Updated: May 7, 2020
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Enjoy this read and, as always, click the numbers in square brackets to check out all the references!
Well first off, what exactly is a peptide?
Peptides make up muscles and tissues and perform important functions in the body. They’re made up of two or more amino acids that are linked in a chain bond (called a peptide bond). You can think of amino acids as basic building blocks. Once these peptides are formed, they do all kind of things[i]. For the sake of a night cream though, we’re interested in functions like collagen, melatonin, and elastin production[ii].
Amino Acid Chart. The letters on the outside of the circle are symbols of the amino acids they are next to. Amino Acids are required for life to exist!
So the peptides in cream work just like the ones in my skin?
This is where it gets a little complicated. Theoretically, topically applied peptides shouldn’t work because they are too big to penetrate the skin.[iii] However, there are many studies that show that man-made peptides actually can do some of the same things as naturally occurring ones. [iv] Weird? Yes. Could I find a clear reason why they work despite their size? No. But, hey, if they can give your skin a plumper look[v] why not give them a try!
Okay, so which peptides do I look for?
Just writing the word ‘peptide’ on a jar is misleading because the word covers so many compounds. My suggestion would be to check the label and find out exactly which peptide(s) they added. Once you have that pull out your trusty smartphone and search “evidence of [peptide], topical application on skin”. Your first few hits should say things like “enhanced skin permeation”, “rejuvenation”, “double blind study”, and “topical peptide treatment with effective results”.
Another thing to keep in mind is that topical peptides fall into 4 categories: Carrier, signal, enzyme inhibitor, and neurotransmitter-inhibitor[vi]. All four types have shown benefit to skin in (slightly) different ways. I'm only bringing this up because if you see one of these four categories when you're searching, it's a good sign that you're holding an effective product.
Finally, keep an eye out for what sources you are finding. You want the hits to come from research journals and trusted articles, not just from the companies that make the creams!
Here are some common effective peptides you can find on labels:
Here are some creams that have good concentrations of peptides:
Hopefully this will help you find the right formula for your skin!