Last Updated: June 7th, 2019
If you’ve been paying attention to the newest wave of skin care nutrients, you may have found yourself asking, “What are peptides?”
Peptides have gained significance as a powerful anti-aging tool. But if you’re not an actual scientist, you may not know why they work the way they do – or how they can help your skin.
So, if you’re curious to know what peptides are, how they work, and how they can benefit your skin – here’s a closer look.
What Are Peptides?
In short, peptides are chains of amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins. Unless you’re a biologist, that information likely doesn’t mean very much to you, so here it is broken down:
Amino acids are organic compounds that help form proteins.1 Amino acids are made up of the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen.2 They have many functions. For example: amino acids are responsible for giving proteins their structure, transporting nutrients, and sending signals to other cells.3
When amino acids link together, they form chains called peptides. These chains can be short or long. And when peptides form longer chains of amino acids, they become the building blocks of proteins.
Proteins make up much of the body’s tissue, organs, and skin. One of the body’s most important skin proteins is collagen. In fact, 75 percent of your skin is collagen protein.4 Essentially, collagen is the foundation of your skin.
And one of the reasons why you look so “youthful” when you’re young is because you have a high rate of collagen production.
Collagen is what gives skin structure, strength, firmness, and smoothness.
As the body ages, collagen production slows down. The collagen you do have is prone to breaking down, or “fragmenting.” This decrease in collagen production leads to the visible signs of aging – like wrinkles, and skin that looks saggy and crepey.5 So, you can understand why collagen is so important – it helps increase the appearance of smooth, firm skin.
To summarize this mini science lesson: amino acids form peptides. And peptides, in turn, form proteins like collagen. Collagen is an integral component of firm, youthful skin. And without peptides, it can’t be produced.
The Skin Benefits
So, the bad news is that collagen production slows as you age. The good news is that incorporating peptides into your skincare routine may help boost collagen production. This increase in collagen production is what makes peptides such a potent anti-aging skincare ingredient. Peptides can work to encourage skin elasticity, increase hydration and diminish the appearance of aging on the skin.6
Creams and Serums
Peptides are showing up more and more as a skin care ingredient in creams and serums aimed at combatting the signs of aging. These creams and serums use short-chain amino acids to target the visible signs of aging, like wrinkles and sagging skin.
You see, these short-chain amino acid peptides are able to easily penetrate the top layers of skin. They can then send signals to your skin cells, directing them to perform certain functions, like collagen synthesis.
In other words, when peptides are applied topically to the skin in the form of creams or serums, they can prompt the formation of collagen.7
A double-blind clinical trial studied the effects of peptides on the skin quality and smoothness of twenty women between the ages of 40 and 62. After four weeks of peptide application, 75% to 80% of the subjects saw an improvement in skin smoothness. There was a significant reduction in the number of wrinkles, as well as the length and depth of wrinkles on the skin.8
Turns out, you can also drink peptides. These peptides are called “hydrolyzed collagen,” and they come in the form of powdered supplements. This powder is soluble in water and easily added to smoothies, juices, soups, and oatmeal.
So what’s hydrolyzed collagen? It’s collagen that’s been broken down into smaller amino acids. These smaller amino acids are easy for the body to absorb through the digestive system.9 So, while peptide creams stimulate collagen synthesis by penetrating skin from the outside, hydrolyzed collagen stimulates collagen synthesis from the inside.
Several studies have pointed out the benefits of peptide supplements for the skin. A 2015 trial found that collagen peptide supplements encouraged collagen density and reduced the amount of collagen breakdown in the skin. The supplements were also found to boost skin’s hydration.10
Another study found that skin elasticity was significantly increased after 8 weeks of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation.11
Peptides for Pretty Skin
Peptides are becoming a more prominent component of many skincare creams and supplements. Because they play such an important role in collagen production, peptides have the potential to boost your own skin’s firmness, smoothness, and strength. And while the science is surprisingly simple, the results on your skin may be superb.