What are Peptides? What to Know About the Collagen-Boosting Ingredient

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We hear the word over and over again, but what are peptides? And do we want them in our skin-care products? According to New York dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD—and basically every skin-expert on the planet—the answer is a resounding yes.

What are peptides in skin care?
To explain the benefits of peptides, Dr. Marmur explains their relationship with our BBF, collagen: "Collagen is a protein comprised of long segments of amino acids arranged like a chain," she says. When collagen breaks down—an unfortunate, but very normal byproduct of aging—short segments of amino acids are then formed. "These are the tiny proteins and active molecules known as peptides." Simply put, peptides in skin care are "building blocks for new collagen and elastin," says Dr. Marmur.

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How quickly do we lose collagen?
You might be surprised. After the age of 20, we lose about 1 percent of our collagen production each year, which results in thinner, more fragile skin as we age. To help counteract this, incorporating collagen-boosting ingredients such as peptides in your skin-care routine is a good idea. "Everyone in their twenties should protect their youthful beauty with healthy lifestyle habits and by the age of 30, they should consider adding serums and masks to amplify their collagen," adds Dr. Marmur.

Which peptide should I look for?
There are five different types of peptides used as skin-care actives, and all function slightly differently: signaling peptides, carrier peptides, enzyme-inhibiting peptides, neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides and antimicrobial peptides. The most common of these? Matrixyl (palmitoyl- or oligopeptide pentapeptide), a neuropeptide that Dr. Marmur says is often used in serums and creams because of its ability to reduce fine lines.

How should I use peptides in skin care?
Peptides are everywhere in skin care, and can be found in everything from exfoliating pads and cleansers to serums and masks—and while the delivery system doesn't really matter, the quality of the formula and type of peptide inside, does.

"Research shows that the right peptide skin cream can play an important role in repairing wounds and improving skin conditions including eczema and dermatitis," says Dr. Marmur. But that's just the tip of the iceberg: Certain peptide-infused products can also aid in removing damaged collagen from scar tissue, acne scarring and promote healing after chemical peels or laser resurfacing treatments.

Which peptide-infused products should I use?
More and more skin-care brands are calling on the multitasking powers of peptides, such as Peter Thomas Roth, whose recently released Peptide range, Peptide 21, focuses on just that. All products in this lineup include the ingredient, but the Wrinkle Resist Serum ($125) boasts Matrixyl to help reduce the appearance of wrinkle density, depth and volume in different areas of the face (and is our personal pick). 

Another peptide-packed favorite? Dr. Marmur's own MMRevive Serum ($85), which contains Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5: "A small tri-peptide similar to the bodies own TGF-B that has powerful wrinkle smoothing activity, boosts collagen and protects against its degradation," she explains. 

For sensitive skin, PerriconeMD Hypoallergenic Peptide Complex works to improve resiliency, tone and texture with potent ingredients like peptides to help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, but is also designed to be gentle enough for use directly after a cosmetic procedure or for those with easily aggravated skin.