Scientists began researching peptides in the early 1800s and synthesized the first about a century later, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that one—a copper peptide—was incorporated into skincare products. Still, things progressed slowly until the beginning of 2000, when palmitoyl pentapeptide-4 (trade name Matrixyl)—found to be particularly effective for collagen and elastin stimulation, as well as wound healing—was introduced. At that point, the beauty industry got completely on board, and in the years since, a wide range of peptides have been developed to offer a bevy of complexion-boosting benefits. “Today, the vast majority of brands incorporate peptides into their products in some way,” says Neal Kitchen, PhD, chief operating officer and chief geneticist of HydroPeptide.
Form and Function
Although often referred to as a single ingredient, there are in fact hundreds of different peptides. “Each is unique and very versatile in how it can impact the skin,” notes Kitchen. For cosmetic purposes, they’re classified by function into one of four types: enzyme inhibitors, neurotransmitter inhibitors, signal peptides and carrier peptides.
The inhibitor peptides slow undesirable processes such as too-rapid elastin and collagen breakdown, overactive inflammatory response, hyperpigmentation and excessive muscle contractions that lead to expression lines. The signal peptides—which include the aforementioned Matrixyl—encourage healthy cellular activities, such as collagen and elastin production. Meanwhile, carrier peptides deliver beneficial minerals like copper to skin cells to aid in healing and protein synthesis.
Peptides’ actions occur in the deeper layers of the skin, which is what makes them so uniquely effective. “Their true magic is their ability to act as cell communicators that send signals telling skin to act in a healthier, younger way,” adds Kitchen. “Signaling ability is really what sets peptides apart as a revolutionary ingredient.”
But for all their potency, they’re unlikely to cause any kind of unwanted reaction, such as dryness, redness or irritation, even if used continuously. “It’s like vitamins,” says Sonia Boghosian, CEO, founder and education director of Bio Jouvance. “Your body takes only what’s needed.” Indeed, as Kitchen notes: “Skin has a finite capacity for certain processes and functions. For this reason, we use peptides that never ‘go too far’ when signaling the skin.”
As beauty ingredients go, peptides are relatively expensive; Boghosian estimates that adding high- quality ones to a day cream or serum increases the manufacturing cost by about 25 percent. That’s largely due to the fact that although peptides do occur naturally, those used for cosmetic purposes are synthesized from amino acid chains arranged into particular sequences—a process that requires precision and time in the lab. To get the most bang for their buck, formulators and estheticians alike need to be discriminating about which ones they use.
Boghosian favors the botanically derived acetyl hexapeptide-3 (trade name Argireline), a neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptide that has a Botox-like effect due to its interference with the proteins that facilitate facial muscle contractions. One study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science all the way back in 2002 examined Argireline and found that an emulsion containing 10 percent of the synthetic hexapeptide reduced wrinkle depth up to 30 percent upon 30 days of treatment. “Argireline is an anti-wrinkle peptide that emulates the action of currently used botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs),” the study authors concluded. “Therefore, this hexapeptide represents a biosafe alternative to BoNTs in cosmetics.”
In fact, peptides are so safe and effective that pros recommend they be used liberally—in both aesthetic services and after-care. “A one-time peptide-based spa treatment can make a huge difference, but the benefits continue with an at-home routine,” says Natalie Pergar, product knowledge specialist and lead trainer at Éminence. “Consistent use ensures that the benefits accumulate.” Kitchen, too, emphasizes the importance of educating clients about ongoing use. “The more significant antiaging benefits— that is, improvements in fine lines and wrinkles—can take six to eight weeks, so continual use is key,” he notes. “Just like keeping our body fit requires regular exercise, our skin needs to be treated regularly for real results.”
As research ramps up, scientists are discovering even more effective combinations of peptides that complement each other. Because each type affects skin in a different way, it’s often best to blend several into one product or service. “The right combination creates an amplified response,” says Kitchen. “Some of the original peptides even have combined versions now that send a more robust signal to the skin.” The aforementioned Matrixyl, for example, has been surpassed by Matrixyl 3000, which blends palmitoyl tripeptide-1 with palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7. The former is especially good for collagen renewal while the latter possesses anti-inflammatory benefits, so together they have a more powerful regenerative impact.
And then there are other important actives, from antioxidants to various acids, that enhance peptides’ functions. After all, notes Pergar, aging is a process caused by multiple factors, so it makes sense to combine ingredients with similar and different actions. “For example, some peptides alert the skin to work at replacing lost collagen, vitamin C aids collagen production by helping tissue growth and repair, and vitamin E absorbs harmful UV light—so, when used together, these three help reduce the appearance of fines lines and wrinkles, and reduce further signs of aging,” explains Pergar. Adds Kitchen: “Peptides are a perfect partner to any other ingredient commonly used in skin care— because they can create some of the same benefits, they help augment results.”
Going forward, peptide-based products and services only stand to become even more targeted as the ingredients are further refined and developed to address each client’s specific skin conditions and concerns. It’s all about customization and adapting the protocols for maximum benefits, concludes Kitchen.
A quick look at some of the most popular peptides in skin care.
(Source: “Topical Peptide Treatments with Effective Anti-Aging Results,” Cosmetics, May 22, 2017)
Acetyl Hexapeptide-3 (Argireline): A neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptide found to reduce wrinkle depth with a Botox-like effect.
Acetyl Tetrapeptide-9/11 (Dermican): A signal peptide reported to stimulate collagen type I and keratinocyte cell growth for thicker, firmer skin.
Carnosine: A signaling dipeptide and well- documented aqueous antioxidant with wound healing activity.
Copper Tripeptide (GHK-Cu): One of the most well-examined carrier peptides, found to regenerate and heal skin and other tissues.
Hexapeptide-11: A signal peptide found to improve elasticity after a twice-daily application for four weeks.
Hexapeptide-14: A signal peptide that stimulates cell migration, collagen synthesis and fibroblast proliferation, reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 (Matrixyl): One of the most widely used signal peptides, found to boost the production of elastin and collagen for an improvement in roughness and wrinkles.
Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (Rigin): A signal peptide that provides anti-inflammatory benefits after exposure to UVB rays, with wrinkle reduction documented after six months.
Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1: A signal peptide (also called pal-GHK and palmitoyl oligopeptide) for collagen renewal, comparable to retinoic acid but without causing irritation.
Palmitoyl Tripeptide-3/5: A signaling peptide that boosts collagen synthesis and decreases collagen breakdown for an improvement in wrinkles and texture.
Pentapeptide-3 (Vialox): A neurotransmitter- inhibiting peptide derived from snake venom that reduced wrinkles and roughness after 28 days.
A neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptide that reduces fine lines, moisturizes, improves firmness and tone, and extends the effects of Botox.
Tetrapeptide-21: Also called GEKG, a signal peptide that increases collagen, hyaluronic acid and fibronectin to improve skin texture.
Tetrapeptide PKEK: A skin-lightening signal peptide that reduces UVB-induced pigmentation.
Tripeptide-10 Citrulline (Decorinyl): A signaling tetrapeptide that specifically targets collagen fiber organization.
–by Anne M. Russell
This story first appeared in the February issue of Dayspa magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.