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Copper peptides have an impressive clinical pedigree going back to the 1970s. They are proven wound healers, can help hair growth and have been in skin care products for past 20 years. Today, they are regarded as one of the most potent skin regeneration actives, and much more is understood about how they work and how we can get the most out of them as an anti-aging active for skin and hair. There are still a few urban myths persisting though, so here’s the truth about copper peptides.
Copper is something that exists naturally in our tissues. Depletion of it has for a long time been correlated with many degenerative diseases. One of the main roles of copper is being anti-inflammatory — it works by suppressing inflammatory cytokines — and there is a growing school of thought that increased inflammation brings about aging.
Cleveland Clinic points out that studies have shown 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. Copper is the key mineral in lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that weaves together collagen and elastin.
Research has shown that copper peptides and red LED light make a powerful combination. Red light alone maintains fibroblast activity and increased collagen synthesis. When used with copper peptides, collagen 1 expression increases even more. This is why I’ll be introducing a copper peptide based serum for use with the True Vitality Lux Renew ultrasound and LED device.
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 works on the follicle in two ways: increasing follicle cell proliferation and decreasing 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. Copper peptides are the active ingredient in our own Truth Vitality hair care line.
GHK-copper complex of a glycyl-L-histidyl-L-lysine peptide. Since it has three amino acids it is called a tripeptide. The GHK tripeptide is touted because the molecules are small and can bind to receptors more easily than larger ones. It is also the version that has been used since the 1970s in various studies. In recent years, new versions that are gentler to use while still being effective have been developed. Our Truth Vitality line uses a proprietary complex of five amino acids — glycine, L-histidine, L-lysine, L-serine, L-citrulline — with copper chloride. Copper PCA also works.
The idea that overdoing copper peptides can make you look older is one that surfaces in online forums from time to time, including some who claim a loss of elasticity. The problem is that overuse is never defined. I certainly have never seen any research on this (and I have spent a long time looking) nor have I personally experienced it. All the published research that I have come across — and it is extensive — points to copper peptides working on collagen and elastin with positive effects. I would say that this is a wound healer and should only be used on something that needs repairing (e.g., visible lines). This is not an ingredient to use as a preventative by someone who has no signs of aging.
Copper peptides: Inorganic copper promotes free radical formation. However, when copper is converted to organic form by binding to peptides it can be applied to the skin with little risk.
There is a theory that copper peptides and vitamin C cannot be combined without negating the effects of the copper. As this is a concern that people raise from time to time, I delved as deeply as I could into the research. Now, there is evidence that the two substances would interact by vitamin C replacing the peptide as the chelating agent around the copper center, but it is a very uncommon occurrence. Although it would somewhat depend on the relative concentrations of the two substances, the effect in a product would be near negligible. So while there is a shred of truth to the rumors about combining the two, it's largely overblown in my opinion.
Marta Wohrle is an anti-aging skin care and beauty expert and the founder/CEO of Truth In Aging. Marta is dedicated to uncovering the truth behind anti-aging product claims.