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Peptides: We see the word splashed across the label of countless beauty products, and just chock it up to something our skin can’t be without. But what exactly are peptides? And why are they good for our complexion? We launched a full investigation to find out.

What are peptides?

Technically, peptides are strings of amino acids that help make up all the proteins in our body (think: skin, hair and nails). When it comes to our complexion, these compounds mostly refer to collagen. If our peptide levels are low, wrinkles appear, nails become brittle and split ends plague our dry hair. Not to mention, after age 30, we lose one percent of our remaining collagen every 365 days (or so). Oof.

But peptides aren’t just essential to our skin. They’re crucial to every single cell in the human body because they play a huge role in how our body sends and receives messages to function properly. And, as you can imagine, if we’re deficient in them, it’s hard for our body to do what it’s supposed to (ya know, like regenerating new, healthy cells).

What do peptides do for your skin?

Think of peptides as building blocks for new collagen and elastin fibers—those parts of our skin that are responsible for elasticity and bounce. When their production slows down, firmness, texture and overall radiance diminish and those dreaded fine lines begin to become more noticeable.

Luckily, we can aid in peptide and collagen production through, you guessed it, the use of peptide products. When you apply them, “it tricks the skin into thinking there’s been an injury or wound, and it stimulates our collagen-boosting processes,” explains Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, partner at Modern Dermatology in Westport, CT.

How do I know which type of peptide to use?

Not all peptides are created equal. Some help with collagen production, others with diminishing wrinkles. You don’t have to crack a science textbook to memorize them all, because there are just four main types you should know:

Carrier peptides: Deliver minerals to the skin to increase collagen.

Enzyme inhibitors: Slow down the breakdown of collagen.

Signal peptides: Provide messages to the skin to boost collagen and elastin.

Neurotransmitter peptides: Act like Botox to block the release of muscle-contracting chemicals responsible for things like expression lines.

It’s up to you which peptide or combo of peptides to use. To get you started, we rounded up a list of our favorite products below.

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Ulta

Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Face Moisturizer

Hate dense moisturizers? This one is formulated with carrier phyto peptides, vitamin C and thermal water to nix fine lines and wrinkles and hydrate without that greasy feeling.

Buy It ($39)

Ulta

Derma E Advanced Peptide & Collagen Serum

We’ll let the 107 five-star reviews do all the talking.

Buy It ($37)

Dermstore

Obagi Professional-C Peptide Complex

If you’re guilty of not applying SPF religiously, slather on this antioxidant-rich enzyme inhibitor, which targets skin damage and helps repel environmental aggressors. (Yes, you still need sunscreen, though!)

Buy It ($113)

Dermstore

PCA Skin ExLinea Peptide Smoothing Serum

Target fine lines around your forehead, lips and eyes with this potent wrinkle spot treatment that acts like Botox (thanks to all those neurotransmitter peptides). Use it only where you need it and you’ll see noticeable smoothness with continued use.

Buy It ($110)

Amazon

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream

A cult classic, this protein-packed moisturizer visibly improves skin’s tone, texture and firmness. Plus, the push-pump applicator makes it easy to mix in your favorite serums for one-swoop application.

Buy It ($68)

Dermstore

Eminence Organic Skin Care Marine Flower Peptide Serum

Why go through the pain of fillers and injections when this skin-plumping serum does the same thing? Neurotransmitter peptides from rice protein help to fill in lines and wrinkles without potentially irritating retinol.

Buy It ($110)

Dermstore

Jan Marini Age Intervention Peptide Extreme

Let’s bring in the big guns, shall we? This Jan Marini serum is the most concentrated dose of peptides ever created with all four major blends to benefit every skin type. Not only does it firm and soothe skin, but thanks to signal peptides, it also helps increase collagen and elastin production for a more radiant complexion.

Buy It ($105)

Ulta

Peter Thomas Roth FIRMx Growth Factor Extreme Neuropeptide Serum

Sculpted cheekbones, coming right up. No, really. This serum has the ability to help improve the appearance of your facial contours thanks to a patent pending, signal peptide technology that promotes skin elasticity.

Buy It ($75)

Dermstore

HydroPeptide Eye Authority

This well-rounded eye cream includes a whopping 13 peptides to erase dark circles and crow’s feet *almost* immediately—because apparently one type of peptide just isn’t enough.

Buy It ($78)

Ulta

L'Oréal Anti-Sagging and Ultra Hydrating Night Cream with Dermo-Peptide

Yep, you can even reap the benefits of peptides from a trip to the drugstore. This night cream replenishes skin’s moisture and collagen levels with carrier peptides so you wake up to plumper, bouncier skin.

Buy It ($18)

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