Topical Peptides: Do They Really Work?

It’s difficult to walk down an isle in a department store or drugstore, or see a TV commercial about an anti-aging skin care product without hearing the word, “peptide.”

What are Peptides and What Do They Do?

But, what are peptides and what do they do?  Skin is comprised mostly of collagen which in turn is made up of long chains of amino acids which are all linked together.  If you were envision that, it might look similar to a strand of pearls.  When collagen breaks down, short chains of amino acids are formed (e.g.  3-5 chains of amino acids).  So, in actuality, peptides are broken chains of collagen.  However, they are active molecules and have been touted to have remarkable anti-aging properties such as diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improving the appearance of sagging skin, and to accelerate the wound healing process.

As we become older, our collagen levels significantly diminish without being replaced.  Fine lines and wrinkles appear and our skin lacks the firmness that it did when we were young.  So, the idea is that by topically applying peptides to the skin, our collagen levels will be boosted.   Essentially, these peptides send a message to the skin that it is damaged and needs to produce new collagen.

Peptides in Products

Over the years, numerous peptides have been discovered.   There are approximately 35-40 peptides which are being utilized to some degree in the beauty industry.  For example, Matrixyl (palmitoyl pentapeptide), one of the most popular peptides, has now been used for the better part of 10 years to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.   It can be found in some of the most expensive department store products, but can also be found in wrinkle creams in the drug store.   So, price is not always an indicator of how well the product will perform.

Copper peptides are touted as not only promoting collagen production, but also for their ability to accelerate the wound healing process.

Perhaps the most widely used peptide marketed as a non-invasive substitute for Botox is argireline.  According to some sources, argireline has been shown in the lab to block the release of neurotransmitters from nerves.    Products with argireline are typically marketed as “wrinkle relax” creams.  As Dr. Benabio pointed out, “If argireline was absorbed all the way through the skin to the level of the muscle, then it might block contraction of the muscle leading to smoother skin, similar to Botox.  However, it would be like pouring a small glass of water onto a mattress and expecting it to soak through the underside of your box spring-it’s very unlikely,” (http://thedermblog.com/2008).

Even though it is unlikely that argireline would have a positive impact upon the skin, thousands of products continue to include it in their offerings, and consumers continue to purchase them.   I personally have used products containing argireline, and did not see any overall improvement in my skin.   In fact, one very expensive product which I tried left white flaky particles wherever I used it.

Do Topical Peptides Work?

So, do topical peptides work?  There are numerous factors which are involved; do the peptides penetrate to the lower layers of skin (the dermis) where collagen is actually produced?  Is the product formulated in such as way to ensure that the peptides won’t break down?  Is the cream too heavy or thick?  For example, heavy creams may prevent the peptides from achieving optimal penetration levels.

In my opinion, more research needs to be done on peptides for topical usage.  However, they are undoubtedly here to stay.   Peptides have now reached the status of some other heavy hitting skin care ingredients such as retinol and glycolic acid.   If you want to explore products with peptide technology, I would do some research at all price points to see what might be the best option for you.  As with any product, a high price tag does not necessarily ensure the best results.

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Dr. Teri Dourmashkin is the founder and owner of La Vie Celeste Skin Care.  La Vie Celeste offers all natural anti-aging skin care products which also utilize the best that science has to offer.   Dr. Dourmashkin holds a Doctorate in Health Education from Columbia University.

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