A quick look through the ingredient list of your anti-ageing serum or lotion, and you might notice the word “peptides’’. Sometimes, it comes with prefixes like tri-, hexa- or tetra-, but don’t let that confuse you, because peptides, in any form, are essential active ingredients, particularly if you’re looking to keep skin looking youthful.
According to Dr Kong Yan Ling, dermatologist at DS Skin & Wellness Clinic, “Peptides are compounds made up of short chains of amino acids, and they are the building blocks of proteins, like collagen and elastin, that are important components of the skin.”
Paula Begoun, known as “The Cosmetics Cop” and founder of Paula’s Choice Skincare, states on her website that “proteins are the fundamental building blocks of skin. Without peptides, skin doesn’t remain intact, and the result is loss of firmness, appearance of wrinkles, texture changes, and skin that doesn’t bounce back as it once did”.
Herein lies the problem: Proteins are often unfragmented, which means they can be too large to be absorbed by skin. Fortunately, here’s where peptides come in handy. “Peptides are smaller and hence more likely to penetrate deeper into the skin when applied topically,” says Dr Kong. “Once absorbed, they act as messengers capable of performing certain functions, for example, sending signals to cells to produce important collagen, which can, in turn, improve the appearance of skin.”
Other benefits include reducing skin inflammation and improving the skin barrier for a healthier complexion. “While different peptides may have their own unique benefits for the skin, nearly all work to improve moisture levels in skin, as well as having antioxidant and soothing, anti-redness benefits,” says Drunk Elephant founder, Tiffany Masterson.
Here’s what you need to know about the peptides in your skincare
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Reading ingredient labels can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. “Look for words like ‘peptide’ or ‘palmitoyl’. Palmitoyl is a lipophilic derivative that is often incorporated with peptides as it stabilises the latter and enhances their absorption,” says Dr Kong.
THE TYPES OF PEPTIDES
There are hundreds of different types of peptides available, each with a different benefit for the skin. According to Dr Kong, there are four classes: signal peptides (carnosine, palmitoyl peptides and some hexapeptides) to stimulate the production of proteins like collagen and elastin, enzyme peptides (rice silk and soybean peptides) to decrease enzyme activity that causes skin to age, neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides (pentapeptide-3 and -18, acetyl hexapeptide-3 and tripeptide-3) to lessen wrinkles by inhibiting muscle contraction, and carrier peptides (copper tripeptide and manganese tripeptide-1) to transport essential trace elements for proper cellular function.
BOOSTING THEIR EFFICACY
Just like humans, peptides don’t work as well alone. For best combinations, Dr Kong recommends pairing peptides with other active ingredients, like antioxidants, niacinamide (vitamin B3) and hyaluronic acid, that can help brighten and hydrate skin. The only ingredient she says to steer clear of is alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) as they can reduce the efficacy of the peptides.