The Below-The-Radar Skincare Ingredient You Need To Know About

·5 min read

bhg - 29 Available at Olay

bhg - 37 Available at Walgreens

bhg - 30 Available at Amazon

bhg - 55 Available at Alastin

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I recently received an email with the subject line, "Are peptides the new retinol?" And the condescending voice inside my head said, "No, dear, peptides are not the new anything." The fact is, peptides have been doing some heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, in my skincare routine for two decades. But rarely do peptides receive top billing: They're more like the backup vocals to splashier antiaging ingredients like glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and yes, retinol. I suspect that's because you don't immediately see their effects, like the instant plumping you get from hyaluronic acid, or feel them either, like the sting of glycolic acid or retinol that makes you say, "It must be working!" But trust me, peptides are working really hard for you.

"Peptides are strings of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins such as collagen, elastin, and keratin, which are largely responsible for skin texture, strength, and elasticity," says David E. Bank, M.D., director of The Center for Dermatology in Mount Kisco, New York. When there's damage to the skin, the peptides that occur naturally in your body send a signal to the surrounding cells, asking for help to regenerate and repair. Peptides in skincare products trick the skin into thinking it's been injured and triggers the repair process that makes skin look younger and healthier.

"A lot of professional procedures at the dermatologist or the aesthetician are based on the same principle," explains says Frauke Neuser, Ph.D. principal scientist for Olay skin care. "When they create a micro-injury to your skin, whether that's through micro needling or a laser treatment or chemical peels, it triggers a regeneration process. The downside is that it's expensive, and it's invasive, so you have downtime. Peptides aren't a hundred percent as effective as a laser treatment, but they're working in the same way, just more subtly."

Doris Day, M.D., director of Day Dermatology and Aesthetics in New York City, puts peptides into perspective: "They can't give you a facelift or completely undo years of sun damage, but they can help improve firmness of your skin and make it look smoother and less wrinkled." Formulators love peptides because their benefits come without the irritation created by their compadres, and they work and play well with most other ingredients. "I like to pair them with retinoids, niacinamide, and caffeine," says Day. Bank agrees, and adds "Peptides mix well with retinoids because the retinoids help the peptides penetrate deeper while getting the collagen-building effects of the retinoid." However, he recommends against mixing peptides with acids, like AHAs. "The acids' pH makes peptides less efficacious."

Although you'll find peptides in lots of different types of products, including cleansers and night creams, they're most effective in formulas that stay on your skin, like serums or moisturizers. And since they aren't irritating or sun-sensitizing, there's nothing stopping you from adding peptides both day and night. Here are four peptide-forward formulas worth incorporating into your routine.

Tried and True

I still remember the excitement around the launch of the Olay Regenerist line in 2003, featuring Pal-KTTKS, a peptide that was shown to stimulate collagen in a published, peer-reviewed study (which is the gold standard for skincare ingredients). Olay still formulates with Pal-KTTKS (and other peptides, as well) and is still a leader in the technology. "We know from our research that the peptide we use in Olay very directly impacts and boosts collagen production, as well as the production of other important elements in your skin, such as hyaluronic acid, elastin, and fibrillin," says Neuser. Olay's Collagen Peptide line has the highest levels of peptides in all of the brand's formulas, and a peptide eye cream makes so much sense as that thin skin is so easily irritated by other active ingredients.

Buy It: Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Eye Cream ($29, originally $29, Olay)

The Double Whammy

I don't mess around with retinol. I've been using the hard stuff, also known as a prescription retinoid, since I turned 40 nearly a dozen years ago. Every time I'd see a dermatologist, and in the beauty business, you see a lot, I'd leave the office with a handful of itty bitty retinoid samples to play with. When the COVID-19 lockdown started, and my prescription-strength supply was cut off, I tried a bunch of OTC retinol products until I found No7's version. It mixes retinol with Matrixyl 3000+, a peptide blend, for results that rival the strong stuff.

Buy It: Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate ($37, Walgreens)

Fast-Acting Formula

There are certain phrases in a product press release that will always attract my eye: "contoured jawline' is a biggie. "Cheekbone definition" is another. I sure do like "improved elasticity and firmness," too. And the clincher? "In four weeks." I'm sold on Neutrogena's new peptide cream, which uses a micropeptide for deeper penetration into the dermal level, where the repair takes place, for results in just a month.

Buy It: Neutrogena Rapid Firming Peptide Contour Lift Face Cream ($30, Amazon)

Your Dream Day Cream

I've been hearing dermatologists sing the praises of Alastin Nectar for the past few years. It's become the go-to topical to apply after any sort of in-office treatments because its TriHex peptide blend sends a signal to clear away damaged collagen and elastin to speed wound healing and make way for the healthy new proteins. The published before and after photos of people using an Alastin regimen (there's that peer-reviewed study stuff again) are damn impressive, with noticeable improvement in crow's feet and nasal labial folds. For everyday use, I'm on board with the brand's tinted sunscreen and moisturizer, a mineral-based formula that prevents damage while repairing the damage.

Buy It: HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 36 ($55, Alastin)

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