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What are peptides—and what do they do for your skin?

Let's explore this skin-boosting ingredient.

A person sits on the floor with a mirror and skincare items in front of them and touches their face. Credit: Getty Images / JLco Julia Amaral

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Collagen, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, retinol—oh-so-many ingredients claim to boost your skin health. Learning what works for your skin is the key to creating a routine that leaves you with results you adore. One more ingredient to put on your radar: peptides. Learn about these skin-enhancing compounds from Dr. Alexander Zuriarrain, double board-certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery.

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What are peptides?

A dropper with droplets of serum all around it.
Credit: Getty Images / Julia Isaeva

Peptides are proteins that the skin produces.

Similar to collagen, peptides are naturally occurring proteins in the skin. “Peptides are protein compounds that are found in different parts of the body that help to fight infections and promote wound healing,” Zuriarrain says. “These peptides can also help to improve muscle growth and regenerate different types of cells in the body.”

Also like collagen, the body’s production of peptides decreases over time starting around the age of 30. Zuriarrain explains why this matters: “The lack of peptides can lead to increased signs of aging. The skin can begin to function differently regarding its ability to regenerate cells and fight UV radiation. This leads to an increase in fine lines and wrinkles and a loss of skin elasticity.”

Can you boost your skin’s peptides at home?

A person looks into a mirror and applies a dropper of serum onto their skin while wearing a bath towel.
Credit: Getty Images / Prostock Studio

You can apply peptides to the skin topically.

Luckily, there is a clear way to boost your body’s supply of peptides, and that is to look for skincare products, such as serums or moisturizers, that contain them as an ingredient. Plus, there are additional skin benefits: “They can help increase collagen, hyaluronic acid, and other key components in the skin,” Zuriarrain says.

To see results, you’ll want to apply peptides daily. An easy way to incorporate them into your routine is with a cream, as everyone needs to moisturize daily anyway. Try the Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream, which contains a “hydrating triple-lipid complex” that claims to restore ceramides and fatty acids, a seaweed hyaluronic acid blend to plump the skin, and a peptide and amino acid blend that supports the skin barrier. You can use the cream in the morning and at night daily on clean skin.

If you’re committed to your existing moisturizer, opt instead for adding a serum, like the Buffet Anti-Aging Serum from The Ordinary. It contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin and peptide complexes that aim to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven texture. Apply a few drops to the skin in the morning and at night after cleansing and before moisturizing.

Using peptides on your skin shouldn’t require an adjustment period in the way that exfoliating retinol or fruit acids do, but it’s possible for any new ingredient to cause irritation. If this happens, stop using and consult your dermatologist.

Are there in-office treatments to boost peptides?

A closeup on a person's face with a syringe near it.
Credit: Getty Images / _Kurgu128

You can get peptide injections in-office.

Applying peptides topically can be effective with daily use, but receiving peptide injections as a means to supplement the skin with them from within offers a better guarantee and longer-term results. “Injected peptides are of greater benefit because they maintain their potency,” Zuriarrain says. “Topical application can result in faster breakdown and less clinical benefit.”

Post-procedure, you may experience pain at the injection site—usually areas of the body with skin folds—as well as swelling, water retention, headache, nausea, and vomiting, all of which are symptoms Zuriarrain cites as possible after most treatments. You can expect to see results within three to six months of the injections and twice a year is typical to have them redone. These injections are not covered by insurance and typically cost between $100 and $300, Zuriarrain says. Those that are pregnant or have a history of cancer should avoid peptide injections.

Peptides alone may not be the key to a fountain of youth, but Zuriarrain says they’re a start. “They are just one factor among many to consider when seeking a more youthful appearance.”

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