What Are Peptides and What Do They Do for Skin?

best moisturiser for dry skin

Written By - Vaishnavi Gopal

You've probably heard about peptides as an anti-ageing must-have for smoothing, repairing, and hydrating skin, but have you ever wondered what a peptide is and what it does for the skin? More importantly, is having it as a key ingredient in your skincare products worth the cost?
“The short answer is yes”, according to prominent dermatologists,

Let me first explain how peptides work, what they do for our skin and bodies, how we can get more of them, and the best peptide-infused skincare formulas to look for.

What are peptides and what do they do?

Before we get into peptides, let's first define amino acids.

Peptides are strings of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins in our bodies, including collagen in the skin. Without these proteins, we will have wrinkles, brittle nails, and dry, brittle hair.

Peptides are the building blocks for not only new collagen but also elastin fibres. These fibres are the foundation of our skin and contribute to tissue firmness and elasticity.

Natural processes within the body are almost entirely influenced by the interaction of specific amino acid sequences, either as peptides or as protein subsections.

Proteins and peptides are involved in the regulation of cell proliferation, migration, inflammation, angiogenesis, melanogenesis, and protein synthesis and regulation in the skin.

That means, peptides are found in every human cell and play an important role in how the body functions."We require peptides at all times." Our bodies cannot function if they are deficient in them.

Peptides in Skin Care: How Do They Work?

So, if peptides are already present in the body, why do we require more?

Experts believe that the answer is ageing. 

After the age of 30, we lose 1% of our remaining collagen per year and also natural communication channels in our skin slow down with age.

However, simply slathering peptides on your skin will not provide you with more of them.

It's a little more complicated how they work: Your body sees these peptides as signals that you need to heal, which tells your body to produce more collagen where it is most required.

Let me simplify it.

If you have an ankle injury, those peptides will tell your body to concentrate its repair efforts on that joint. If your skin is ageing prematurely, those peptides may signal your skin to produce more collagen and even hyaluronic acid, plumping it up and restoring a healthy skin barrier.

hyaluronic acid face serum
When external peptides are applied to the skin in the form of a moisturiser or serum, the skin is tricked into thinking there has been an injury or wound, which stimulates our collagen-boosting processes.


Different types of peptides 

Not all peptides are created equal when it comes to skincare. While there are hundreds of peptides, certain peptides are more effective for the skin than others.

Carrier peptides, for example, deliver trace minerals to the skin to boost collagen, whereas enzyme inhibitor peptides work to slow the skin's natural collagen breakdown.

Signal peptides send messages to various parts of the skin to promote collagen, elastin, and other proteins; and neurotransmitter peptides, dubbed "Botox-like," block the release of chemicals that cause the muscle contraction of expression lines, smoothing wrinkles.

Carrier peptides

Carrier peptides get their name from their role in delivering trace elements to the skin, such as copper and magnesium. Copper has become a particularly popular ingredient in recent years due to its ability to boost collagen production, firm up the skin and increase elasticity. Copper complexes have also been shown to brighten age spots and reduce the appearance of photoaging skin.

Signal peptides

Signal peptides, also known as palmitoyl pentapeptides, are the most commonly used in skincare. They are known to stimulate the production of collagen, elastin, and other structural proteins, which give the skin a firmer and fuller appearance.

Enzyme inhibitor peptides

Enzyme-inhibitor peptides, as the name implies, work by slowing the body's natural collagen-loss process. Peptides derived from rice proteins help to retain more collagen, whereas peptides derived from soy can help to prevent pigmentation.

Neurotransmitter peptides

Neurotransmitter peptides can be found in injectables like Botox as well as topical treatments like Argireline — both work to relax your facial muscles so they don't contract as much, reducing wrinkles and laughter or worry lines. According to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, these types of peptides reduced certain wrinkle types by 30%.

How To Use It

As you might expect, this popular ingredient has made its way onto store shelves in the form of face washes, serums, creams, masks, and more. The frequency of application will be determined by the product or treatment that is best suited to you and your skin type. Polypeptides, on the other hand, are generally safe to use twice daily. It's also a good idea to Choose a peptide product that is suitable for your skin, such as a cream or serum.


  1. Edgar S, Hopley B, Genovese L, Sibilla S, Laight D, Shute J. Effects of collagen-derived bioactive peptides and natural antioxidant compounds on proliferation and matrix protein synthesis by cultured normal human dermal fibroblasts. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):10474. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-28492-w
  2. Linus Pauling Institute. Peptides and skin health. Updated October 2012.
  3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.4161/derm.22804