them

You can use copper peptides both in the morning and in the evening. I personally like to use them only once a day. I like to alternate my products, so I get the best of everything without overwhelming my skin. If you’re using a copper peptides serum, use it right after cleansing but before hydrating serums and moisturiser. If you’re using it with a retinol serum, apply the one with the lightest consistency first.

Can You Use Copper Peptides With Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, boosts collagen production, and brightens the skin tone. All things that copper peptides promise. But while copper peptides are still quite new, there’s a ton of research that proves Vitamin C works. If you have to pick one, go for Vitamin C.

Can you use copper peptides with Vitamin C, so you can get the best of both worlds? There’s some concern that Vitamin C may be deactivated by copper peptides. Again, research here is at the beginning, so I haven’t seen any definite proof yet. But, just to be on the safe side, use them ay different times. For example, Vitamin C in the morning and copper peptides in the evening.

Can You Use Copper Peptides With Retinoids?

Again, the jury is still out there. Some experts believe that using copper peptides together with retinol can disrupt the bonds between the peptides. But there’s no hard evidence yet. I personally used them together and I didn’t experience any side effects. On the contrary, when applied together with retinoids, copper peptides helped my skin better tolerate them.

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Copper Peptides Side Effects

Copper peptides, when topically applied in skincare, are generally considered to be safe. But, as with all skincare products, it’s wise to do a patch test before you introduce them into your skincare routine.

Copper peptides can also stimulate hair growth. It works by stimulating follicular cell proliferation, resulting in larger follicles that create longer and thicker hair. That’s a good thing, if you want to grow more hair. But, if you’re a woman wanting to fight wrinkles, I’m guessing chin hair is the last thing you want. Will that happen to you? Hard to tell. Most people can use copper peptides without this annoying side effects, but a small minority has seen an increase in facial hair. Let’s put it this way: if facial hair is already a concern for you, I wouldn’t use copper peptides.

Finally, there’s a concern that you could overdose on copper peptides, resulting in OLDER-looking skin. Dr. Todorov explains: “Excessive use can have an opposite effect by increasing the levels of free copper and/or by triggering excessive production of metalloproteinases. Free copper promotes free radical damage and collagen breakdown leading to accelerated skin aging. Metalloproteinases can digest collagen and elastin, weakening the skin and causing sag. These problems do not seem to occur among the majority of copper peptide users. However, there are anecdotal reports indicating that such side-effects might happen with overuse, incorrect use, or even normal use in sensitive individuals. Ideally, a sufficiently large study is needed to better quantify these risk.”

Who Can Use Them (And Who Shouldn’t)?

Anyone can use copper peptides – unless you’re allergic to them. But should you?

If you’re already using powerful anti-aging actives like retinol, Vitamin C, and other antioxidants, I’d argue you don’t need to incorporate copper peptides into your skincare routine. These actives have decades of research backing up their effectiveness. Together with sunscreen, they can prevent up to 90% of premature aging.

Having said that, if you want to do absolutely everything you can and have the money to spare, you can include a copper peptides serum in your skincare routine. Think of it as a supplement for when your skin needs the extra oomph, not a must like sunscreen or retinol. Be aware there’s no proof it works as well as them – yet.

What Are The Best Copper Peptides Serums?

If you’re ready to splurge on copper peptides, you may want to check these out. They are the best copper peptides serums and creams I’ve come across so far:

  • Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream ($68.00): This cream contains every peptide you can think of. Its lightweight texture absorbs quickly, moisturises deeply, and plumps up fine lines and wrinkles, so they look smaller. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
  • NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 3:1 (£38.00): Unlike the old versions of this serums, you don’t have to mix it yourself. It works out of the box and keeps skin in a constant state of repair, making sure everything works as it should. The result? Your best skin day, every day. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Niod, and SpaceNK
  • The Ordinary Buffet + Copper Peptides 1% (£28.90): An affordable serum that contains every peptide you can think of. It doesn’t work as well as the other products in this list, but if you’re on a budget, it’ll do. Available at Beauty BayBoots, Cult Beauty, Sephora, The Ordinary, and Ulta

The Bottom Line

Copper peptides are pretty expensive and there isn’t much research on them yet. But, what we know is promising, so I’m including them in my skincare routine and recommend you do the same. But, only when the products have plenty of other proven-to-work ingredients. Just in case. 😉