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The importance of peptides as a skincare ingredient

Although peptides have been used in skincare for decades, recent advances in science and product development have boosted their utility and diversity.

Peptides are chains of amino acid molecules that are linked together. These chains can range in length, and the different types are often named according to how many amino acids are in each – so, tripeptides are chains of three amino acids, a pentapeptide is five, hexapeptide is six, and so on.

Our bodies naturally produce peptides, but we can also create peptides for topical skincare, injectables and supplements that can help our bodies respond in a certain way.

Dr Neal Kitchen, chief geneticist at skincare brand Hydropeptide, says, “These types of peptides can be sourced from botanical resources like soy and wheat, biotechnology processes such as yeast fermentation, or through recombinant technology that allows us to create a very specific peptide sequence that can carry out a particular activity in the skin.”

Peptides have a range of functions, as Dr Kitchen explains. “Their primary role is to act as a signal to communicate a specific action or activity in our cells. For example, one peptide might help trigger the production of the collagen protein, whereas a different peptide might block or reduce the activity of an enzyme.”

Victoria Evans, education manager at Dermalogica, adds, “When applied topically in skincare, peptides can trigger skin cells to perform specific functions such as building collagen and elastin. With ingredient development over recent years, there are now multiple peptides that can support skin in various ways such as calming, hydrating and brightening.”

They are usually created under four categories: signalling, neuro-inhibiting, anti-microbial and carrier peptides.

Dr Kitchen explains, “Signalling peptides are the most common and diverse group as they help trigger a specific response in the skin such as stimulating collagen or other structural proteins, activating other important responses in the skin such as antioxidant protection, or the peptide can help block activities such as inflammation or hyperpigmentation.

“Neuro-inhibiting peptides are quite popular as well because they are ‘botox-like’ in their ability to disrupt the formation of expression lines by disrupting the muscle contraction. Anti-microbial peptides are valuable in skincare because they can help create a safe preservative for the formulation or these peptides can also benefit those dealing with acne concerns.

“Carrier peptides can help enhance the delivery of active topicals into the skin, so these peptides can improve the activity of ingredients like vitamin C, retinol and hyaluronic acid.”