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Peptides in Skin Care: Promoting Collagen Production

February 16, 2018


There has been an ongoing revolution regarding peptides in skin care over recent years. Scientists continue learning more about how peptides interact with the skin’s cells and help to treat aged and photoaged (sun-damaged) skin.

You don’t have to be a chemist or a PhD in molecular biology to understand how peptides work -- we’ll walk you through it in terms that are understandable to all.

What is a peptide?

Without going into too much technical verbiage, a peptide is simply a compound made up of two or more amino acids that are linked together. Peptides are a basic component of cells that handle a variety of important biological functions. Certain peptides help regulate various activities of other molecules.

While peptides and proteins are similar, there are some differences. One similarity is that they’re both comprised of chains of amino acids held together by what are called peptide bonds.

In terms of differences, peptides are not as well-defined as proteins, and peptides are smaller than proteins. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids, usually 50 or more. Collagen, for example, is a protein. In fact, it’s the most plentiful protein in the human skin, providing elasticity, a youthful structure and a radiant look and feel.

Amino acids are becoming extremely popular as ingredients in many different skin care products, because they help to promote anti-aging properties in skin. Plus, they have the unique ability to create peptides and proteins.


There is a large interest in peptides because they’re a key component of skin care products and helpful for reversing the signs of aging. Once a person reaches 30 years of age, skin begins to lose its shine and elasticity, producing fine lines and wrinkles. The skin begins to lose its thickness as collagen depletes. Thinning skin is one of the major signs of aging.

Peptides help to manage this process and work to help make skin look younger and regain some of its thickness, producing a more youthful appearance. As collagen in the skin diminishes due to age or environmental factors, like UV radiation for example, the body needs to produce more.

When the collagen deteriorates, it begins to produce selective peptides. Research from the National Institute of Health found that those peptides trigger a message that is sent to the skin indicating that more collagen needs to be produced.

Skin care science has found that by topically applying peptides to the skin, the body thinks it’s receiving a message to produce new collagen. This collagen production helps to reduce wrinkles and to provide more elasticity to the skin, which is what gives skin its youthful appearance.

Different peptides in skin care product formulations help to stimulate the body to produce the collagen that has been lost. Products like wrinkle creams (or anti-wrinkle creams), for example, helping minimize wrinkles around the eyes and forehead thanks to the peptides contained within those products.


Science has worked wonders when it comes to synthesizing peptides that are used in skin care product formulations. But not all peptides are the same, and it pays to know the differences and which peptides are best for the job.

Skin care products are comprised of many different ingredients, each with its own task and strategy to help make skin look more youthful. Clearly the peptide contained in the product is what activates the genes that are involved in the cell renewal. Here are four common ones you might see on ingredient labels:

Palmitoyl pentapeptide-4

One of these peptides is Palmitoyl pentapeptide-4. This is one of the “messenger” peptides, helping regulate cellular activities by interacting with the cell’s receptors. A sample “message” sent to the cells by this particular peptide is to stimulate the absorption of hyaluronic acid, which helps to provide plumper skin and lips.

Palmitoyl tripeptide-1

Another key synthetic peptide is Palmitoyl tripeptide-1, which is known for its effects on skin health, pigmentation and collagen. Research is currently underway to investigate this peptide’s ability to boost collagen synthesis as well as its ability to reduce the impact of lines and wrinkles on the skin. It is also being tested to determine its ability to boost skin strength, smoothness and resilience.

Palmitoyl tripeptide-38

Palmitoyl tripeptide-38 is another synthetic peptide produced by a manufacturer of "bioactive" cosmetic ingredients. This peptide has been shown in research to help decrease crow’s feet and forehead lines in women. It works by regulating cell activities, wound repair and collagen tissue remodeling.


Acetyl-sh-pentapeptide-35 is also a synthetic peptide that is used to help protect the cells DNA that may be under stress, while helping to delay the aging process caused by oxidative stress and UV exposure.


Some dermatologists consider using peptides for skin improvement a useful strategy. The skin care products that utilize topical peptides contain ingredients that are designed to stimulate not only the cell rejuvenation process, but stimulate collagen production as well. The good news is that skin cells are able to receive synthetic peptides via topical application.

Another factor to consider is that topical application of peptides for anti-aging purposes takes time, and slow improvements will be seen after a period of daily applications. In some cases, it may take up to 3 months before results begin to show. Here’s something else to remember; when you stop using the products containing the peptides, your skin will slowly revert back to its original condition, and all the progress you’ve made will disappear.

Peptides are actually very similar to proteins and they work as building blocks within our bodies at the cellular level. As skin care products are applied, they penetrate the epidermis, sending messages to the cells to increase collagen production. Once this happens, the skin will tighten.

Helping the skin heal faster is another role that peptides play in the body. As the peptides penetrate deeper into the different skin layers, they help skin heal while also helping to stimulate collagen production. And research shows that a copper peptide serum could possibly help the skin heal quicker while stimulating collagen production at the same time.

One study conducted at Oregon State University showed that when topical peptides were applied to a test group of women aged 35-55 for 12 weeks; there was significant improvement in skin volume and elasticity when compared to a placebo. This was a double-blind study, and in addition computer image analysis showed that topical peptide applications did not cause any skin irritation while improving the appearance of wrinkles and fine line scores.


Quality skin care products contain antioxidants, like berry extract for example, in order to limit damage from free radicals and oxidative stress that can damage DNA in the skin’s cells. But the top products contain other helpful ingredients as well.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to brighten skin and minimize the appearance of lines and wrinkles. That’s why it’s often found in anti-aging products.

Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that works in tandem with vitamin C and may also help protect skin from harmful UV rays.

Polyphenols, which are plant compounds that have powerful antioxidant properties, are also found in many products and help to reduce inflammation while providing healing effects on the skin.

The bottom line is that antioxidants are a welcome addition to skin care products as they work in tandem with the peptides and vitamins to boost the overall healing and anti-inflammation effects of the products. To be effective, the skin care product must be stable, have a strong concentration of antioxidants, and be left on the skin long enough to do its job.

It is also clear that the additives contained in skin care product formulations have a significant influence on the availability of peptides at the cellular level.


The basic answer is yes, but the benefits you gain from eating certain protein-rich foods are more cardiovascular, endocrine, and gastrointestinal. While all of the dietary proteins contain peptides, they don’t directly benefit the skin like topical formulations will.

The foods that contain the richest sources of peptides include milk, eggs, grains, and soybeans. Milk has the richest source of peptides, and many of them are found in the protein casein. Eggs also provide a rich source of peptides, and research shows that they have a protective effect on bone metabolism.

Grains including wheat and rice have more than 80 different peptides. And soybeans have many peptides that are beneficial due to their tumor-suppressing properties.

It’s important to remember that antioxidants don’t only benefit the skin, but help the body deal with heart, eye, and immune system disorders. Increasing your antioxidant intake through diet can help to optimize your overall health.

But topical application of peptides for skin health is the proper protocol. Peptides are simply not dietary factors, and have no dietary requirements associated with them.


Happily, there are no reported side effects from using topical peptide formulations. Studies using computer image analysis did not find any irritation or redness from the topical peptide application.

Be aware though, that some ingredients found in different skin care products, like ascorbic acid, may irritate the skin and cause redness and other signs of irritation.


The key to younger looking skin is collagen. Replacing it as you age or using it to overcome environmental effects by using topical formulations will help bring back a more youthful appearance. But what else can you do to keep and increase your collagen?

You can start by avoiding the sun! Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is one of the best ways to retain the collagen in your skin. Plus, UV radiation has been linked to skin cancer, and that’s something that everyone wants to avoid.

And speaking of UV radiation, skip the tanning beds. Even though they don’t put out UVB rays, they still use UVA rays, which can penetrate the skin and promote aging.

Eat a balanced diet high in antioxidants, as well as one that contains many fruits and vegetables. And if you’re still smoking, find a way to stop! Smoke contains chemicals that attack and degrade collagen and prevent the body from making new collagen. That’s one of the reasons that smokers have more wrinkles than non-smokers.

Topical antioxidants are a good way to reduce the impact of UV rays on your skin, and help to repair any damage that’s already been done. Use them as part of your overall skin care program.


Whatever age you’re at, skin care products containing peptides that stimulate collagen production will provide many benefits for your skin. Choose a reputable company, read the ingredients carefully, and learn exactly what those products are going to do to help your skin.

Ideally, you would want to start an anti-aging regimen using peptide products before the visible signs of aging start to show in order to maintain the healthy appearance of your skin. Prevention is the most powerful tool in preventing premature aging.

If you are already showing signs of aging, like lines and wrinkles, a routine using peptide-filled products will help to repair the skin and minimize the visible signs of aging. Your skin will appear smoother and it will have a more radiant texture. Peptides can help you regain a more youthful appearance.

The key is to have some realistic expectations using peptide products and formulations. Peptides have developed a positive reputation and a successful track record from people who are using those products. But as stated earlier, give them time to do their work. That way the peptides in your skin care products will produce the results you’re looking for.