What are peptides? How do peptides work? Can I use them alongside retinol and Vitamin C? Learn more about peptides in this deep dive.
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They first popped on the scene in the ‘70s and then again in the early ‘00s with that infamous Olay collection (if you remember them, this article is definitely for you).
As more research is uncovering how peptides work and what they can do for our skin, we’re seeing an increase in peptide-based products (we're looking at you, Hailey Bieber).
They're sometimes referred to as the magic ingredient or the fountain of youth, with claims like ‘anti-ageing’, ‘acne healing’ and ‘skin tightening’. And believe it or not, the rumours are based in fact.
So what are peptides? How do peptides work? And when can you expect to see results? Let’s dive in, shall we?
Think of peptides as pocket-sized protein chains made up of 2 to 50 amino acids. They’re essentially the building blocks of our bodies – organs, muscles, skin and all.
While they have the same structure as proteins, they’re smaller and easier for our skin and organs to digest, making them easier for our body to absorb.
Synthetic peptides are making their way into a range of products to help boost how our bodies function.
Peptides have been found to relieve symptoms relating to chronic health conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis, so you’ll find them in medications and supplements for their restorative and health-boosting properties.
But it doesn’t stop there. Peptides are proving to be instrumental in protecting our skin´s barrier restoring elasticity and producing a smooth, even complexion.
Peptides work by sending signals to your cells to perform certain tasks. These tasks will depend on what type of peptides they are (there are around 7,000!) and how they function.
Think of them as a coordinator or traffic manager. They control who does what, when.
Let’s take peptides that boost collagen for example. They’ll tell a fleet of cells to start firing up your collagen production, while signalling growth-inhibiting peptides to sign off for duty.
You’ve recently picked up a brand new skincare product containing these wondrous peptides, when can you expect to see results?
Peptides work with consistent use. You can expect to see some changes around the two week mark.
Your breakouts may start clearing up, your cheeks may appear plumper, your skin will feel tighter and more hydrated. And those pesky sun spots? They’ll be on the way out.
Let’s first unpack what an active ingredient is.
If you haven’t come across this term yet, it simply means that the ingredients within the skincare product actually do what they claim to do on the packaging.
In short, yes, peptides are considered an active ingredient when the right quantity and quality is used in the skincare product.
Let’s unpack a few benefits that you can expect from the peptides in your skincare products.
Peptides work to:
Yes, peptides work by absorbing into your skin. And because they’re so small, they’re easier for the body to break down, making them absorb at a faster rate than whole proteins.
One of the biggest claims attached to peptides is their ability to tighten skin.
Serums and moisturisers often contain peptides because of their rejuvenating power and collagen-boosting properties.
Our bodies create collagen naturally. Collagen is responsible for keeping our skin firm and elastic. As we age, our natural ability to produce collagen reduces, making our skin appear wrinkled, aged and tired.
Peptides ramp up your skin’s collagen production and with consistent use, your pores shrink, allowing you to achieve that tight, firm, hydrated effect.
They also help your skin heal (by reducing inflammation) and protects against sun damage (by blocking UV-related hyperpigmentation and reducing the risk of skin cancer in the process).
Do peptides work with Vitamin C? The answer isn’t that simple.
While some sources advise that using the two in tandem will garner incredible results, others suggest that the two active ingredients cancel each other out.
It’s said that using Vitamin C together with peptides may cause peptides to oxidise before they have a chance to seep into your skin.
It’s best to trial out the two together and see whether it works for you. After all, products react differently to each skin type and complexion.
After the debate we’ve seen with Vitamin C, you’ll be surprised to find that peptides and retinol is less controversial.
While retinol can be effective on your skin, it doesn’t come without risk. Using retinol may cause dryness and irritation.
Using a hydrating, healing active ingredient like peptides can help soothe the side effects of retinol and restore your skin’s barrier.
Of course, it’s important to remember that both of these products are potent. If you have sensitive skin, trial out how these two active ingredients interact on your skin before committing to a layered skincare routine.
And if you feel like your dryness or skin irritation isn’t improving, seek advice from a skincare specialist who can advise you on the best way forward.
Like most skincare ingredients, you can find peptides almost everywhere. It’s very likely that your go-to brands are using them in their formulations, whether they choose to call them out or not.
The best way to know whether a product contains peptides is to look at the ingredients list. This will give you a clear indication, especially if they haven’t been called out as a major ingredient.
To recap, peptides work by signalling your cells to perform a specific task (think of a traffic manager) based on the type of peptides they are.
They work to not only leave your skin feeling plumper, tighter and more hydrated, but to protect your skin’s barrier and promote wound healing. The result? An even and youthful complexion.
In any case, peptides are a truly remarkable active ingredient that deserves a spot on the shelf.