What are peptides and how do peptides for skin work

What are peptides in skincare and how do they work?

23rd December 2022 | Author: Katherine O'Shea

Confused about peptides? Here we explain everything you need to know about how they work and how they help your skin 

You’ve likely heard the term “peptides” or seen it written on various skincare products.

Alongside ceramides and amino acids, peptides are an increasingly common ingredient being added to skincare, hair care, and even makeup and they promise to give you a glowing, healthy, youthful complexion.

Yet are they worth the hype, and how exactly do they work? Here’s everything you need to know about peptides.

What are peptides?


The four broad categories of peptides are:

Signal peptides – stimulate the body to generate more collagen and elastin

Carrier peptides – help the skin to repair and heal wounds

Enzyme inhibitor peptides – reduce the breakdown of collagen

Neurotransmitter peptides – smooth the appearance of your wrinkles and fine lines

Peptides, also known as polypeptides are found naturally in the skin.

They are short chains of amino acids that are the building blocks of a number of proteins our skin and hair need to function at their best.

For example, collagen – often referred to as our skin’s “scaffolding –” consists of three polypeptide chains.

Peptides are also used in the body’s production of elastin fibers, as well as keratin.

Elastin is another protein found in our skin and it’s what gives our skin its elasticity, while keratins help form the tissues found in our skin, but also our nails and hair.

Peptides have been used in skincare since the early 1970s.

A biotechnology research centre in Washington studied how GHK – a peptide found naturally in human plasma, saliva, and urine – helps accelerate wound healing and skin regeneration, when mixed with Cupric ion.

The team found that GHK stimulates both the synthesis and breakdown of collagen.

When used in a synthetic form in skincare, it can tighten loose skin and improve elasticity, density, and firmness.

It can also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, photodamage, and hyperpigmentation.



Vitamin C | Salicylic Acid | Hyaluronic Acid | Glycolic Acid | Retinol | Niacinamide | Lactic Acid | AHAs and BHAs | What do ceramides do and how do they help the skin? | What are amino acids? | Skincare Ingredient Checker

What do peptides do?

In short, peptides form a significant part of the foundations of your skin.

As we get older, the natural production of peptides drops and this is what leads to saggy skin, wrinkles, and fine lines.

As a result, peptides have become a popular anti-ageing ingredient used in skincare and are used as a way to increase the number of peptides in the skin. This in turn can help increase collagen, elastin, and keratin production.

Peptides for skin

Peptide skincareGetty Images/iStockphoto

When applied topically, through the skin, peptides in skincare send a message (signal) to your skin cells to perform a certain task.

The task depends on which peptides are included but this can include sending a message to make your wrinkles less noticeable or smooth the complexion.

In particular, applying peptides to your skin can help to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin at a higher rate than what would happen naturally as you get older. Seeing as collagen can’t be absorbed through the skin, peptides are the next best thing.

Another benefit to using peptide skincare products is they can help ease inflammation, repair damaged skin, and even out your skin tone by penetrating further into the skin that regular skincare ingredients can.

FURTHER READING: How old does your skin REALLY look? Olay Skin Advisor scans your face to reveal if you’re prematurely ageing

What to look for when buying peptides in skincare?

If you want to fully enjoy the benefits of a peptide product, you’re going to want to opt for a moisturiser or a serum. That’s because you need the peptides to have contact with your skin for as long as possible. A cleanser, for example, won’t be as effective because it will be rinsed off.

If peptides are listed as one of the first ingredients on the bottle or box, this is a good sign. It means there will be a decent amount to make a difference to your skin.

Some product ranges may just be using the term ‘peptides’ to reel you in, but then don’t contain enough of them to benefit your skin.

Peptide ingredients may go under different names including, ‘dipeptide,’ ‘tripeptide,’ and, ‘hexapeptide.’ That’s because some products will combine several peptides in one product to maximise the collagen-boosting benefits.

Avoid choosing a product that has alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) alongside peptides because this ingredient will mean the peptides don’t work as effectively as if they were on their own.

The table below comes from a 2020 study that looked into the effectiveness of peptides in skincare and how they relate to wellness. Click here, or click the image to make it bigger (opens in a new tab).

Peptides in skincare Errante, Ledwoń, Latajka, Rovero & Papini/Frontiers in Chemistry

How to use peptides?

When choosing and using peptide skincare products, bear in mind they work best when combined with other skin-repairing ingredients and antioxidants.

This means that the most effective way of using peptides in skincare is to use them alongside products that contain Vitamin C, niacinamide, antioxidants and hyaluronic acid.

It’s the cocktail of anti-ageing ingredients, rather than the individual ingredients themselves, that help your skin look plumper and smoother.

The best peptide skincare products

If you’re looking to add more peptides to your skincare routine, these are our favourite products to (hopefully) suit most budgets.

♥︎ The Inkey List Peptide Moisturiser

From £17 | Buy now

The Inkey List Peptide MoisturiserThe Inkey List

The Inkey List’s Peptide Moisturiser is a relatively cheap way to introduce peptides to your skincare routine while helping to target fine lines and wrinkles.

It contains a dual peptide complex – Acetyl Hexapeptide-37 and Pentapeptide-48, or RoyalEpigenP5. The latter is a peptide that has been shown to activate skin regeneration, help heal skin and leave it glowing.

The plus side is that this moisturiser is affordable and makes the skin look smooth after just one use. The downside is that, due to its lower price, the amount of peptides found in this moisturiser is low.

Despite its name suggesting otherwise.

In fact, the peptides are the last two entries in the ingredients list, which means they make up the smallest percentage of its formula. That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy it, it’s just worth bearing in mind that, when it comes to peptide skincare, you really do get what you pay for.

FURTHER READING: Spotlight on Inkey List: Affordable skincare and hair care

Buy now from Paula's Choice

♥︎ Paula’s Choice Peptide Booster

From £17 | Buy now

Paula's Choice Peptide Booster Paula's Choice

The Paula’s Choice Peptide Booster is jam-packed with peptides. In fact, it includes eight different types of peptides, which is good news when it comes to an anti-ageing product because each will be sending its own message to your skin cells to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.

This peptide booster is designed to soften your fine lines and wrinkles, as well as repair your skin barrier. This will result in a better overall skin tone and texture.

The only downside to this product is that it contains silicone, which has been linked with clogged pores and spots.

It should be said that the jury is out on whether silicones are really that bad, and as long as you’re exfoliating and cleansing properly, you should be able to avoid any problems.

What’s more, Paula’s Choice sells a travel version of its Peptide Booster allowing you to give it a go and see how your skin reacts for a much lower price than paying £51 for the full-sized version!

FURTHER READING: Everything you need to know about your skin barrier 

Buy now from Paula's Choice

♥︎ Olay Regenerist 3-Point Moisturiser

£31.49 | Buy now

Olay Regenerist 3-point firming cream peptidesOlay

If you’re only just starting out in the peptide product world and want a brand you can trust, we recommend the Olay Regenerist 3-Point Moisturiser.

It’s officially called Olay Regenerist 3-Point Firming Anti-Ageing Cream Moisturiser and, as the name suggests, it promises to plump and firm the skin to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

The power of this cream comes from its Amino-peptide complex II which has been formulated to help to regenerate your skin’s surface cells.

This is a great anti-ageing, peptide-based moisturiser for targeting your saggy-prone areas, including your eyes, jawline, and neck.

FURTHER READING: How old does your skin REALLY look? Olay Skin Advisor scans your face to reveal if you’re prematurely ageing

Buy now from Boots

♥︎ Estee Lauder Resilience Tri-Peptide cream

£82 | Buy now

Estee Lauder Resilience Tri-Peptide creamEstee Lauder

The Estee Lauder Resilience Tri-Peptide Cream is definitely at the pricier end of the market, but if you can afford it, it’s a great option.

This is a really lovely and silky cream that has a triple peptide complex.

It will help firm and plump up your skin. It will also build your skin’s natural defence barrier with antioxidant ingredients and Estee Lauder’s IR-Defense technology.

This neutralises damage to your skin’s moisture barrier caused by exposure to infrared.

You can buy this cream for normal/combination skin, or for dry skin.

FURTHER READING: What skin type do I have? Discover how to know your skin type with our skin types guide

Buy now from Lookfantastic

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