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When it comes to building an effective anti-aging skin care routine, there are a handful of ingredients that any dermatologist will tell you are crucial. There's retinol and its various derivatives for increasing cell turnover and fighting lines and wrinkles, vitamin C for brightening a dull complexion and visibly reducing signs of photo-aging, and of course, sunscreen, which prevents premature aging, among many other benefits. But what about copper peptides for your skin? If you haven’t heard of peptides before, they are an essential molecule for maintaining the skin's structure and integrity, and therefore key to your anti-aging product regimen.
But because nothing in skin care is as simple as picking up a random jar labeled “peptides”, it’s important to note that there are a lot of varieties out there, from palmitoyl pentapeptide (AKA Matrixyl 3000) to acetyl tetrapeptide-9, but copper peptides in particular are noteworthy — and if you're in your late 20s or over, it's one ingredient you should definitely consider incorporating into your routine stat if you want supple, healthy skin well into your 40s, 50s, and beyond. But first: the basics on this increasingly popular ingredient, straight from the experts.
What Are Copper Peptides?
While copper peptides have their own unique benefits, it's important to understand how peptides, in general, function. "Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tiffany Libby. "In skin care, they work by signaling your cells to produce complex molecules that help support the skin's structure." Think collagen, elastin, and keratin, all of which are vital to healthy, youthful-looking skin. She goes on to explain that there are four main categories peptides fall into — signaling, carrier, enzyme-inhibitor, and neurotransmitter-inhibitors — all of which have different functions but all fall under the anti-aging umbrella.
Copper peptides, in the carrier category, are a tri-peptide (made up of three amino acids) bound to copper that "carry" minerals to the skin, explains cosmetic chemist and co-author of Skincare Decoded Gloria Lu. "The most popular copper peptide used in skin care is GHK-Cu, which has been linked to an assortment of skin benefits such as improved elasticity, reduction of wrinkles, and the improvement of skin roughness," she says.
These benefits are due to the fact that copper peptides boast antioxidant and collagen-boosting properties. "They deliver minerals to the skin and have been shown in studies to induce collagen production and reduce collagen breakdown," says Dr. Libby. "This is likely because copper is known to be a critical component involved in the formation of enzymes like superoxide dismutase, which is a potent antioxidant found in the skin, and lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that helps form collagen."
How To Use Copper Peptides
According to Dr. Libby, copper peptides can — and should — be used daily. While what time of the day you apply them will depend on the formula you're using, she says that they're a good choice for a PM routine, "when cellular repair and renewal is at its peak." Lu adds that copper peptides are usually found in water-based serums, which should be applied underneath heavier creams or oils for best absorbency.
Like many active ingredients found in skin care products, copper peptides can oxidize, meaning they lose their efficacy over time — sometimes before you even open the bottle. For this reason, Dr. Libby recommends reaching for a formula that features encapsulated copper peptides, such as Reserveage's pro-collagen skin care collection, in order to keep them fresh and effective. More importantly, she explains that encapsulation can also help copper peptides better penetrate the dermis. "This is how they can [maximize] their full effect, helping to stimulate collagen production and deliver their antioxidant benefits," she says.
When it comes to using copper peptides along with your current lineup of products, Dr. Libby says they pair well with hydrating, humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, as well as retinol and other retinoids. "They work in parallel to stimulate more collagen production, and retinol will also help stimulate cell turnover and minimize unwanted brown spots and pigmentation," she says. "Niacinamide is another great ingredient that copper peptides pair well with, as it helps to minimize redness and brighten skin, helping to improve the skin's overall tone and appearance."
While copper peptides generally play nice with most other ingredients, cosmetic chemist and Skincare Decoded co-author Victoria Fu says to refrain from using them with any low pH products like ascorbic acid serums (the most potent form of vitamin C) and AHA products, as they could potentially break down the peptides and reduce their efficacy.
Who Is A Good Candidate For Copper Peptides?
Copper peptides have minimal to no side effects when applied topically, and, according to Dr. Libby, they work well for all skin types and tones. That said, they're a powerhouse anti-ager that pretty much anyone can benefit from — though Fu recommends patch testing any new product first to make sure it agrees with your skin.
While skin at any age can benefit from the collagen and elastin-boosting prowess of copper peptides, Dr. Libby recommends introducing one into your routine in your late 20s or early 30s to support and optimize your skin's natural supply. "By some estimates, we start to lose 1% of collagen each year, starting in as early as our 20s," she says. "By stimulating collagen production, copper peptides help to halt that process and replace the collagen lost." Thus, helping the skin hold onto its firm, youthful appearance.
Looking to step up your anti-aging skin care routine? Ahead, eight products with copper peptides to try, from serums and moisturizers to cleansers and masks.
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