If you’re slathering your skin with retinol and acids every night in the hopes for lifted and taut skin, you’re not the only one. While the ingredients are anti-aging powerhouses, they can be drying and irritating to a lot of skin types.

Enter: peptides. These skin-friendly amino acids supplement the reserve of proteins already in the skin, to amp up processes to fight signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines.

What exactly are peptides?

Peptides are essentially fragments of proteins. They can tell the skin to behave in a certain way—in this case, to keep regenerating new cells. Peptides have been shown to be able to fight wrinkles, fine lines, loss of firmness, dullness, and dehydration. The reason that they are so powerful is that they are performance-specific.

Proteins are the building blocks of skin, so a breakdown in them can lead to a lack of bounciness and loss of firmness. Now that they can be made in a lab, each peptide can be created to specifically activate an element of skin function, for example, a peptide to make more collagen, or deactivate a problem in the skin, like too many muscle contractions in the forehead.

Peptides are powerful anti-aging skincare ingredients

Each kind of peptide is designed to do a specific skincare task, like hydration or improving skin firmness. When used in skincare products, they fall into three main categories: carrier peptides, nerve-inhibiting peptides, and signal peptides. Signal peptides act as messengers that trigger collagen synthesis.

Loss of collagen leads to sagging skin because they form the scaffolding between skin cells. Loss of this leads to uneven texture, fine lines, and increase pore size. Adding to this, with age, nerve signals are on a hair-trigger alert, which lead to more contracting and relaxing than required, so they wear down. This can result in crows feet and forehead lines.

When collagen breaks down in the skin (due to oxidants, sun damage, stress, and general aging,) peptides inform our skin cells to produce more to fill in the gaps to help replace what is lost. Therefore, using peptides as a topical ingredient suggests to the skin cells that there might be a lack of collagen, therefore tricking the skin into synthesizing more. Then carrier peptides are able to help stabilize enzyme production, which is important for the production of collagen and elastin itself.

Nerve-inhibiting peptides work like natural botox, firming up the skin and inhibit nerve signals have the potential to soften fine lines caused by muscle movement (especially in areas like the forehead and near the mouth.) The end result is lifted, more taut skin that looks healthy and supple.

Peptides should be used, and stored with care

While other skin-preserving ingredients like retinol or acids may be too harsh on sensitive skin, peptides are safe skincare ingredients for all skin types. In fact, incorporating peptide formulations into your routine could give you results similar to retinol without the side effects. However, for peptides to be effective, they have to be stabilized in a hydrating cream so they don’t break down.

The formula can’t be too heavy, as small molecules are needed to penetrate the surface of the skin. Peptides play well with Vitamin C, so apply a Vitamin C serum first and then apply a peptide heavy formulation after for a one-two punch on fine lines and loss of laxity. On skincare products, they end with “-peptide” or start with “palmitoyl-”.

In your skincare routine, what peptide-rich products should you add?

If you’re looking to add peptides to your nighttime routine without tacking on an extra step, use it in a cream formula. n the gel-cream base of the Drunk Elephant Protini polypeptide, nine growth factors for peptides of plant origin imitate natural peptides to promote the production of collagen. Paired with amino acids to maintain the skin barrier, the cream dries fast to leave skin with an almost immediately tightened effect.

Over time, the skin is hydrated while feeling taut. If you want to fight dullness and loss of firmness in one fell swoop, the iS Clinical Super Serum Advance Plus is your best bet. Vitamin C exfoliates and brightens skin, while the copper peptides increase collagen production. Since copper molecules are so small, they can penetrate deep into the dermal layer to repair and enhance the skin.

For a quick one-step before makeup application, use the Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream as a primer because it contains biopeptides to perk up dull, dry and tired complexions.

For more enhanced signs of aging, the small-but-mighty The Ordinary Matrixyl 10% + HA Serum boasts a polypeptide to reduce the appearance of both static and dynamic wrinkles. The sodium hyaluronate base has smaller molecules that allow the matrixyl peptides to best penetrate the skin to smooth and plump the skin surface.

The Makeup Revolution Skin multi-targeting and firming serum also contains signal peptides which act to plump, hydrate and smooth the skin. Even the sensitive skin around the eyes needs interference with peptides, and Caudalie Premier Cru eye cream contains peptides to fill in fine lines and resveratrol to target puffiness and pigmentation.

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