Peptides don’t get talked about nearly enough as some other ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and retinol, but their benefits are bountiful and play a key role in improving the elasticity and plumpness of your skin. As we previously reported, peptides essentially act as tiny messengers that send messages directly to our skin cells to promote better communication. (If only they could perform the same task to better our relationships — we kid.)
At their core, peptides are “chains of different types of amino acids, like glycine, arginine, histidine, etc.,” David Kim, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City explains to Allure. “Peptides in skin-care products are designed to boost and replenish amino acids, which are the building blocks for collagen production.” Since amino acids are the smallest unit of a protein, peptides are able to mimic another type of protein, collagen. And compared to topical collagen, peptides also have a much smaller particle size and can actually be absorbed into your skin.
“By boosting collagen production, [peptides] can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and make the skin firmer,” Dr. Kim says, adding that everyone can incorporate and benefit from using the powerhouse ingredient in their routines. To that end, he says that you shouldn’t experience any side effects while using peptides. “If someone has a [negative] reaction, it’s most likely from the preservatives, other chemicals, or essential oils in the formula, not the peptides,” Dr. Kim explains.
Mature skin can definitely benefit from peptides since, unfortunately, our bodies start to produce less and less collagen as we age. And, not to mention, the quality of said collagen also decreases over time, board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, M.D. who is based in Birmingham, Alabama, explained to us. As a result, wrinkles start to form and skin begins to sag.
Common categories of peptides consist of signal, carrier, enzyme-inhibitor, and neurotransmitter-inhibitor depending on how they work. For example, copper peptides activate wound healing, which, in turn, stimulates collagen production. But that’s a bit hard to remember, especially considering that labs and brands can and do trademark their own peptide complexes.
As a consumer, you’ll often find “peptide” placed front and center on the actual product packaging, you can also look out for ingredients like dipeptide, tripeptide, and hexapeptide. It’s not uncommon to see multiple peptides strung together to maximum their collagen-boosting benefits, like Paula’s Choice Peptide Booster and The Ordinary “Buffet.”
To help you sort out the vast market, we asked dermatologists and our very own Allure editors to recommend their favorite peptide skin-care products, so you can be well on your way to achieving smoother, firmer skin.