Are peptides worth the hype? A dermatologist weighs in

We find out if it deserves the 'star ingredient' status or is just a fad.

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You don’t need me to tell you just how much the world of skincare is booming; a scroll through your Instagram feed will do that. You will see everything from the revival of old practices that we thought were lost forever (think—kansa wand), to informative bits on various active ingredients. The beauty universe has taken the basic CTM method and built on it to a point where everyone has an AM and PM skincare routine that they dedicatedly follow. For instance—who hasn’t heard of hyaluronic acid or niacinamide? These are skincare celebrities. And today we’re going to learn about another ingredient in the same category—peptides.  

When it comes to skincare ingredients, peptides have created quite a buzz. And it isn’t surprising since they are present in so many skincare formulations. However, a lot of people aren’t quite sure what they are or what they do for the skin. And it can be tricky to determine where peptides fit into your skincare routine (and if they should even occupy the space) if you don’t know anything about them. So let’s start, shall we? 

What are peptides?

Dr Rashmi Shetty, cosmetic dermatologist, Ra Skin & Aesthetics explains, “Peptides are a compound comprising a link of two or more amino acids.” A small chain of amino acids forms a peptide while a chain of peptides creates a protein. Dr Shetty says, “There are a vast variety of peptides available such as tripeptides, decapeptides, hexapeptides and so on, depending on the number of amino acids linked in the peptide chain.”  

While peptides are found naturally in the body, when used topically they prompt skin cells into producing collagen and elastin. For the uninitiated, these two proteins are responsible for the firmness, texture, and tone of your skin. As we age, our body doesn’t make as much collagen and elastin as it did, resulting in wrinkles and saggy skin. Using peptides topically can help you keep your skin plump and fight signs of ageing.   

Benefits of including peptides in your skincare routine

Dr Shetty says, “Peptides are used in almost every treatment and skincare product. They are highly beneficial in anti-ageing treatments as they reduce wrinkles, increase elastin, and reduce inflammation. They also aid in maintaining your skin barrier and keeping acne away with their anti-microbial properties.”     

There are hundreds of peptides; all performing specific functions depending on the size and shape of the amino acids that make up the chain. And unlike a lot of their peers, they are easily absorbed into the skin and hence, work on a cellular level. From strengthening the barrier and easing inflammation, to reducing wrinkles and increasing elasticity, peptides can do it all and then some without irritating the skin. They are also a good alternative for people who can’t tolerate retinoids. 

Dr Shetty agrees, “Peptides have absolutely no side effects. They are extremely gentle on the skin and do not cause any sensitivity, redness, or irritation.”  

Downsides of using peptides

Research shows peptides are the overachievers in the skincare world, but one must keep in mind that they are unlikely to be able to address a skincare issue by themselves; they have to be paired with other effective ingredients. They are more catalysts than fighters.

Here comes the tricky part though; you have to be extremely careful what you pair your peptides with. If it is with a humectant or an antioxidant, it’s all good. Your skin will not be aggravated in the process. However, if you combine it with an active ingredient like an AHA or a BHA, it might not suit your skin very well. 

Dr Shetty explains, “Mixing peptides and chemical exfoliants at the same time is not ideal. The amino acid links in peptides are quite delicate whereas chemical exfoliants are acidic in nature. A direct mix of the two could cause the peptide bonds to break.” 

She goes on to say that if combining a peptide with an active ingredient is an absolute must, the exfoliants and peptides could be used sequentially—for example, the exfoliant one day and peptide the next or the peptide in the morning and exfoliant at night.  

The bottom line is that while you can’t rely on just peptides to vanish your fine lines and moisturise your skin, they are team players that are worth using in a more comprehensive routine.