Peptides: How This Ingredient Helps Build Collagen for Firmer Skin

Imagine having a direct line to your skin cells. “Hey, I’m starting to notice some fine lines between my brows,” you might text them. “Can we start doubling-down on collagen production this week?”

But since speed-dialing your skin cells probably isn’t in the cards for at least a millennia, in the meantime, you might consider using peptide-infused skin care. Peptides function as tiny couriers to our skin cells, sending messages that enable them to communicate more efficiently.

That in mind — aside from plastic surgery or injectables — peptides are among the most powerful tools we have to help smooth wrinkles and restore firmness. If your interest is piqued, read on to learn what makes peptides work, and how you can reap the benefits.

What are peptides?

“Peptides are short chains of amino acids,” says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Cindy Bae, “with amino acids being the smallest unit of a protein.” And protein — in the form of elastin, keratin, and, mostly, collagen — is what gives skin its structure and resilience.

Notably, since peptides are amino acids and not proteins in and of themselves, they — unlike, say, collagen — are able to penetrate the skin when applied topically. “There is a limit of the size that a particle can be for it to actually get absorbed through the stratum corneum — which is the very top layer of the top layer of our skin, called the epidermis — and then used biologically within the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, who is based in San Diego, CA.

Different lengths and arrangements of those teeny-tiny amino acid chains result in different types of peptides. And while they all work by communicating with our skin cells, they don’t all get their point across by the same means.

What are the benefits of peptides for your skin?

Most peptides used in skin care can be categorized within a few buckets (signal, carrier, enzyme-inhibitor, and neurotransmitter-inhibitor) depending on how they work.

Signal peptides trigger mechanisms that impact wound healing,” says Bae. “This, in turn, activates fibroblasts in response to fragmented chains of elastin and collagen.” As in, these types of peptides make your skin cells think there’s been trauma. Your body then goes into repair-mode, and stimulates elastin and collagen production — resulting in firmer, plumper skin.