What Are Peptides? July 21, 2016 – Posted in: Featured, Home Right – Tags: , , ,

The field of anti-aging skincare is ever-growing with more and more products on the market that advertise the latest miraculous ingredient that will return you to your youth. One of the more popular, and recently scientifically-backed, of these are peptides. Peptides first started gaining traction in skincare at the turn of the century when they were marketed as a non-irritating alternative to the ever popular retinol. While the first generation peptides were primarily used in anti-aging products, today there are several more that are active ingredients in acne-fighting, color-correcting, and moisturizing products. So what are peptides anyways?

Essentially, they are mini-versions of proteins. While amino acids are the building blocks, peptides are the larger building blocks of proteins. The peptides that we use in skincare are those that are active, meaning they help regulate bodily functions in some way.


Due to their size, most proteins aren’t able to be absorbed into the skin when topically applied. This is where the smaller size of active peptides come into play. Most often, peptides are complexed with fatty acids in product formulas in order to increase their chances of reaching the deepest layers of the skin. Once absorbed, they signal a response from skin cells based on their specific function. This response can range from repairing damaged proteins to reducing facial movements to making sure skin cells have the resources they need for optimal functioning. There are already a multitude of benefits of peptides as active ingredients, and researchers are still discovering more each day.


One of the most fascinating abilities of certain peptides is the prevention of wrinkles via muscle relaxation. You may have heard of “Botox-like” peptides that can block muscle contractions in a way similar to Botox. Wrinkles, like crow’s feet, are often caused by the habitual contraction of muscles that pull the skin as they move. By temporarily blocking these muscle’s ability to contract and move in the first place, those wrinkles are less likely and will take much longer to form. Some active peptide ingredients with this ability to look out for are:

  • Argireline (Acetyl Hexapeptide-3/Acetyl Hexapeptide-8)
  • Acetyl Octapeptide-3
  • Hibiscus Esculentus Extract
  • Dipeptide Diaminobutyrolyl Benzylamide Diacetate


Another benefit of peptides is their ability to provide and increase essential vitamins and minerals in the skin as well as maintain optimal water level on the surface of skin cells. They primarily accomplish this by signaling skin cells to increase their metabolism, thus produce more of what they need. By optimizing nutrition and hydration, these peptides are able to keep skin looking fresh and dewy. Some of these peptides are:

  • Hexapeptide-11
  • Milk-based peptides, such as lactose, lactoglobulin, and lactoferrin
  • Acetyl Hexapeptide-37


Possibly the most well-known, or at least most marketed, function of peptides is their ability to stimulate cell renewal and the production of collagen, that ever-so-important structural protein. Because this class of peptides is the most well-known, it’s also the most researched. Thus, there are many different peptides that operate in different ways to accomplish this function. The end result ultimately remains the same. These peptides leave skin firmer, reduce the appearance and size of wrinkles, and can even prevent and improve stretch marks. Some of the more well-known of these are:

  • Palmitoyl Pentapeptides
  • Palmitoyl Tripeptides
  • Palmitoyl Oligopeptides
  • Palmitoyl Tetrapeptides
  • Hydrolyzed Rice and Soy Proteins


One of the lesser known, but quickly expanding, fields of peptides are those that can aid in clearing and preventing acne. They accomplish this by either acting as an irritation-free exfoliant, killing bacteria, or preventing UV rays and other environmental and internal stressors from causing damage to skin cells. Some of these peptides to look out for on active ingredients lists are:

  • Azeloyl Tetrapeptide-23
  • Oligopeptide-10
  • Hydrolyzed Amaranth Protein
  • Hexanoyl Dipeptide-3 Norleucine Acetate
  • Acetyl Tetrapeptide-22


As you can see in the examples above, many of these peptides have quite wordy and chemical sounding names. Because of this, many products refer to them as a “Peptide Complex”, or in some cases, like Argireline, there are more common names that have been adopted by skincare brands. Another of these that you may have seen is Matrixyl, Matrixyl 3000, or a similar variation. What you should know is more often than not, these names and complexes contain different combinations of the same peptides. However, like many skincare ingredients not all are created equal, and not all are at their optimal concentrations. If a product is marketed as a peptide cream or containing peptides, always make sure to check if it’s on the active ingredient list.

If you heard about peptides before reading this, I have no doubt it was in reference to their anti-aging abilities. The beauty and skincare world is becoming increasingly obsessed in its search for that “fountain of youth” ingredient. These products even have their own word now: cosmeceuticals, or the combination of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Peptides are one of the many ingredients that are highly marketed in cosmeceuticals. However, because of the abundance of potential peptides with different functions, researchers are slowly shifting the focus from just peptides in anti-aging products to peptides in all kinds of skin products, including dark spot correctors and acne treatments. There are even hair and eyelash products, especially mascaras, that are using peptides due to their ability to promote keratin and hair growth. While the skincare market will continue to remain flooded with anti-aging peptide products, keep a look out for a new wave of peptide products for different purposes.


peptide products

As I said before, there are many different kinds of products that contain peptides because of their diverse functions. Some of these are serums, eye treatments, night creams, and even eyelash treatments. They range from expensive high-end department store products to budget-friendly drugstore products. As always check the labels, but it seems like you can find effective peptide treatments at almost any price.

At $150 for 1 oz, Peter Thomas Roth’s FIRMx Growth Factor Extreme Neuropeptide Serum is easily the most expensive one on our list. However, its patent-pending formula contains a whopping 52% active ingredients that work together to firm and tighten skin. One of those active ingredients is Acetyl Hexapeptide which, as mentioned above, is able to block facial muscles from contracting. Plus like all serums, a little bit goes a long way.

Olay’s Professional Pro-X Eye Restoration Complex is a bit more budget-friendly, coming in at $45 for 0.5 oz. This powerful eye treatment contains Palmitoyl Pentapeptide to stimulate collagen production and reduce the appearance of crow’s feet and dark circles around the eyes. Its formula also contains Vitamin E, Vitamin B5, and the Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Citric Acid and Lactic Acid, for added moisture and natural exfoliation.

While some people in the beauty world equate price with effectiveness, that’s not always the case. Garnier’s Ultra Lift Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream is a perfect example of this. At a mere $15 for 1.7 oz, this night cream is by far the cheapest. However, its formula’s combination of hydrolyzed soy and rice proteins with Pro-Retinol gives this bedtime treatment a one-two punch of collagen-stimulating power.

The last product on our list, RapidLash’s Eyelash Enhancing Serum, is part of the new wave of peptide products mentioned above. Though a bit pricey at $50 for 0.1 oz, its formula boasts Copper Peptides and Amino Acids to stimulate hair growth and thickness as well as vitamins and natural oils to keep eyelashes, and eyebrows too, hydrated and shiny.