With names like DNA Triple Peptide Eye Cream and Blue Plasma Cleansing Treatment, skincare products are beginning to sound like they belong in a chemistry lab rather than on your face. But are these sciencey-sounding names just a clever marketing tool, or is there some truth to their claims?
I decided to break down two of the biggest buzzwords in the skincare world at the moment, peptides and hyaluronic acid, to find out exactly what they’re doing to your skin.
Peptides: The Key to Eternally Youthful Skin?
If you remember your basic chemistry, peptides are the building blocks of protein. One very important protein is collagen, which gives skin its elasticity and strength. Most of the symptoms of aging skin are the result of the slowing down of collagen production.
Applying peptide skin care products is thought to speed up collagen production again, strengthening the skin and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. This is because peptides act as a signal to tell the skin that it needs to make more collagen.
So more peptides + more collagen should equal youthful, wrinkle-free skin.
Unfortunately, only a handful of research has been undertaken into peptide skincare and most (unsurprisingly) comes from the cosmetic companies themselves. So it’s difficult to say for sure whether peptides are actually triggering an increase in collagen production.
However, an independent study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science did find that unbranded peptide moisturiser significantly reduced the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles compared to a placebo.
Hyaluronic Acid: The Ultimate Hydrator?
It sounds a little bit frightening, doesn’t it, putting acid on your skin? But with this particular acid there really is nothing to fear, as the average person already has 15 grams of hyaluronic acid sitting in their joints, eyes and skin. Its job is to lubricate joints and help retain moisture levels in the skin.
However, just like with collagen, as we age the amount of hyaluronic acid our bodies naturally produce declines, and we suffer the consequences of stiff joints and dry, wrinkled skin. Hyaluronic acid applied to the skin is therefore thought to improve the skin’s appearance by increasing its ability to retain water.
Hyaluronic acid is currently an approved treatment for osteoporosis when injected directly into the joints. However, its ability to improve moisture levels when applied topically to the skin is debatable.
This is because hyaluronic acid is a very large molecule and so only small amounts are able to penetrate through the skin’s barrier and affect moisture levels.
That being said, when hyaluronic acid was used like a lip balm by participants suffering from extremely chapped, sunburnt lips (Actinic cheilitis) it significantly improved the condition of 56% of participants.
So, while we can’t be sure that hyaluronic acid is actually increasing moisture levels in the skin, it does seem to be noticeably improving skin appearance in extreme cases at least.
Choosing Your Products
If you’re still keen to give peptides and hyaluronic acid a go what should you be looking out for?
Any products containing peptides will list palmitoyl pentapeptide in their ingredients list, and hyaluronic acid will be listed as simply hyaluronic acid or as sodium hyaluronate.
And there is definitely no point in forking out hundreds for a high-end moisturiser, as – in terms of hyaluronic acid/peptide concentration – there will be little difference between a $20 and $200 moisturiser.