Peptides in Skincare

We all love peptides. We tell our clients they are the “building blocks” of the skin and we need them to maintain the skin’s structure. But what actually happens when we slather on those peptide-filled serums and moisturizers?

Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals (2012) defines peptides as: “Chains of amino acids that stimulate fibroblasts, cell metabolism, collagen, and improve skin’s firmness. Larger chains are called polypeptides” (Page 746).

Okay, a quick breakdown of that definition: Fibroblasts are cells that create collagen and elastin. The peptides tell the fibroblasts to create more collagen and elastin. Collagen is a protein that not only gives skin its structure but also promotes wound healing.

So, peptides stimulate our fibroblasts to make more collagen, thus leaving us with firm skin. Wound healing in terms of our skin refers more to the damage we receive from the sun, oxidative stress, and pollution, which break down the skin’s structure. 

Peptides are organically found in every cell of our body. They keep our cells functioning properly, structured correctly, and receiving the important minerals they need.

When we refer to applying peptides topically onto the skin, we are typically referring to the activity of signal peptides. This type of peptide tricks our skin into thinking there has been an injury, thus promoting the wound healing process of creating more collagen.

However, there are a few other peptides that can be used in skincare. Specifically, carrier peptides deliver minerals to our skin to ensure the cells are functioning properly, enzyme inhibitor peptides slow down the skin’s natural breakdown of collagen, and neurotransmitter inhibiting peptides block the chemicals that cause muscle contraction (resulting in the appearance of wrinkles).

Now all this sounds wonderful, but as estheticians, we must remember that topically applied ingredients have limitations. Peptides can support healthy skin, but they cannot change what the skin appears like genetically. In other words, peptides cannot do what cosmetic procedures can. 

Let us talk for a moment about the names of peptides.

For example, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5:

  • Palmitoyl is the name of the fatty acid connected to the peptide.
  • Tripeptide is the number of amino acids in the peptide (Tri meaning three).
  • And the number 5 is the length of the peptide.

Now, if all peptides were named this way it would not be too hard to decipher, but there is another way a peptide can be named. Peptides may also have the name a company has branded them, like Matrixyl (Palmitoyl Oligopeptide) or Argeline (Acetyl-Hexapeptide-8). 

Unfortunately, no matter how a peptide is named, the names do not tell you what type of peptide it is. For example, Argeline is a neurotransmitter inhibiting peptide, while Matrixyl is a signal peptide.

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