The skin is the largest organ in the human body, and it consists mostly of water and collagen. Because peptides are the building blocks of collagen, they play an essential role in the skin’s health—and are, therefore, one of the hottest ingredients found in skincare today. “Peptides are long or short chains of amino acids fastened together like chains on a link fence,” says Catie Wiggy, licensed esthetician and product development brand manager at MyChelle Dermaceuticals. “These bonds are formed by a biochemical reaction that extracts a water molecule when the amino group of one amino acid joins to the carboxyl group of another amino acid.” The chains of amino acids deliver specific messages to skin cells, producing dramatic results. “Imagine each amino acid being a letter of the alphabet,” says Fabienne Lindholm, executive director of education at Babor. “When connected together, they create a message, like words.”
According to Tara Damiano, global curriculum developer for The International Dermal Institute (IDI) and Dermalogica, there are 20 different amino acids in the human body, and like words and sentences, different peptides and proteins in the body are comprised of different combinations and sequences of amino acids. “If you change the sequence of the amino acids, you also change the function of the protein or peptide they belong to,” she says. “All peptides influence or direct the cells of the body in some way. Different types of peptides influence different types of cells. When a chain of amino acids is more than 100 acids long, it is usually called a protein, and when it contains fewer than 100 amino acids in the chain, it is a peptide.”
As people age, the collagen in their skin begins to deplete, resulting in a thinner, more wrinkled, and sagging appearance. According to Milana Knowles, senior director of spa development at Clarins, peptides in skincare help cells function as if they are younger. “If your cells act younger, your skin will look younger,” she says. When applied topically, peptides are able to penetrate the skin’s top protective barrier and signal that it needs to produce new collagen. Peptides can also enhance skin’s overall appearance and slow down signs of aging. “Peptides provide remarkable results for many anti-aging concerns, as they stimulate collagen and elastin, minimize expression lines, and some also act as antioxidants,” says Karen Asquith, national director of education at G.M. Collin.
Peptides are used in skincare for two main reasons, according to Francine Kagarakis, cofounder of Lira Clinical. They block the transmission of signals from the nerves to facial muscles and block contraction of muscles (similar to Botox cream), and they stimulate the regeneration of collagen fibers by acting as a cellular messenger to enhance the assembly of elastin and collagen, which then improves skin’s firmness. According to Sandra Friedli, national educator at Sothys Paris, the most common types of peptides found in spa products and treatments include messenger peptides, which inform skin cells to react or to do something and are best for anti-aging and hydrating treatments. In addition, carrier peptides, like copper peptides, have powerful wound-healing properties, stimulate collagen production, and protect skin cells, making them ideal for sensitive and acneic skin. Neuropeptides block nerve-cell activity, which make them a perfect fit for anti-aging treatments.
The reason why peptides are considered among some of the most versatile ingredients in the industry is because their biological compatibility with cellular structures can help improve almost any skin condition. “With regular use of a well-formulated peptide-containing product, a client can expect to see dramatic results, more so than from many other categories of ingredients,” says Irena James, vice president of product development at YG Laboratories. The most prevalent group of peptides are those addressing signs of aging, but other peptides help soothe signs of redness and irritation, clear acne-prone skin, and brighten pigmentation. “Many subcategories of anti-aging peptides are also growing in number and becoming more specific to a particular cellular function, such as peptides acting as neurotransmitters and therefore mimicking the effects of Botox injections and addressing mechanical lines and wrinkles, to those offering volumizing, in the manner similar to which hyaluronic acid and collagen injections have been reducing wrinkles by increasing skin’s volume,” says James.
Behind the Name
Within the categories mentioned, there are many different peptides found in skincare formulas today. Palmitoyl tripeptide-38, for example, is an anti-aging peptide that reduces wrinkle volume and depth by helping to smooth wrinkles and rebuild collagen and elastin and is ideal for anti-aging facials and daily at-home routines. Acetyl hexapeptide-8 is a wrinkle-relaxing peptide that inhibits the release of neurotransmitters. It relaxes facial muscles and helps reduce the depth of wrinkles caused by the contraction of the facial muscle’s expression, especially around the eyes, forehead, and mouth region. Pisum sativum (pea peptide) extract is a firming peptide that promotes firmness and elasticity.
For additional anti-aging benefits, Damiano recommends palmitoyl pentapeptide, which stimulates collagen synthesis and the formation of hyaluronic acid in the skin, helping to reduce the signs of aging; palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diamino-butyrate, a conditioning peptide formulated to help stimulate collagen biosynthesis, reduce wrinkles, impart skin firmness, and improve skintone; and ARG-LYS polypeptide, which prevents advanced glycation end products (AGEs) from forming in skin. Linda Nelson, executive vice president at Stemulation Skin Care, recommends myristoyl pentapeptide-8, which is used in eye treatments and anti-aging serums to stimulate fibroblast growth factors and improve extrinsic signs of aging; and sH-oligopeptide-1, which helps to plump and firm the skin, especially the upper lip and eye area.
To help brighten skin, Damiano suggests oligopeptide-34, which helps prevent cellular discoloration for skin brightening; and oligopetide-51, which inhibits melanin formation and tyrosinase activity. In addition, tetrapeptide-30 helps visibly diminish hyperchromatic spots and brightens the skin. For treating sensitive skin, acetyl tetrapeptide-15 is beneficial because it targets neurosensitive skin by decreasing the release of pro-inflammatory mediators and increasing skin’s sensitivity threshold, making it less reactive and diminishing sensations of pain and discomfort; and palmitoyl tripeptide-8, which is a peptide that reduces swelling and skin irritation. According to Robin Carmichael, president and chief operating officer of Helix BioMedix, oily and blemish-prone skin can benefit from oligopeptide-10, which is based on the body’s own natural skin-defense peptides. “This peptide is very synergistic with salicylic acid while being very gentle to the skin,” she says.
Innovative technology geared toward improving barrier function by specifically targeting the epidermal barrier lipids, cells, and proteins are starting to dominate high-performance and high-end formulations, according to James. Hexapeptide-48 (Rubixyl), for example, protects the receptors from deactivation and helps skin cells divide, leading not only to a stronger, healthier barrier, but also to visible skin rejuvenation, decreased wrinkle depth, and refined skin texture. “A true multitasker offering a multitude of solutions for stressed, sensitive, dehydrated, and aged skin, Rubixyl shows additional activity in reducing signs of environmental irritation, stress-related aging, and cigarette smoke-induced skin damage,” says James.
Peptides are a safe, noninvasive way to treat the skin topically, which makes them beneficial and effective in spa treatments as well as in at-home beauty routines. “Peptides are some of the most skin-friendly actives we have available in the industry,” says James. “A part of their claim to fame is the fact that they are capable of producing some of the most remarkable results in the skin without causing an inflammatory response.”
However, while peptides themselves are not dangerous, incorrect formulations can render peptides inactive or ineffective, says Charlene DeHaven, M.D., clinical director at Innovative Skincare. If resurfacing enzymes, such as bromelain or papain are used, care must be taken not to irritate the skin by over-exfoliating. “This caution must be particularly heeded in the aging client whose metabolism is slowing related to aging and who may not be able to regenerate epithelial skin surface as quickly as the younger client,” she says.
In addition, while the use of peptide-based skincare aids in skin regeneration, overuse could create the opposite effect, which can result in free-radical damage and collagen breakdown instead of preventing it, according to Nelson. “Using high concentrations could lead to accelerated skin aging, skin weakening, sagging, and wrinkles,” she says. “Therefore, peptide-based skincare products should be used as recommended to avoid any negative side effects. There have been rare reports of peptide topical use and irritation and redness among individuals with sensitive skin, particularly around the delicate undereye region.”
To ensure proper use of each peptide-based product, it’s important to choose a reputable skincare line and educate estheticians and therapists on how and when to use each product. “Peptide has become quite the buzzword when it comes to anti-aging treatments,” says Damiano. “Product knowledge is important when choosing a skincare line, because you should be able to learn how each peptide works in the skin and why it is used in certain formulas. Look for studies that back up the claims of the peptides used in the products.”
Spread the Word
Even though peptides are becoming more popular in skincare today, some clients might still be wary of experiencing a peptide-based spa treatment or product due to lack of knowledge. Therefore, in addition to educating the therapists and estheticians, it’s also important for spas to educate clients on the benefits and proper uses of these treatments and products. Katherine Tomasso, national director of education at Yon-Ka Paris, recommends conducting a consultation with clients prior to treatments and providing accurate information for at-home maintenance. “During your consult, choose language that enables your client to easily comprehend the benefits of the product,” she says. “Be sure to stress the importance of using the product as directed. Remind them that all peptide-rich products will need to be used with consistency and a minimum of six weeks to obtain optimum tissue-building effects.”
Also, highlight the benefits of peptides by using a small shelf-talker in the retail area and discussing peptide-based products and treatments in marketing materials and newsletters. And, during each facial or treatment, explain to the client the products used and the features and benefits of the products, according to Wiggy. “Suggestive selling during services can help increase retail sales and address questions in the moment,” she says. “Incorporate peptide products and benefits into after-treatment regimen recommendations.”
As more spa-goers become aware of the many benefits that peptides offer to the skin, peptide-based treatments and products are sure to continue to grow in popularity, because they are safe to use and highly effective. “Peptides are like body-building for the skin,” says Neal Kitchen, Ph.D., vice president of strategy and development for HydroPeptide. “They allow skin to become stronger and act in a healthier way. By applying certain topical peptides to your skin, you are in essence nourishing it with a protein diet that strengthens and realigns the building blocks of the skin, allowing for a stronger, healthier foundation.”
These powerful peptide products help promote a healthy, youthful appearance.
1. Advanced Rejuvenating Concepts Triple Action Eye Complex: Reduce the appearance of lines with this rejuvenating eye cream containing amino peptides, glycolic acid, and natural extracts. www.arcskincare.com
2. Biologique Recherche Sérum Matriciel: This serum contains acetyl tetrapeptide-11, which strengthens epidermal cohesion and improves the skin’s firmness. www.biologique-recherche.com
3. ExPürtise Effective Anti-Aging Face Serum: This formula with encapsulated peptides protects skin cell telomeres and prolongs cell life by preventing DNA degradation. www.expurtise.com
4. FarmHouse Fresh Crow Catcher Eye Perfecting Serum: Reduce the visibility of crow’s feet with this powerful serum that diminishes visible wrinkle depth. www.farmhousefreshgoods.com
5. HydroPeptide Eye Authority: Containing crushed pearls, hyaluronic acid, and 13 powerful peptides, this treatment works to brighten dark circles and diminish the appearance of expression lines. www.hydropeptide.com
6. Image Skincare Ormedic Balancing Bio-Peptide Crème: Rejuvenate the skin with this organically blended biopeptide cream, which delivers essential nutrients and accelerates collagen synthesis. www.imageskincare.com
7. Le Mieux Moisture Infusion Mask: Minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with this serum-infused sheet mask, which includes three age-defying peptides to brighten skin. www.lemieuxcosmetics.com
8. MyChelle Dermaceuticals Peptide + Anti-Wrinkle Serum: This concentrated multi-peptide serum boosts firmness and elasticity and reduces the signs of aging. www.mychelle.com
9. Pevonia Stem Cells Phyto-Elite Intensive Cream: Smoothing lines and wrinkles, this revolutionary moisturizer protects the skin’s naturally repairing stem cells. www.pevoniapro.com
10. Repêchage Vita Cura Opti-Lift Serum: Based on patented technology, this powerful serum contains hexapeptide-8 to help diminish signs of premature aging. www.repechage.com
11. Satin Smooth Skin Care Youthful Boost Collection With Axp33: Supercharged with Axp33 peptide complex and vitamin C, this system repairs and rejuvenates skin. www.satinsmooth.com
12. Yon-Ka Paris Advanced Optimizer Collection: Rich in botanical peptides, this firming and redensifying collection features a cream, a gel lift, and a serum to help combat wrinkles. www.yonkausa.com