NO LONGER A NOVEL approach to anti-ageing, the use of peptides in skincare formulations has become commonplace. However, finding an effective peptide skin care product is not as easy as simply scanning the label for mention of this ingredient. With several categories of peptides used in skin care formulations, it is important to help clients understand the improvements they hope to see in their skin before selecting a product.’

WHAT ARE PEPTIDES?

To understand what a peptide is, one needs to have a basic understanding of protein structure. Protein is made up of different amino acids, much like words are made up of different letters. The structure of a given protein is defined by its amino acid composition, just like words are defined by the letters that make them up. Similarly, peptides are defined by virtue of their constituent amino acids, and their specific sequence. However, the key difference between peptides and proteins is essentially one of size. Peptides are classified as containing 50 amino acids or less, whereas protein can contain anywhere from 50 to several thousand amino acids.

Found naturally in every cell and tissue, peptides play various roles in the body depending upon the amino acids it is comprised of and their sequence on the chain. Some help to regulate bodily functions and processes, while others act like antibiotics to kill bacteria, or as analgesics to reduce pain.

SYNTHETIC PEPTIDES AND SKINCARE FORMULATIONS

In skin care formulations, the three types of synthetic peptides used include singling, carrier and neurotransmitter peptides. Signalling peptides stimulate the growth of proteins, including collagen and elastin, which give the skin structure and elasticity. They are also capable of reducing the loss of skin firmness by regulating the enzymes that break down these proteins.

The most common signalling peptide used in skincare products is palmitoyl pentapeptide-4 (Matrixyl®). Those who wish to improve the firmness and texture of the skin while diminishing the signs of fine lines should look for products that feature peptides in this category.

Carrier peptides deliver trace elements needed for wound healing and skin repair processes. An example is copper peptide GHK-Cu, one of the first peptides to be used in skincare formulations. Studies have shown that carrier peptides, like GHK-Cu, are beneficial in activating the process of healing and rebuilding skin tissue. This is also called the skin remodelling response. Those who wish to diminish the signs of photodamage, while diminishing fine lines should look for products that feature peptides in this category.

Neurotransmitter peptides also called neuropeptides, inhibit muscle contraction by blocking the receptors that signal this action. When used in skincare formulations, the intention of neuropeptides is to reduce the appearance of expression lines, such as those found between the eyebrows or around the mouth. Acetyl hexapeptide-3 (Argireline®) is one of the more prevalent neuropeptides used in skincare today.

Because the function of peptides can be as varied as the possible combinations of amino acids, the horizon for peptide researchers is great. For example, peptides are proving beneficial in the treatment of rosacea, eczema, and even hair loss (alopecia). While the benefits of these peptides certainly sound convincing, they present several challenges to skincare formulators.

We need to understand that it is difficult for peptides to be absorbed into the skin. Not only do they have a large molecular size, but they are also hydrophilic, preventing them from penetrating the skin’s stratum corneum, the cells of which are surrounded by a lipid (fat) barrier.

Furthermore, the skin contains enzymes, which break down the peptides that are absorbed. In the past decade, researchers have spent a great deal of time modifying synthetic peptides and developing effective delivery systems to overcome these issues. Examples of these solutions include encapsulation, the addition of a fatty acid component to the chain, nanotechnology, and the development of cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs). These challenges point to the importance of using products with proven peptides in their formulation.

Peptides are beneficial tools in the fight against the telltale signs of ageing. While impressive studies that support their ability to improve the skin do exist, the outcomes are often not in line with consumer expectations that are used to the effects of injectables such as Botox.

NATURALLY-DERIVED PEPTIDES

Science however has achieved a further breakthrough.  They have identifying naturally-derived peptides such as Undaria pinnatfida, which is extracted from brown macro-algae.  Peptides derived from marine algae are now gaining momentum.  Rich in minerals they often provide the value of micronutrients that contribute to a high synergy of nutrient communication.  Isolating extracts have been studies identifying some amazing capabilities. 

CODIF Recherche et Nature is a group of research laboratories located in Brittany in the Bay of Mont Saint Michel, France who are inspired by the marine environment every day to develop new innovations.  The company is dedicated to providing the cosmetics industry with 100% natural raw materials that also respect marine biodiversity. They identify actives that enhance the skin with all the benefits of the original mechanisms developed by the algae or plants they are derived from.

Researchers at CODIF discovered a sulphated glactofucan called wakamic ester.  This new molecule is able to activate 14 genes involved in the synthesis and organisation of the main components of the extracellular matrix: collagen, elastin and proteoglycan.

While scientists are unravelling the power of nature and developing novel new skincare ingredients, the new science of genomics is driving major biological and medical research innovations in the twenty-first century. Researchers are now focused on rapidly moving findings from research to the clinical laboratory for management of patient disease and even identifying the mechanisms that contribute to skin ageing.  

As we know, genomics is the study not just of the individual genes of an organism, but of the whole genome, the entire complement of the genetic material of an individual. In fact, genomics extends to the study of gene expression – the copying of DNA to RNA and ultimately its expression as a protein – in populations as well as individuals. The tools of the genomic revolution are used to investigate the DNA (both coding and non-coding), RNA and proteins of humans, animals, plants and microbes.

How epigenetics influences the skin

In studying how genes are expressed science is now identifying ways to up-regulate silenced genes that are important to human health and skin integrity.

Methyl groups, which turn genes on and off, attach to DNA and are responsible for determining what “recipe” the body will follow. One source of methyl groups is folic acid, for example, folic acid contains raw materials for the body to cover up damaged DNA or DNA it doesn’t want to use. A deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy can cause neural tube defects. That’s why women considering pregnancy are encouraged to take folic acid to avoid birth defects.

Antioxidants prevent DNA damage, which is why they are added to cosmeceuticals. Since it is impossible to track the results of one cosmeceutical on the skin 20 years later to determine its effectiveness, this epigenetic research is helping scientists better understand how diet and certain ingredients affect skin health on a cellular level — providing insight into what are the best formulations and combination of ingredients for skincare products.

What’s old is new again

Aquaporins are protein molecules embedded in the phospholipid bilayer or cell membrane of some cells that regulate the flow of water.  Aquaporins are currently being studied to understand how cosmeceutical ingredients can benefit the skin. These proteins line the walls of the cells and allow water to flow in and out of the cell — much like a water spout.

Glycerin, which is a long-standing compound used for decades in skincare products for its ability to add moisture to the skin, is now better understood in terms of how it works as a skincare ingredient through the study of its interaction with aquaporins. In fact, glycerin-based moisturisers are becoming increasingly popular. This time-tested ingredient is being researched for its potential in improving cosmeceuticals that are used today.

Dr Draelos, a primary investigator at Dermatology Consulting Services in North Carolina USA stated “this next generation of genomic-based research is helping us determine not only what ingredients may work best for specific skin types, but how what we eat now, and throughout our life, can affect our skin as well. Science holds the key to helping us make better recommendations based on this newfound knowledge.”

IN CONCLUSION

As science and medicine gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of disease and ageing, much of this information will also benefit the cosmetic industry.  I believe in the next decade we will see some amazing new innovations that will challenge what we ever thought possible in terms of improving skin conditions and overall skin health and vitality.  Aestheticians and dermal therapists will no doubt be the beneficiaries of some of these discoveries.  However, to fully understand how these innovations can be best utilised in our practices post-graduate education and higher education will be the most credible vehicle to enhance our knowledge and skills and position us as the qualified experts in the new era of technological breakthroughs, appearance enhancement and anti-ageing.