Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Peptides in Skincare

Peptide skincare products

These days, a quick scan of the shelves of your local Sephora® can feel a bit like a challenging vocabulary lesson: hyaluronic acid, retinol, squalane, peptides. We’ve covered the former three ingredients on SpotlyteTM before, but peptides are a particularly challenging category. You may have heard of them in a biology or chemistry class, but because there are so many kinds of peptides out there, it can be hard to understand how they work for skin. 

[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]

However, it’s worth taking the time to decipher these powerful ingredients: they’ve been touted to visibly improve firmness, elasticity, and the appearance of wrinkles. Here, we’ve tapped Dr. Maryam Zamani, creator of the skincare line MZ SkinTM, who answers the most pressing peptide questions, from how they work to how to best incorporate them into your routine.

What is a peptide? 

Microscopic as they may be, peptides are massively important to our skin. This is because they are the building blocks of proteins — including collagen. (Read about how collagen keeps our skin looking its best.) Peptides are comprised of individual amino acid molecules, which align in various sequences to form a chain. 

These molecule sequences can vary and consequently produce hundreds of peptide types. When these different peptides (or molecule chains) align, they form a protein. There are hundreds of types of peptides due to the many different combinations that can form from the amino acid chains, but perhaps the most essential to skincare is collagen, which plays a crucial role in keeping skin plump and taut. 

How do peptides work?

“As the skin ages, collagen depletes and the skin’s natural ability to produce collagen slows down,” Dr. Zamani explains. “Introducing peptides [via] skincare [supports] the body to boost collagen and elastin production.” 

When collagen and elastin production are increased, your skin gets firmer and bouncier. This also helps smooth out the look of fine lines and wrinkles, resulting in a smoother skin texture overall.

What’s the best way to incorporate peptides into your routine? 

According to Dr. Zamani, one of the best ways to get your peptides is through a serum. This is because serums are generally more concentrated than other skincare formulations, and can deliver a more robust dose of peptides. Peptide serums can be layered under most other skincare products without issue. In fact, they can actually work well with many common ingredients including retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid, notes Dr. Zamani. BeautyBioTM The Nightly Retinol + Peptide Anti-Aging Serum ($95) pairs peptides with both retinol and hyaluronic acid to promote firmer, smoother skin.

One exception, though, is layering peptides with AHAs, which can alter the skin’s pH and reduce the efficacy of peptides. Instead, use peptides and AHAs at different times of day. Dr. Zamani likes to get her AHAs from the MZ Skin Cleanse & Clarify Dual Action AHA Cleanser and Mask ($92) in the morning, and save her peptide formula for nighttime. Consider the Naturally SeriousTM After-DarkTM Natural Peptide Sleeping Cream ($52), which features flaxseed peptide to help lift and smooth the look of skin overnight. 

Furthermore, peptides can be used on most skin types; unlike strong actives such as retinol, these proteins provide a much gentler form of skin rejuvenation, making them a generally safe pick for sensitive skin types as well. 

How else can I get peptides into my routine?

Peptides in skincare have been around for a while, however, more recently, brands have been releasing peptides in drinkable form. Dr. Zamani notes that the fastest way for the body to absorb ingredients is through ingesting, but she’s not entirely convinced that glugging your skincare ingredients is the way to go. “The evidence that peptides within the bloodstream can reach the skin cannot be concluded,” she says. “In theory, yes, they work as the body distributes the peptide all around the body, but we are still awaiting solid research to prove the movement of the ingestable supplement within the bloodstream.” 

[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment, medication, or supplement.]

The jury is clearly still out on the efficacy of edible peptides. However, if you’re interested in giving them a go, Vital Proteins® Collagen Peptides ($25) is made exclusively of (you guessed it) collagen peptides derived from bovine hide, with reviewers claiming it gave them smoother, more hydrated skin. These drinks might be tasty — and perhaps they work. One thing we do know for sure, though, is that peptides are a small but mighty force in topical skincare. 

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