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Quick Tips: What's the advantage of face cream with peptides?

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When it comes to anti-aging ingredients, retinols get the spotlight. But there are other ingredients that can help you stay wrinkle-free. You may have heard that peptides are an ingredient you should look for in face creams, but what are they, what do they actually do, and are they safe for your skin? Read on to learn.

In order to understand what peptides do, you need to know more about collagen, says Deirdre Hooper, MD, dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your skin, existing as fibers that weave together to give your skin support and thickness. When collagen fibers diminish, you get wrinkled, thinned, aging skin, says Dr. Hooper.

Peptides are short chains of amino acids that act on collagen in a variety of ways to slow the aging process. Incorporating peptides into your face creams can help you reverse or prevent the signs of aging, she says.

Peptides are biologically active, meaning their presence causes a change to occur in your skin. These amino acids are thought to boost the production of collagen, and if a topical product can encourage skin cells to create rather than break down collagen, or control other biochemical aspects of aging, it will be an excellent skin-care product, says Dr. Hooper.

Peptides can be classified as signal peptides, carrier peptides, or neurotransmitter peptides, and all three types are currently available in skin-care products. [source: Dr. Hooper]

Signal peptides can signal your skin to produce collagen or to stop breaking down collagen—either way, they’re slowing down the process of wrinkling. The most popular signal peptides for cosmetic use are palmitoyl pentapeptides. They can be found in a variety of skin creams including StriVectin and Oil of Olay’s Regenerist skin care line.

Carrier peptides aid in the delivery of copper to your skin, a trace element that's important in wound healing. Copper may stimulate collagen and act as an antioxidant as well. Copper peptides are found in Neova night therapy cream. [source: Dr. Hooper]

Neurotransmitter peptides block the release of chemicals that cause muscle contraction in a mechanism similar to Botox. However, it is a long journey through the skin down to facial muscles and there is no evidence that skin-care products containing these peptides, like DDF (Doctor's Dermatologic Formula) wrinkle relax and Dermafreeze 365, are actually effective, says Dr. Hooper. [source: Dr. Hooper]

If you experience itching, burning or other signs of sensitivity after using any of these products, discontinue use until you talk with your dermatologist, says Dr. Hooper. But generally these products are well tolerated by all skin types.

While peptides are found in a variety of products, ranging from affordable to the very expensive, you don't have to get the most expensive skin care product in order to reap their benefits. Oil of Olay's Regenerist products (which cost less than $20) is as good as the pricey stuff, according to some dermatologists. [source: US News & World Report].