Peptides - little molecules that do a lot for your skin

Heather Stephen

They’re a familiar ingredient in skincare products, but what are peptides, and what do they do for our skin? Heather Stephen finds out.

The peptides found in our bodies are made up of short chains of amino acids – the building blocks of protein. And the peptides manufactured and used in skin care products are thought to communicate with skin cells to produce new collagen and elastin.

Manufacturers claim they help the skin to appear plumper, smoother and younger and reduce wrinkles and sagging skin.

Beauty companies even go as far to promote some peptides as an alternative to Botox although many think this might be a claim too far.

Although it is unlikely that peptides can rival the smoothing effects of Botox studies have shown they can have quite impressive effects on our skin. Research by the University of Reading found that a pentapeptide trademarked Matrixyl nearly doubled the amount of collagen in the skin.



Peptide molecule

And another study in the British Journal of Dermatology found commercial anti-ageing products containing peptides had better results than the prescription treatment Tretinoin – a vitamin A derived therapy for fine lines.

Different types of peptides have been shown to smooth wrinkles or increase firmness and these can be combined in one product targeting several different signs of ageing at the same time.

‘When you are young you have a huge amount of collagen in your skin but this reduces the older you get. Peptides are supposed to encourage the synthesis of collagen giving the skin a more youthful and taut appearance,’ says Steve Bell, technical director of Swan Laboratories, which formulates cosmetics, in Hertfordshire.

‘Studies have shown peptides do plump up the skin and give it a fresher appearance and the best results are achieved with pentapeptides which contain chains of amino acids of a similar length to those found in the skin,’ he says.


Peptides, journal, Harley Street Emporium

Results take time

‘It is important to note that the using skin care products will not produce results overnight, but continuous daily skin care of selected good products suitable for your skin will show improvements over time,’ says Dr Hadi Abusharia, a Yorkshire based dermatologist who has recently launched his own range of skincare products called Vivderma.

Mr Bell says it can take up to two months to see any improvement in the skin while Dr Abusharia says important to think about how much of the active ingredient the products contain.

‘They can achieve their intended function if the level or concentration of the active peptide is used as recommended by the manufacturer. Unfortunately some companies use the active peptides below the recommended level by the manufacturer and the finished product will not deliver the intended benefits,’ Dr Abusharia says.

In general a concentration of 3-8% has been shown to be effective. products that say they contain more may not necessarily deliver a better result.

Mr Bell says it is difficult for consumers to know how much a product is likely to contain but he advises: ‘Look at the list of ingredients and if peptides are near the top then they are most likely to have a significant amount in the product.’

Peptides don’t come cheap but he says you don’t have to pay an exorbitant amount for an effective product. ‘Remember although products need to have a reasonable amount of peptides, those which are hundreds of pounds are often no better than one that cost £20 or £30,’ he says.


Peptides, journal, Harley Street Emporium


As their name implies, these are cosmetics, so any improvement is only temporary and the skin reverts back to its former state quite quickly after you stop using the product, according to Mr Bell.

And he adds it’s unlikely peptides can do everything product manufacturers claim. He says they can’t plump lips, reverse sagging skin or correct dark circles but adds these things may be corrected by other ingredients in the same product – but for aging skin, there are benefits.

‘There is no point in using peptide creams in your 20s as you don’t need them then but they are worth using as you go into your 30s,’ he says.‘They can even be used when you are very old. Although they won’t give an 80-year-old the skin of a teenager they will still improve the skin and make it more elastic.’

As American skincare expert Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice skincare products says, ‘take those seemingly fantastic claims 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.’

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