Peptides in Skincare, Explained

What are Peptides in Skincare

Here’s the good news; you’re not going to have to do any more research on peptides in skincare, ever! Because when you’re done reading this, you’ll know exactly what peptides are, the different types of peptides, and their benefits.

And let me stop you right there. It’s not a buzz nor an empty promise. The science behind using peptides in skincare products is quite substantial.

However, much of what’s out there is either too superficial to make sense of or too nerdy to understand. And to clear the air, I’ve put together everything there is to know about peptides in skincare -all backed by science.

We’re going to try and keep this as English as possible. But you guys, seriously, you’re going to want to know everything about this amazing anti-aging ingredient. Let’s jump right in!

What are Peptides in Skincare?

Peptides are chains of amino acids linked together 1. When two or more amino acids come together, they form a peptide.

When enough peptides are linked together, they form important proteins like collagen and elastin. So in skincare, you can think of peptides as protein fragments.

In the grand scheme of things, peptides play an important role in the process of collagen production and are most commonly used in anti-aging products.

What about Polypeptides?

The terminology can get confusing. So to clear the air, here are some definitions you’re likely to hear when talking about skincare peptides.

Two amino acids form a dipeptide. Three amino acids form a tripeptide. 50+ amino acids form a polypeptide. And 2 or more polypeptides form proteins. A few examples of proteins are collagen and elastin.

What are Peptides Derived From?

Peptides can be synthetically made in labs. They can also be naturally derived from plants and through a fermentation process.

How Do Peptides Work in Skincare?

Peptides are used in skincare to mimic the behavior of your natural peptides. The idea is to deliver certain peptides into the skin and ‘trick’ the skin, so to speak, to do certain things like stimulating collagen formation.

Proteins like collagen are too big to be absorbed by your skin. That’s why peptides, which are smaller and therefore easier to penetrate the skin, are used in skincare to initiate collagen formation.

What are the Different Types of Peptides in Skincare?

There are four types of peptides used in skincare.

1. Signal Peptides

Signal peptides are the ones that stimulate collagen production 2. With their “signals”, the whole process of new collagen formation begins. Signal peptides are also able to protect the existing collagen and reduce hyperpigmentation.

Collagen is essential in keeping the skin youthful, firm, and wrinkle-free. So, signal peptides make the most important peptides in skincare.

Some of the most common signal peptides found in skincare products are palmitoyl oligopeptide, palmitoyl tripeptide-3/5, and palmitoyl pentapeptide-4, which is also known as Matrixyl.

2. Carrier Peptides

There are two types of carrier peptides; copper peptides and manganese peptides 3. Because the former is more popular, carrier peptides are more commonly referred to as copper peptides.

Carrier peptides deliver copper or manganese to where they’re needed in the skin. They’re crucial in skin repair, restoration, and wound healing. They also improve skin texture and reduce scars because of their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Creams and serums formulated with carrier peptides are widely used after treatments like microdermabrasion, micro-needling, and chemical peels to speed up healing. The most common carrier peptide is copper tripeptide. It can also act as a signal peptide.

3. Neuropeptides (Neurotransmitter Inhibitor Peptides)

One cause of wrinkles is muscle contraction. We smile, we frown, and we squint. Excess muscle movement accelerates the formation and deepening of wrinkles.

Neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides limit the communication between certain cells in the skin 4. So, they interfere with muscle movement.

The facial muscles are not able to contract as much. As a result, these peptides reduce wrinkle depth and soften lines. The most common neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides are pentapeptide-3 and acetyl hexapeptide-3/8.

Acetyl hexapeptide is also known as Argireline. It’s the peptide that’s known to have a Botox-like effect on the skin. And it makes so much sense!

4. Enzyme Inhibiting Peptides

Enzyme-inhibiting peptides can be derived from soybean, silk, and rice 5. They work by inhibiting the activity of certain enzymes involved in the skin aging process.

For example, tyrosine is an enzyme responsible for giving you dark spots. An enzyme-inhibiting peptide that works on tyrosine could prevent it from producing melanin and giving you uneven skin tone.

What are the Benefits of Peptides for the Skin?

In light of this information, here are the benefits of peptides for your skin.

1. They promote collagen production.

Peptides, especially signal peptides, are effective anti-agers as they stimulate collagen formation in the skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. With collagen, the skin is firmer, tighter, plumper, and more youthful.

2. They minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

Neuropeptides (neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides) reduce wrinkles by limiting muscle contraction. They minimize the appearance of wrinkles by temporarily relaxing facial muscles.

3. They’re gentler than other anti-aging ingredients.

Peptides are generally non-irritating and non-sensitizing ingredients. Compared to other anti-aging ingredients like retinol, peptides are gentler.

This makes them an amazing anti-aging ingredient for people with sensitive skin or rosacea. People who can’t tolerate retinol can use peptides as part of their anti-aging routine.

What are the Side Effects of Peptides for the Skin?

Though not as documented as the benefits, peptides carry potential but minor side effects. For example, they can cause irritation if your skin is prone to sensitivity. Or if you’re using a peptide product made with other active ingredients, you might experience irritation and redness.

How Do You Add Add Peptides to Your Skincare Routine?

If you’re interested in peptides and want to add them to your routine, here’s what that would look like. Peptides are not like other potent, potentially irritating anti-aging ingredients.

Comparing peptides to retinol or vitamin C wouldn’t be a fair comparison because they work very differently but when it comes to using them, there’s more wiggle room with peptides.

For example, while you need to add retinol to your routine by using it only once a week at first, there’s no such limitation with peptides. You can start using your product, unless mentioned otherwise by the product, right away.

It doesn’t have to be a whole thing. If you’re not sure where peptides go in your routine, just add your peptide product in your evening routine to collect the most benefits as nighttime allows the ingredients to stay longer on the skin.

Can You Use Peptides with Other Active Ingredients?

Yes, you can use peptides with other active ingredients in the same routine. Again, peptides are not like other potentially irritating ingredients. And you can comfortably mix them together with pretty much anything! Here is how to do that and what to expect from different combinations.

Using Peptides with Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps brighten skin, even out skin tone, and stimulate collagen production. You can use peptides with vitamin C to target signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and loss of skin elasticity, and fend off free radicals. For example, you can use a vitamin C serum and try a peptide moisturizer on top. Whether it’s signal peptides or copper peptides, the combination is very unlikely to irritate.

Using Peptides with Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid attracts and binds water to the skin to boost hydration and plump skin. And it goes with everything as it’s a very gentle ingredient itself. You can use a hyaluronic acid serum and then apply a peptide serum such as Argireline serum. The combination will help plump fine lines and smooth the appearance of wrinkles.

Using Peptides with Niacinamide

As a multi-benefit ingredient, niacinamide helps minimize the appearance of pores, balance oil production, support the skin barrier, and brighten the skin. You can use niacinamide with peptides in any anti-aging and anti-pigmentation routine.

Using Peptides with Retinol

Retinol is the most effective anti-aging ingredient. It helps retexturize the skin, smooth out uneven skin texture, and brighten dull skin. While you don’t really need anything else when you’re using retinol, you can use it with peptides too. You can use a retinol serum and apply a peptide moisturizer on top. This can reduce the potential dryness from retinol. You can also consider copper peptides as they are usually anti-inflammatory, which can help calm irritation from retinol. Alternatively, you can try a signal peptide serum and apply a retinol cream for an all-around potent anti-aging routine.

So this is how skincare peptides work and how they benefit your skin. Luckily, peptides can be found in several products such as serums and creams. If you’re interested in giving them a try, start from our round-up of the best peptide skincare products.

Read Next: Best Wrinkle Patches


  1. Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A. I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology4(3), 308–319.
  2. Lubkowska, Beata & Grobelna, Beata & Maćkiewicz, Zbigniew. (2010). The use of synthetic polypeptides in cosmetics. Copernican Letters. 1. 75. 10.12775/CL.2010.010.
  3. Schagen SK. Topical Peptide Treatments with Effective Anti-Aging Results. Cosmetics. 2017; 4(2):16.
  4. Husein El Hadmed, H., & Castillo, R. F. (2016). Cosmeceuticals: peptides, proteins, and growth factors. Journal of cosmetic dermatology15(4), 514–519.
  5. Ferreira, M.S.; Magalhães, M.C.; Sousa-Lobo, J.M.; Almeida, I.F. Trending Anti-Aging Peptides. Cosmetics 2020, 7, 91.
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