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Peptides: creating a bridge between cosmetics and drugs

Cosmetics with peptides: 1 - eye patches with peptides and red ginseng extract, L'Sanic; 2 - day cream Time-Filler Mat, Filorga; 3 - face cream Lift Me Up. Lifting Cream, Atb lab; 4 - energy peptide serum Dr.Jart +; 5 - highly concentrated serum for the face with peptides, Maxclinic; 6 - Night intensive face cream Nordic Ageless, Lumene; 7 - Firming Concentrate Ultra C23 Firming Concentrate, Ultraceuticals.(1)

Nowadays the formulators are provided by a variety of "active ingredients" to create cosmetic products, while as peptides are the most talked-about, especially in the anti-aging field.(2) Everyone has heard the word ‘peptide’ at least once in his or her life, however it is better to explain the meaning of amino acids, peptides and proteins.

Amino acids are molecules that perform several critical roles in our body and are referred to as the building blocks of proteins such as elastin, collagen and keratin. Peptides vary from proteins because they are much shorter and possess different form of secondary folding structures. Some peptides exist naturally in the body, whereas others are produced synthetically to mimic natural peptide function. As a rule of thumb, where 50 or less amino acids are linked together the chain is named peptide. And in the case of more than 50 – protein.(3)

Types of peptides in cosmetics and their action

Since 2000, the use of peptides has increased dramatically in cosmeceutical products and this demonstrates the need to gain in-depth knowledge of the different molecules as well as the physiological concepts guiding their application.

“We lose 1% of our remaining collagen per year after age 30 and our skin’s natural communication channels also slow down over time,”

says Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson.(4) Additionally, it is important to note that peptides are operating NOT on the skin's surface but in its deep layers and directly in the cells. The best option is when active peptides are composed out of 15 amino acids or less (due to the production cost and penetration capacity).(5)

  • Peptides that trigger the signaling cascade (also called matricins or collagen stimulators) increase proliferation of collagen, elastin, proteoglycan, glycosaminoglycan and fibronectin. As a result, the regeneration of the skin matrix cells decreases the pigmentation of photo-damaged skin, fine lines and wrinkles. The elasticity of the skin improves, and the skin becomes smoother and tighter.(6) “When you introduce exogenous peptides onto the skin in the form of a moisturizer or serum, it tricks the skin into thinking there’s been an injury or wound, and it stimulates our collagen-boosting processes,” explains Dr. Bowe.(4) The French manufacturer Sederma has produced one of the best known palmitoyl peptides - pal-KTTKS which has demonstrated efficacy in stimulating production of collagen and significant improvement in skin texture with reductions in wrinkles at 8 weeks.(7)

  • Carrier peptides are known for transporting and stabilizing oligoelements (e.g. Cu and Mn), distributing them to the skin and enabling epithelial cells to absorb them. Such peptides serve a significant role in wound healing and are cofactors for some enzymes that are necessary for collagen synthesis, melanogenesis and antioxidant action.(8)

  • Neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides mimic the synaptic protein SNAP-25 and demonstrate specific inhibition of the neurosecretion. Such topical synthetic peptides penetrate the skin and relax the muscles, leading to the decrease and softening of wrinkles and fine lines.(6)

  • Enzyme inhibitor peptides can diminish collagen breakdown and other proteins by interfering with processes that crack down those proteins.(3)

  • The last but not the least type is antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). AMPs have the potential to kill different microorganisms, or to prevent their development. Considering the growing awareness of the importance of a healthy skin microflora, this can also be an important feature for novel cosmetics: skin tone and texture improvement (ECM homeostasis), inflammation control, acne management, cell renewal, induction of angiogenesis and skin whitening.(5)

Table of particular peptides in cosmetics:(9)

Peptides were originally designed to treat pathologies due to new insights at the molecular level and opportunities for low-cost peptide synthesis. Nowadays, peptides can be produced or adjusted in many ways for solubility, greater penetration, improved receptor activity, etc. Hence, these abilities allowed the scientists to expand peptides use, such as the application in cosmetic field.


(5) Alencar-Silva, T. et al. Breaking the frontiers of cosmetology with antimicrobial peptides. Biotechnology Advances vol. 36 2019–2031 (2018).

(6) Schagen, S. Topical Peptide Treatments with Effective Anti-Aging Results. Cosmetics 4, 16 (2017).

(7) Lee, C. M. Fifty years of research and development of cosmeceuticals: a contemporary review. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology vol. 15 527–539 (2016).

(8) Lima, T. N. & Moraes, C. A. P. Bioactive Peptides: Applications and Relevance for Cosmeceuticals. Cosmetics 5, 21 (2018).

(9) (accessed on March 6, 2020)

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