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Peptides- what are they?

peptides send signals to your cells
November 3, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 15 Comments

These days, along with antioxidants, peptides have become a byword for antiaging skincare products. Matrixyl is probably the best known, but here seem to be new ones popping up all the time. So what are peptides, how do they work and why are we paying so much for them in our skin creams?

Peptides have the same chemical structure as proteins, but are shorter in length. They are made up of amino acids. In cosmetic ingredients lists you might have seen tripeptides, for example, or dipeptide. These different names refer to the number of amino acids. A dipeptide has two amino acids, tripeptide has three amino acids and a tetrapeptide has four amino acids. And so on.

Peptides, or mini proteins if you want to think of them that way, are active molecules that send signals to your cells. When collagen breaks down, it forms specific peptides that signal to your skin that it was damaged and needs to make new collagen. So by applying peptides topically, we are trying to trick our skin into thinking that it has lost collagen recently and needs to make more.

There are lots of different synthetic peptides available in antiaging skincare and they have many roles. Some of them appear in ingredients’ lists by a trade name such as Matrixyl or Argireline, and these might be a combination of more than one peptide.

Only very small amounts of are needed. They possess, if correctly chosen and formulated, very high biological potency. That means, according to Special Chem 4 Cosmetics, cosmetic effects can be obtained with very low quantities (only a few ppm compared to a retinol, which is used at 600-700 ppm level).

Here’s a run down of the most common cosmetic peptides, what they do and links to more reading:

Acetyl tetrapeptide-9. This is a relatively new peptide. There are protein-sugar (glycosaminoglycan chains) complexes that are involved with collagen fibers. And acetyl tetrapeptide-9 targets one in particular, called lumican that is involved in both the synthesis of collagen fibrils and their organization into functional fibers, ensuring the integrity of the extra-cellular matrix. This peptide is in Celazome N45.

Argireline – acetyle hexapeptide 3. This the best known of the neuropeptides (for more neuropeptides see below and also read our post on Botox in jar ingredients. It works by limiting the neurotransmitters that tell your facial muscles to move (a process known as exocytosis). Read more on Argireline.

Caprooyl tetrapeptide-3 (it also goes by the name ChroNOline).  A tetrapeptide is made up of four amino acids and, like all peptides, it signals our bodies to do things – like get busy and produce more collagem, for example. Unlike most peptides, caprooyl tetrapeptide-3 is derived from a growth factor. The caprooyl part is a lipid, which is supposed to increase stability and skin penetration. It is supposed to increase collagen lll by 34% as well as laminin production by 26% and laminin 5 by 49%.

Copper peptides. These are made by sticking copper to a GHK (see Matrixy 3000 below) peptide. Copper peptides heal wounds and stimulate hair follicles. Read more on copper peptides.

Hexapeptide-11 is derived from yeast. There isn’t much information on it. But I have read that test on human dermal fibroblasts show it can upregulate key genes responsible for collagen production and hyaluronic acid. It is also associated with hair growth. It may be able to upregulate the Androgen Receptor gene, binding to it. much the way testosterone will. This has led to speculation that hexapeptide-11 may be able to influence the principal biochemical pathways responsible for converting young velus hair into mature hair.

Matrixyl – palmitoyl pentapeptide. A pentapeptide has five amino acids. This is one of the best known and most ubiquitous collagen signaling peptides used in cosmetics. Palmitoyl pentapeptide stimulates the synthesis of the key constituents of the skin matrix - collagen, elastin and glucosamnoglycans. Read more on Matrixyl.

Matrixyl 3000 - palmitoyl-tripeptide and palmitoyl-oligopeptide. Supposedly a more potent version of Matrixyl because it has two peptides that work synergistically.

Myristoyl pentapeptide-8. This is supposed to be a collagen booster and it is increasingly showing up in eyelash growth products, such as Cilea, Glymed and CODE:ai. There is very little information on this peptide.

Palmitoyl oligopeptide (Pal-GHK) has three amino acids and is a GHK peptide or glycine-histidine-lysine.  GHK (see above for copper peptides) triggers the synthesis of collagen. The other peptide, palmitoyl-tripeptide, is believed to reduce the production of interleukins.  See our Five Best products with Matrixyl 3000.

Neuropeptides. In addition to Argireline (above) there are several other peptides that work as neurotransmitters. SNAP-8 is an octapeptide (eight amino acids), Myoxinol is oligopeptides taken from okra seeds, and Syn-Ake, which is dipeptide diaminobutyroyl. Read more on neurotransmitters.

Syn-tacks - palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminobutyroyl hydroxythreonine and palmitoyl dipeptide-6 diaminohydroxybutyrate.  These are meant to stimulate laminin V, collagen types IV, VII and XVII and integrin. Read more on Syn-tacks.

Tripeptide 1. This peptide is combined with wheat and soy proteins to by the name of Aldenine. Tripeptide 1 mimics the relationship of the growth factors involved in the healing process and synthesis of collagen. Specifically, it is supposed to stimulate the synthesis of collagen I and III, fibronectin and laminin. Tripeptide GHK is also an aldehyde sequestering agent that can capture (or scavenge) lipid peroxidation by-products. As a result it is also used for removing and preventing cellulite.

  • July 23, 2016

    by Linda


    Yes, there IS a anti aging product which does not use ingredients that originated from animal. It's name MAIONE youth original essence. It is all natural. No animal contain. I use for a year now. (read their product detail page)

  • May 14, 2016

    by shaliza

    hi, is there any anti aging product which does not use ingredients that originated from animal.

  • March 27, 2016

    by Jody

    Peptides are fantastic! They have medical research behind them. Botox is expensive and can deform your face with improper and excessive use.
    I have been using Dr Schrammek's Time Control Peptide serums and creams for years and look ten years younger. I am an esthetician and have done plenty of research on Peptides and I believe they are legitimate.

  • September 15, 2015

    by Rita

    Peptides in cosmeceutical skin care products is just expensive hype with no good science based logic. Save your money on those products and just go for:
    1. Botox which relaxes hyperdynamic muscles thereby preventing wrinkles and
    2. Microneedling treatments to stimulate collagen .
    Botox is an inexpensive safe treatment using a very purified pharmaceutical product that actually works. It has been used in medicine for 25 years and is tried and true. Microneedling is a treatment (should be done by a physician) that stimulates collagen and is basic great science. The treatment is called CIT.. Your skin (the epidermis) does not rebuild collagen and is the perfect barrier. It is designed to keep things out to protect the actively growing cells in the lower dermal layer. Peptides in topical skin care products are a complete waste of money. (Trying to get peptide to get into your skin is like trying to get an elephant into a closet)
    As for a good daily skin care protocol, stick with the basics ..a good Glycerin based cleanser, vitamin C (water based), glycolic acid , and Retin-A (Vit A) for stimulating cell turnover. AND of course a Elta-MD Zinc Oxide SPF moisturizer to protect your skin every day!

  • July 27, 2015

    by Marta

    Hi Ina, you can read about it here:
    It is supposed to give a feeling of well-being and help muscles relax.

  • July 27, 2015

    by Ina

    What is Acetyl Dipeptide-1 Cetyl Ester? It's the most important ingredient listed after aloe vera butter in a cream I just bought with high marketing claims.

  • June 9, 2014

    by Kay

    No-Go on Hydropeptides products. They contain Acetyl Hexapeptides which I am avoiding like the plague. Last thing I need is a muscle relaxer under my eyes, jowls, and neck. The only appropriate place for Acetyl Hexapeptides is between the brows, where Botox goes.

  • November 8, 2010

    by Naja

    As a hard core user of cosmepharmaceutical products, I have pretty high standards. In the past, I have experimented with a few peptides, including copper ones.

    To be honest, I found the world of peptides to be confusing and full of overpriced products delivering minimal or no results. I honestly could not understand the hype.

    That changed when I tried Hydropeptide's Anti-Wrinkle Dark Circle Concentrate. This product works so well that I noticed a difference in tightening and skin color in the eye are almost immediately. For what it does, I cannot believe the low price. Along with Retin-A, vitamin c and glycolic acid, this is now a permanent part of my skin care routine.

    Although I have used other peptide products that contain the same peptides as Hydropeptide, there is something about this company's formulation. This product works so well that I am now going to purchase other products in the Hydropeptide line.

  • November 7, 2010

    by marta

    Hi Barrie, the only one that I know of is - as you say - copper peptides and vitamin C. But I'll keep scanning for more information and update this if I find any other ingredients that can't be combined.

  • November 6, 2010

    by marta

    CP isn't going to make follicles grow hair that they hadn't grown before. It can't make them do something new.

  • November 5, 2010

    by Isanna

    would copper peptides increase growth of facial hair since they stimulate hair follicles?

  • November 5, 2010

    by Barrie

    I'd like more information on which peptides or products cannot be layered or used together. For example, I know that Vitamin C and copper peptides do not mix. Are there any other no-no's?

  • November 4, 2010

    by copley

    Excellent peptide cribsheet! Synthetic peptides seem to have both a great deal of promise for anti-aging and a great safety profile. Do you know if they emit an odor? I have detected a distinctive scent in a couple of peptide serums I use, but perhaps the smell comes from another ingredient and not the peptides. Just curious if you've noticed the same thing..

  • November 3, 2010

    by Sharon

    I seem to get a better result with peptide creams rather than just moisturizers, but I'm still looking for that perfect one.

  • November 3, 2010

    by Julie Kay

    Thank you, Marta. I, for one, love peptides. Gonna print this out and memorize it. ~jk

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