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What On Earth Are Peptides & Do You Really Need Them? Experts Weigh In


While no skincare ingredient can truly work miracles, there are several single ingredients and classes of ingredients that can really make a difference (including retinol and exfoliating acids). If you’ve seen a lot of buzz about peptides, there’s a good reason. Peptides are an exciting development in the skincare industry—we’re still learning about how to most effectively implement them, but this is a promising area. When properly formulated, products containing peptides may help improve the overall tone and texture of skin.

What On Earth Are Peptides & Do You Really Need Them? Experts Weigh In

What are peptides?

Peptides are made of amino acids. When certain amino acids are combined (amino acid chains), they create different kinds of peptides, of which there are hundreds. When peptides are connected, they form different proteins. Protein, as you can probably guess, is vital to the health of skin. Without adequate protein, skin may lose firmness, elasticity, and resiliency, resulting in a compromised texture. One skin-related protein that gets a lot of attention is collagen—the stuff that keeps skin plump and taught.

Dermatologist Dr. Jeffery Benabio of The Derm Blog explains, “Collagen is protein and is made up long chains of amino acids strung together, like chains of linked building blocks. When it is broken down, short segments of 3-5 amino acids form, called peptides. Peptides are not just junk collagen; these ‘mini-proteins’ are active molecules—and you pay a whole lot for them in your wrinkle cream.”

How do peptides work? 

As there are various peptides, their specific potential effects are equally varied; these include aiding wound healing, repairing the skin barrier, providing an anti-inflammatory effect, and even improving atopic dermatitis.

When it comes to improving the look of skin, peptides are used to help your skin produce more collagen for a more youthful, firm appearance.

“One strategy to improve wrinkles and to make you look younger is to replace lost collagen. When collagen breaks down, it forms specific peptides. These peptides act as a signal to tell your skin it was damaged and to make new collagen,” Benabio says. “Applying peptides directly to your skin is a way to trick your skin into thinking that it has lost collagen recently and needs to make more.”

One of the most popular peptides used to boost collagen is copper peptides. The highly sought-after peptide serves as a skin-regenerating antioxidant. According to Cleveland Clinic, “Studies have also shown that copper-dependent enzymes increase the benefits of the body’s natural tissue-building processes. The substance helps to firm, smooth, and soften skin, doing it in less time than most other anti-aging skin care products. Clinical studies have found that copper peptides also remove damaged collagen and elastin from the skin and scar tissue because they activate the skin’s system responsible for those functions.”

What are the limitations of peptides?

Creating a stable, effective peptide product is no easy feat. For one, peptides are vulnerable to enzymes (and we have a lot of those on our skin). The most effective peptide products include fatty acid “carriers” that allow the peptides to remain stable and be more bioavailable to skin.

While copper peptide has gotten a lot of attention recently, rest assured that it’s not the only shining star among the peptide gang. “The spin begins with the notion that skin’s building blocks are assembled by copper,” Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice Skincare says. “So, the logic would follow that you must have copper peptide in your skincare products to get that benefit. Although it’s true copper peptide is a skin-restoring ingredient, there are lots of other peptides with equally if not more impressive properties.”

Benabio recommends palmitoyl pentapeptide to his patients and mentions that it may be effective in improving the appearance of fine lines.

What are the best vegan & cruelty-free peptide products?

BIOSSANCE Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel

What On Earth Are Peptides & Do You Really Need Them? Experts Weigh In

This ophthalmologist-tested eye serum contains two kinds of peptides (Eyeseryl and Argireline) to enhance natural microcirculation while decreasing puffiness. 

Drunk Elephant Shaba Complex Eye Gel

What On Earth Are Peptides & Do You Really Need Them? Experts Weigh In

Black tea ferment combines with copper peptides in this vegan serum to improve the appearance of skin around the eyes. Drunk Elephant products are free from silicones, chemical sunscreens, sensitizing dyes, perfumes, and fragrant essential oils.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Triple C Peptide Firming Oil

What On Earth Are Peptides & Do You Really Need Them? Experts Weigh In

This vitamin C-packed serum helps support skin’s natural repair functions to turn dull, dehydrated skin into healthy, radiant skin.

What On Earth Are Peptides & Do You Really Need Them? Experts Weigh In

Do you use peptide skincare products?

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Photo: Pete Bellis on Unsplash, Respective Brands, STIL on Unsplash

Mary Hood Luttrell

Mary Hood Luttrell

Beauty Editor at Peaceful Dumpling
Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.
Mary Hood Luttrell


Beauty Editor at @peacedumpling & Creator of Bisou du Jour.
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