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The miracle skincare ingredient that’s like a ‘support bra for your skin’

Peptides are currently in the skincare spotlight, says Jan Masters
Peptides are currently in the skincare spotlight, says Jan Masters - Getty

Drumroll please… peptides are currently in the skincare spotlight. As an ingredient in moisturisers, they’ve been on the scene for years. Today, however, they’ve become a true headline act. TikTok can’t get enough of them, Google searches have skyrocketed and many more products are peptide-packed.

So what are they? Basically, they’re short chains of amino acids, which occur naturally in the body and are the fundamental building blocks of proteins, such as collagen, elastin and keratin. These proteins give skin its structure, strength and elasticity, declining as we age.

When it comes to skincare, peptides fall into four broad categories. Carrier peptides ferry trace elements such as copper and are involved in repair processes, while signal peptides act as messengers to prompt (ie trick) skin to produce more collagen and other proteins – a classic example, from noughties skincare, is palmitoyl-pentapeptide-4, which goes by the trade name Matrixyl.

The others are enzyme-inhibiting peptides, which slow the breakdown rate of collagen, and neurotransmitter-inhibitors implicated in modulating messages sent to muscles, so the theory goes they can help relax lines in a mild Botoxy kind of way (kind of).

So why the sudden renewal in peptide interest? It’s partly because ongoing research has not only provided further evidence of efficacy but has also uncovered peptides that have useful actions, such as barrier strengthening and line softening.

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Left to right: Balance Me Tripeptide Plumping Cloud Cream balanceme.com; Trinny Plump Up Peptide + HA Serum trinnylondon.com; No7 Future Renew cream boots.com

However, as there are thousands of different peptides in existence, some of which might prove fandabbydozzy in skincare, while others do sweet FA, it hasn’t been a quick process. Equally, researchers have had to figure out how stable they are, how well they penetrate the epidermis and how they interact with other ingredients.

But skincare strides have been made. After 15 years of research, the Boots No7 Future Renew range (starting at £24.95, Boots) has unveiled its own peptide blend which it calls ‘Pepticology’, proven to encourage the production of 50 repair proteins in skin cells. This works in synergy with vitamin C, hyaluronic and niacinamide, designed to smooth lines, moisturise, firm and even up tone.

Three peptide cocktails that I’m loving hail from three women I respect in the beauty business. One is from Marcia Kilgore’s Beauty Pie brand, namely Youthbomb Breakthrough Repair Cream (£49, members; £175, non-members, Beauty Pie). This contains three per cent nouripeptides, derived from rice, and a cocktail of other actives such as GGA, which moisturises and refines texture, and wakame, an algae known for its soothing and antioxidant actions. It made my skin look more even and luminous. Lightweight, it absorbs quickly, so very dry skins might prefer something richer from the Youthbomb line.

Rebecca Hopkins, co-founder of Balance Me, is on to a whippy-dippy winner with her Tripeptide Plumping Cloud Cream (£45, Balance Me). With the addition of ceramides and hyaluronic acid, it has a bouncy texture and gives skin a beautiful all-round boost, refining lines, while increasing glow.

And lastly but not leastly, Trinny Woodall is rightly proud of her two peptastic products, Plump Up Peptide + HA Serum (£69, Trinny London) and Bounce Back Intense Peptide Moisturiser (£49). Both bring a cushiony quality to your complexion. Trinny says, ‘Peptides are some of the smartest ingredients out there and are now a firm favourite in my routine. Used regularly, they can have magnificent long-term effects. I see them as the support bra for your skin.’

If it’s a pep talk you need, listen to Trinny.