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Copper peptides have been studied since the 1970s and been in skincare products for past 20 years and, still today they are regarded as one of the most potent skin regeneration actives. As the Cleveland Clinic points out, studies have shown that copper peptide promotes collagen and elastin production, and also acts as an antioxidant. It also promotes production of glycosaminoglycans. Clinical studies have found that copper peptides also remove damaged collagen and elastin from the skin and scar tissue because they activate the skin’s system responsible for those functions.
The father of copper peptides is Dr Loren Pickart, who founded Skin Biology, makers of the Folligen product for thinning hair and Super Cop 2X. Dr Pickart made the original discovery that the tripeptide GHK, a specific copper peptide, could “remodel” human tissue. He recently sent me an article of his that was published in the 2009 American Academy Of Anti-aging Medicine’ Anti-Aging Therapeutics Vol Xl. I now have a better understanding of how copper peptides work on wrinkles and thinning hair, brows and lashes.
Copper is something that exists naturally in our tissues. Depletion of it has for a long time been correlated with many degenerative diseases (is that why my grandmother wore a copper bracelet to fend of rheumatic pain?). One of the main roles of copper is anti-inflammatory – it works by suppressing inflammatory cytokines - and there is a growing school of thought that increased inflammation brings about aging. According to Dr P, the processes that cause chronic inflammation as we age could be the same as those in wounds. There is a 60% drop in our bodies’ own GHK between the ages of 20 and 60.
The reason why Dr P insists on the GHK tripeptide is because the molecules are really small and can bind to receptors more easily than larger ones and it works like an intercellular pack mule, transporting copper into and from cells. Numerous studies have shown it helps the healing of all sorts of things from infected wounds to ulcers. And there are studies, such as one conducted in Korea, that demonstrated that copper encouraged collagen synthesis.
There have also been several studies on wrinkle repair. An independent 2002 study on 20 women showed that it increased collagen in 70% of those treated with GHK, compared to 50% for vitamin C and 40% for retinoic acid. I was particularly interested to read that combining GHK with red LED lights (get out those Baby Quasars) has been shown to increase collagen production by fibroblasts.
This is not to say that GHK is the only form of copper that is effective. Copper pca or copper chloride work too. A study on copper tripeptide (from amino acids) showed that it may help against inflammatory diseases when used topically.
Copper’s ability to assist in hair growth was discovered when it was noticed that the hair follicles around treated wounds were exceptionally large. It seems to work on the follicle in two ways: increasing follicle cell proliferation; and copper also decreases programmed follicle cell death, which results in smaller follicles. In a study on rat hair, researchers noted an increase in follicle size and concluded that copper works on hair growth in a similar way to minoxidil.
Why GHKs should be so important and successful is a question that takes us to barnacles – and other primitive forms of marine invertebrate. The theory is that GHK originated in the ancient (barnacles date back 400 million years) marine protective systems