I’d like to start with a few words on aging.
It is the fundamental process common to all living creatures. It is not preventable at our current levels of science and research, but we can make sure we grow older with beauty and grace. It's simply a matter of taking care of ourselves on the inside and outside. Inside, we can make sure we consume high quality organic foods. We can make sure we get the right amount of sleep and exercise. And on the outside we can make sure we're utilizing what both ancient and modern science has to offer to help our skin.
Modern Anti-Aging Skincare is all about Peptide technology and for very good reason. The use of peptides in topical skincare is both effective and safe if responsibly sourced and formulated with knowledge and care. Peptides can help your skin hold more moisture, eliminate fine line wrinkles, regain firmness and even out skin tone.
Peptides control collegen production by stimulating Fibroblast cells to make collagen on demand. The problem is we age and produce less of the viable peptide messagners.
Just a nice cross section of skin with collagen producing Fibroblasts so you know where your collagen comes from.
I would like to inject here that I do not like the term anti-aging, but will use it anyway through this article. But when you see the term anti-aging please know what I really mean is skin that is healthy, radiantly glowing, well moisturized and firm. And also note the inclusion of these bold side-notes, they are in place to keep the focus and content of the article within reach.
As a consumer it’s helpful in choosing your skincare products to have a basic and working understanding of what makes a peptide a peptide, where peptides come from how they work. On one side of the labels and the research you’ll find increasing numbers of very large and very small skincare manufacturers presenting information and answering questions with either highly technical bio-physical language or dumbed down versions that border misinformation. What’s a little more difficult to find is a practical overview of peptides that’s both technically accurate, readably understandable and useful.
Peptide infused skincare is expensive and so the more you know the better you’ll be able to invest in your short term and long-term skincare. In this article you will find reference to various peptides from Enzyme Inhibitors, to Carrier and Signal peptides for general reference and then we will break down the basic properties of each with respect to how your skin is affected by their presence.
What’s A Peptide And What’s A Protein
Proteins are assemblages of amino acids and peptides are proteins bound with a Peptide Bond through a dehydration reaction.
This is a sketch of a typical Di-peptide. Note that there are two separate amino acids one to the right and the other on the left in the top illustration. In the bottom illustration note how the two amino acids are now bound together through the dehydration reaction precipitating a peptide bond.
While Peptides range in size from 2 to 50 amino acids, proteins are considered proteins if structure is larger than 50 amino acids. Proteins are of great nutritional value and essentially the building blocks of life. Peptides are structurally similar to proteins. but smaller in the number of amino acids. And perhaps what you didn’t know is that hormones, antibiotics and many other compounds are technically considered peptides; an interesting discussion we’ll save for another article.
Just stick with me here what follows is some interesting background on where peptides come from and how they went from a research lab to a major component in making your skin more beautiful with greater health.
The first peptide hormone was isolated in the 1950’s, confirmed through synthesis and was named Oxytocin. This is not something you should feel compelled to remember any more than you should worry about the specific scientific nomenclature, I’m briefly covering this history so you can say you heard it mentioned, Furthermore, angiotensin, vasopressin, oxytocin, bradykinin are a few more of the first isolated. Hard to pronounce and difficult to remember if you’re not a biochemist.
Since the early days research in peptide synthesis has characterized hundreds and hundreds of short, medium and long chain peptides, most of which are classified as short duration hormones responsible for large numbers of our bodily functions that happen without our awareness. It all just happens in the background.
Essentially peptides are messengers and when they are released at some point in the body they generally find their way from the release site to a specific targeted biologically active site through the blood or lymphatic fluid.
What you should take away from this discussion so far is that peptides have enormous potential for both medical and pharmaceutical application. And while much of the research and many of the developed peptides may not have immediate and obvious application outside research curiously, many do.
What does all this have to do with skin?
Well, one of the most significant signs of aging is the texture of our skin and surface wrinkles. And it turns out that peptides are the bodies natural signals that control collagen production. The illustration below is a pretty nice presentation of the mechanism of aging skin.
Ok, we've established peptides are essentially messengers that have influence on the way our bodies function on a cellular level. We know they are created somewhere in the body and travel to various other parts of the body to activate various bodily functions. Remember hormones are essentially peptides and so keep in mind the powerful influence of hormones on the state of our bodies from the state of our emotions to the functioning of digestive track to our muscles and organs. All on a cellular level.
Skin is made of cells and it is our largest organ and so it follows that peptides have some level of influence; and that by the way is a monumental understatement. Initially in early development and research the challenge was to establish a collection of peptides to address specific control of specific skin issues. And then the development of transport vehicles to move these delicate molecules into the skin undamaged; essentially penetration, stability and diffusion issues.
Not to worry, largely it has all worked out, but we’re not there yet.
A Little More Specific
Turns out that where penetration and diffusion are concerned size matters. One of the first experiments was performed using Carnosin, a peptide typically transported through the liquid transport systems of the body with minimal affinity to the skin, typically found in the blood plasma of mammals. Carnosin is known to have bioactivity ranging from wound healing to cataract prevention. A reasonable candidate.
When applied to the surface of the skin attached to an essentially palmic fatty acid and can now be called a lipophilic peptide because of the attachment to the fatty acid, and tagged with a radioactive iodine, it was found the structure maintained stability, and distributed radioactivity into the upper and middle layers of the skin (Stratum Corneum & epidermis & dermis).
Now while there was little bioactivity with the introduction of this lipophilic peptide, the experiment demonstrated that peptides could be modified to penetrate and diffuse into the skin with no structural breach of integrity.
What this means is we can take a peptide with the ability to do nice things for your skin, modify it so goes into the skin to a targeted area without breaking down, stays there and works its magic on your skin. The process is natural and beneficial.
A great success and the beginning of anti-aging skincare using peptides.
Ok the next step to building an understanding of peptides, lets untangle some of the nomenclature since the narrative will make reference seems a nice time to introduce this.
Monopeptide One Amino Acid
Dipeptide Two Amino Acids
Tripeptide Three Amino Acids
Tetrapeptide Four Amino Acids
Pentapeptide Five Amino Acids
Hexapeptide Six Amino Acids
Heptapeptide Seven Amino Acids
You get the idea here and this is important because these generic categories of peptide each have certain and specific functions.
There Are Only Four Categories under discussion here: Signal, Enzyme Inhibitor, Neurotransmitter Inhibitor and Carrier Peptides. Let’s take them one at a time and keep it straight forward and no nonsense.
Signal Peptides stimulate the production and synthesis of collagen by stimulating matrix cell activity and consequently collagen production. When released from the extra cellular matrix Signal Peptides trigger a powerful signaling cascade so even a tiny amount can precipitate large production of collagen and elastin. The result is younger firmer skin.
This is important. The extracellular matrix is a structure that holds skin cells together and maintain healthy moisture levels. Typically, these cells consist of itty bitty fibrils of collagen product by cell fibroblasts. The matrix structure of aging skin will have become fragmented and less capable of holding moisture and maintaining structure.
As Tripeptides and pentapeptide signal peptides have a typically small structure and when attached to a carrier limpid move into the skin with great dispersion. Listed below are a few widely used signal peptide structures and a few words about what each does. Don’t stress that you should have to remember each, we’re going to mention a few of each, just to give you a working flavor or what is possible.
Elastin helps skin hold its structure and return to its normal shape after stretching or poking.
Proteoglycans enable tissue to withstand compressional forces without alteration.
Glycosaminoglycans connect to proteins in order to form proteoglycans.
So, GHK is a signal peptide that helps skin tissue maintain it’s shape. As skin ages it begins to loosen, sag, thin, and loose it’s more youthful shape. GHK helps fix that.
Palmitoyl tripeptide-3/5 is a peptide you see in many skin care lines to promote collagen production through the protein Thrombospondin I tripeptide sequence. It works by activating Tissue Growth Factor Beta. And by stimulating the synthesis of both Type 1 and Type 2 collegan.
While this sounds awful it really isn’t if we break it down a bit
Thrombospondin I tripeptide is a somewhat heavy glycoprotein that once again activates the synthesis of extracellular matrix proteins.
Glycoproteins are simply a protein with a sugar attached and play an important roll helping cells to bind together and to related substrates.
So, let’s be practical. These signal mechanisms result in enhanced Type 1 and Type 3 collagen synthesis. In practical terms these are the collagens that will minimize fine lines and wrinkles, improve elasticity and improve circulation.
Glycyl-Lhistidyl-L-Lysine Is A Signal Tripeptide (GHK).
Like most peptides the name is cryptic, hard to pronounce and difficult to remember. GHK is a signal peptide that promotes large collagen aggregates in scar tissue, normal collagen synthesis in normal skin and as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory promotes elastin & proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans.
Now this gets interesting. If you bind copper to the GHK Peptide you'll have a very special peptide with very special benefits.
It’s important to know that something that may be undesirable in its original state does not mean it remains harmful after undergoing a chemical change. Copper peptides are a classic example. While it is undesirable to ingest, inject or introduce copper to your skin, the trace amounts of copper left in a copper peptide is a key naturally occurring mineral in an enzyme that binds collagen and elastin together. It is essential to the healing process and a part of the peptide molecule and as such not harmful.
Copper peptides can remove damaged collagen, elastin and scar tissue from the skin by activating the skin's natural defense systems.
While this is by no means a comprehensive review of peptides, my hope is that you walk away from this article with an understanding of the different types of peptides and the basic mechanisms by which they work.
Like all creations of mother nature, peptides are complex and simple, beautiful and utilitarian all at the same time. Inspirational and humbling. Keep an eye on this page because as I dig deeper and discover more, I'll continue adding to what I've learned.
Kim Rollo Emanuel, Founder/Formulator