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Are peptides safe in skincare?

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Every now and again, a new skin care ingredient comes along and promises to be the next big thing in turning back the clock and making our skin soft, supple, hydrated, plump and youthful. Others promise to fill in fine lines and wrinkles, whilst others claim they can lighten areas of pigmentation or help to minimise the scarring caused by acne.

How many of these hypes are we to believe? How do we believe them or debunk them, without spending lots of our hard earned cash actually trying them all out for ourselves? How do we know if these ingredients are even safe or suitable for our skin?

Whilst we don’t have all the answers, we certainly have a lot of scientifically backed articles here at Sönd. We cover everything from hemp seed oilto antioxidantsand parabens, how they work, why they work and whether or not they’re safe or suitable for your skin type.

Some ‘miracle’ products die a natural death and disappear as quickly as they appeared. Whilst others tend to stick around and stand the test of time. But how do we know which of these new ingredients and products are safe?

One of the new types of skin care ingredients emerging are peptides. Are they safe? What are they and what do they do? We took it upon ourselves to find out.

What are peptides?

Peptides are also called polypeptides and are a type of ‘mini’ protein. Both proteins and peptides are made up of the same building blocks - amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids, some that the body can naturally synthesise and some that we get from the protein rich foods that we eat.

Each different protein and peptide is made up of a different number and mix of amino acids. Proteins contain more amino acids than peptides do, since they’re bigger in size.

Peptides are naturally present in the skin and help to make up certain types of protein that are beneficial for the skin and our muscles.

Why are peptides included in skincare?

Of these proteins that are beneficial for the skin, perhaps the most well known is collagen. Collagen is made up of three different chains of polypeptides and helps to form a ‘biological scaffold’ for the skin to sit on.

This scaffold is formed of chains of collagen protein (made up of the three polypeptide chains) weaving in and out of each other forming a type of lattice. This supports the skin, keeping it plump and lifted.

But as we age, we start to lose our natural levels of collagen. This means that the skin begins to sag downwards into the spaces where we’ve lost collagen or the collagen support network has become weakened. Fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear and our skin starts to droop, lose elasticity and appear older looking.

So in a scientific sense, adding collagen peptides to the skin in the form of skin care products can help to boost the production of collagen and therefore make the skin appear younger. Molecules of peptides are smaller than molecules of collagen, so they’re able to sink deeper into the skin where they’re needed.

Different types of peptides can help to boost the production of different types of protein. For example, elastin peptides help to synthesise the protein elastin. Elastin is also naturally present in the skin and does a similar job to collagen. We also lose elastin as we age, which leads to the typical signs of skin ageing also associated with collagen loss.

Other benefits of adding collagen peptides to skin care products include a stronger natural skin barrier, better wound healing and potentially less skin inflammation. But some studies suggest that peptides might not be all they’re cracked up to be…

Why are peptides not considered safe in skincare?

There have been reports that skin care products that contain peptides can actually lead to skin irritation and inflammation. This can then lead to skin rashes, itching and sensitivities.

Also, the research on the use of peptides directly onto the skin is still in its infancy. Because of their small molecular size, they’re touted as beneficial for the skin since they can penetrate it so deeply and not sit on the surface of the skin.

But with this comes the concern that they may then be small enough to enter the bloodstream, and the long term effects of this are as yet unknown.

What is known, is that for some people, using peptides on their skin induces an allergic response. This has led researchers to advise people to use peptides with caution until more is understood about them.

Plus, not all peptides are beneficial for the skin, and they can be expensive. So you might not actually be buying anything beneficial anyway.

What should I look out for when buying skin care products?

Most peptide containing skin care products are the type that sit on the skin rather than those that get washed off. So, certain types of moisturiser tend to contain peptides but facial cleansers don’t.

If you want to try peptides, make sure you use them as directed, and don’t combine them with any type of alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, as they’ll become less effective.

But if you want to avoid the use of peptides in your skin care, try our range of nourishing, alkalising skin care. It’s ideal if you have acne prone skin or any type of skin type that means it goes a little contrary. It also happens to be peptide free!

If you’re looking for other peptide free skin care products, peptides are usually mentioned in ingredients lists as simply ‘peptides’. But they may also appear as ‘palmitoyl’. If you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant or you’re breastfeeding, the current advice is to avoid the use of peptides altogether.


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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