Fending off wrinkles with topical skin-care ingredients can often feel like waiting for Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt to rekindle their romance: a long shot. It’s why so many of us—yes, even those of us committed to holistic wellness routines—have turned to injectables to help get the job done. But one buzzy ingredient has established itself as the closest we can get to smoothing those forehead lines without a trip to the derm’s office: peptides.
They’ve become a stronghold in the skin-care world over the last few years (one of the latest peptide serums to hit the market had an 8,000 person waitlist before it even launched), and for good reason. But admittedly, they can be confusing, which is why we had board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, break down everything you need to know about them—including how to use them in your own routine—in the latest episode of Dear Derm.
There are a few reasons why peptides are so effective at fighting fine lines. “Peptides are small amino acids, which are the building blocks of collagen,” explains Dr. Gohara. “Kind of like a grape is to wine, peptides are to collagen. They wake up the collagen, shake it up a little bit, so it knows it has to produce itself more.” Our natural collagen production slows as we age, but stimulating it topically can result in plumper-looking skin.
While they aren’t quite the same as Botox—which completely relaxes your muscles to prevent them from moving to form wrinkles—peptides do have some muscle-relaxing abilities of their own. “They inhibit the signal for muscle contraction so that the muscles in your face can be relaxed,” says Dr. Gohara. They can also act as carrier proteins, and help certain elements like copper, which are essential for collagen production, to get where they need to be.
“I think of peptides as the icing on the cake,” says Dr. Gohara. But, she cautions, there’s still a lot of research to be done on them. Plus, because there are so many different ones, you’ve got to make sure the one in the bottle you’re using matches your skin’s needs. “Saying ‘peptides’ is like saying ‘shoes,’” says Dr. Gohara. “There’s a million different types of peptides—are you looking for the black stiletto, or are you looking for a pair of new kicks? Be careful, and don’t fall into the ‘peptide pitfall,’ when you’re looking for serums and creams.” So, if you’re thinking about adding peptides to your routine, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. To find out which to use, how best to use them, and when you should absolutely not put them on your face, press play on the video above.