Specialists Explain the Science Behind Peptides
Neal Kitchen, Ph.D., vice president of strategy and development at HydroPeptide: I describe peptides as short chains of amino acids (or protein fragments) that act in a similar way to a key and a lock. Peptides are keys that carry a specific message—to produce collagen, reduce pigmentation or renew cells—and they unlock receptors’ pathways to that activity in the skin. At HydroPeptide, we formulate products under the scientific principles of epigenetics: With repeat application of peptide-rich products, we can impact skin at the cellular level and help change gene expressions over time. Charlene DeHaven, M.D., clinical director of iS Clinical: Peptides are proteins that give very targeted and specific messages to skin. For example, the growth factor copper tripeptide-1, which we use in our products, tells fibroblasts to make collagen.
Why are peptides good for the skin?
Larry Lockhart, owner and registered pharmacist with BiON Research Skincare: Soy rice peptides, which stimulate fibroblast proliferation and increase collagen and elastin synthesis, have been shown to reduce dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 reduces inflammation caused by reduced fluid retention and swelling, resulting in increased firmness and tone of the eye area. It also absorbs and eliminates blood-colored pigments in the skin that are responsible for dark under eye circles. Palmitoyl oligopeptide increases the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid in the deep tissues around the eyes. A popular peptide for mature skin, acetyl hexapeptide-8, causes a visible reduction in the appearance of fine to moderate lines when used daily. It reduces wrinkle depth and is effective for lines induced by muscle action, such as around the corners of eyes and the mouth area.
Kitchen: Because peptides work with the skin’s natural composition, one can achieve better results than with other harsh ingredients. They’re also much safer. Peptides are like body builders for the skin. They allow it to become stronger and act in a healthier way. By applying certain topical peptides to your skin, you’re in essence nourishing the skin with a protein-rich diet that strengthens, nourishes and realigns the building blocks of the skin, allowing for a stronger, healthier foundation. There are different peptides for different skin benefits—everything from retinol-mimicking peptides to resurfacing peptides to plumping peptides.
Dr. DeHaven: Peptides have very specific, targeted messages for the skin. Some are good for healing and regeneration, others lessen muscle contraction in fine wrinkles, and others still increase collagen synthesis.
Which ingredients pair well with peptides?
Lockhart: Combining specific peptides that activate fibroblasts and encourage collagen production with other collagen-stimulating ingredients—like retinoic acid, ascorbic acid, calcium, magnesium and zinc—is ideal, as it also builds elastin and cytokines that have diminished during the aging process. When soy rice peptides are combined with beta glucan, hydrocotyl, vitamin E and calcium, the mixture can help to re-establish lipid barrier function, reduce dry, scaly skin conditions, promote skin repair and stimulate antioxidant production.
Dr. DeHaven: The choice of other ingredients depends on the overall goals of the product, which might include wrinkle reduction, wound healing, antiaging or sun protection. Our Youth Eye Complex contains a peptide that’s a neuromuscular modulator and decreases the tiny contractions of muscles near the skin’s surface, thus helping to lessen the appearance of wrinkles. The formula includes other peptides for skin repair, plus copper tripeptide-1, antioxidants and moisturizers. Our Youth Intensive Crème also contains copper tripeptide-1 and the powerful enzymatic antioxidant superoxide dismutase, along with other antioxidants, hydrators and wrinkle reduction ingredients.
Are there any formulation challenges?
Lockhart: Formulating always starts with efficacy and understanding the peptide’s therapeutic range. Including an ingredient at a subtherapeutic concentration will render it ineffective. Stability of the final product is another key issue: We often find that a stronger formulation may have stability challenges and could be somewhat prone to separation, layering or ‘oiling out.’ Skin surface pH is on average between 5.0 and 6.0, but peptide-containing skincare products must be more acidic to facilitate proper absorption. Balancing the desired pH needed for the peptide to be optimally effective with the pH of the final product so it’s properly absorbed requires skill and expertise by the formulator.
Dr. DeHaven: As peptides’ size increases, it becomes more difficult to get them to penetrate the skin barrier. Very long peptides with desirable properties are simply impossible to deliver into the skin. Extremes of pH will cause them to denature (break apart) and lose activity. Alkaline formulas are especially ‘unfriendly’ to peptides but so are quite acidic formulas. Peptides are, in general, difficult to combine with many other ingredients because of their unique chemistry.
Which products should estheticians send clients home with and what instructions should they give them?
Kitchen: We recommend a peptide-rich treatment serum morning and night (for a client receiving the Even Brighter Facial, we suggest LumaPro-C), which we instruct them to apply under a moisturizer. During the day, it should be paired with a sunscreen for the best results and protection. Add a peptide-rich eye cream for increased radiance and antiaging benefits.
Lockhart: BiON’s Line Reducing Complex reduces the appearance of fine to moderate lines in about four days when used daily. It should be applied to the face, especially around the eyes and mouth, in the morning or evening. It can be applied over other moisturizers and under sunscreen. Secondly, our Youthful Eyes Peptide Cream is an effective moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, vitamin A and additional peptides that help brighten the skin while diminishing the visible signs of aging. It should be applied around the eye area once or twice daily after cleansing and before makeup.
–by Shelley Moench-Kelly