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Every day, it feels like there’s a trendy new skin care ingredient that’s said to change your skin for the better. Some ingredients are more hype than action, but others are really worth it — and peptides are an ingredient you won’t want to miss.

Peptides, also called polypeptides, are naturally occurring in the skin, but they’re also included in many skin care products — and for good reason.

Peptides are amino acids that make up certain proteins needed by the skin. More specifically, collagen is made of three polypeptide chains, so adding peptides can stimulate your skin to make collagen. More collagen can lead to firmer, younger-looking skin.

Your body makes collagen naturally, but over time, collagen production decreases, which can cause skin to look more wrinkled and less even and bright. Before you reach for that bottle, here’s what to know.

The collagen molecule is actually too large to absorb through skin, which is why so many people choose to eat collagen-rich bone broth or take collagen supplements.

But peptides can absorb into the skin where they can be used by the body. Incorporating peptides into your skin care routine has many benefits for the skin.

Improved skin barrier

The skin barrier is the body’s line of defense against bacteria, ultraviolet rays, pollution, and other toxins. The skin barrier can be damaged from over-exfoliation, exposure to cigarette smoke and other pollution, or even poor sleep. Peptides help build up a stronger barrier.

Reduced wrinkles

Collagen can plump skin and lips, and when skin is firmer and plumper, wrinkles and fine lines will be less visible.

More elastic skin

In addition to collagen, peptides also make up elastin fibers, also a type of protein. These fibers make skin look firmer and tauter.

Eases inflammation

Peptides can help ease inflammation, repair damaged skin, and even out skin tone.

Can help clear breakouts

Some peptides are antimicrobial, meaning they can kill bacteria that cause acne.

Peptides can penetrate the outer layer of the skin, so instead of sitting on top of the skin, they sink in more deeply. You can think of them as messengers for the other cells — they send signals telling the cells to produce collagen and elastin.

There are so many products on the market that contain peptides, it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s how to shop for peptides, plus seven skin care brands to consider:

  • Pick the right form. You’ll want to choose a product like a serum or a moisturizer that has prolonged contact with your skin. A cleanser, for example, won’t be as effective because it’s rinsed off.
  • Choose your other ingredients wisely. Peptides work well in tandem with other ingredients, including vitamin C, niacinamide (but don’t use niacinamide and vitamin C together!), antioxidants, and hyaluronic acids. Using a peptide with an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) will actually make the peptides work less efficiently.
  • Look at the label. You ideally want to see peptides listed close to the top of the ingredient list. They may also be listed as “palmitoyl.”

Peptides are often touted as a miracle cure, with some saying peptides work as well as Botox — this is because neurotransmitter peptides can temporarily block chemicals that cause muscle contraction, but it’s not as effective as Botox.

While peptides can definitely be beneficial to skin, there are still some drawbacks to be aware of.

Considerations and drawbacks
  • Peptides are often very expensive.
  • Research is still developing. Other ingredients like AHAs and retinol are currently more scientifically backed anti-aging ingredients.
  • There are many different kinds of peptides, and some won’t have any effect on the skin.
  • Ask your dermatologist or another trusted source for recommendations, as the word “peptide” can sometimes be used as a marketing term.
  • In rare cases, a peptide allergy can occur.

Peptides are amino acids that are the building blocks of certain proteins needed by the skin, like collagen and elastin.

Using a serum or moisturizer that contains peptides can lead to firmer, younger-looking skin, and maybe even fewer breakouts. Peptides are generally considered safe, and while they’re a promising skin care ingredient, more research is needed on their efficacy.