Skincare - whether it's ingestible or topical - is a realm of buzzwords and jargon. There's always a new ingredient or a new innovation making waves - and cutting through the noise is not always easy. So, we always prefer to go back to basics and understand the science behind different ingredients before moving ahead. We've looked at hydroxy acids, retinols and vitamin C, but now we're looking at an equally popular, but often shadowed ingredient - peptides.
A key ingredient in some of our favourite toners, tonics and serums, peptides are found across a multitude of skincare brands and solutions. But what exactly are they at a molecular level and how do they work with your skin? To get a scientific look into the world of peptides, we spoke to Ted McGill, co-founder of BioV8 - a clinic and supplier of peptide products. As such, Ted has spent a career researching peptides and peptide technologies and how these work in and on the human body. Below, he answers all our questions on ingestible and topical application of peptides - and whether this actually benefits the skin.
In layman's terms, can you please explain what exactly is a peptide?
You may have heard that peptides are being widely researched and used in the preventative health and integrated health space.
Peptides are naturally occurring short chain amino acids that control many functions in the human body. They have been used for over a century by thought leaders in medicine, with modern clinical research recognising peptides as a powerful solution in the anti-ageing and performance enhancing industry BUT are now making some waves in the preventative health care space with the ride of DNA analysis, moving away from the traditional reactionary medical approach ,Making them the future of personalised medicine.
Think of a peptide as a light switch - turning on certain mechanisms in the body that had previously laid dormant. The proteins that we get from our diet are usually larger and made up of one or more polypeptide molecules. Peptides are so important for our body that they are broken down by specific gastric enzymes into smaller peptides. The smaller peptides, with distinct amino acid sequences, have different functions in our body, from healing to hormonal regulation, sleep, energy, neurological function and longevity.
Do these occur naturally in the body? If so, why would we need to replenish them?
The short answer is yes - there are over 7,000 different types of peptides in the human body, all completing important functions to enable our bodies to function efficiently.
As we all know, as our bodies age. We can’t recover from and repair injuries as quickly as we used to, and in some cases not at all. One of the underlying reasons for this is that our hormones, neurotransmitters and signalling peptides also start to deplete.
As we age the body cycling of cells starts to slow down meaning muscles start to naturally waste, bone density reduces, cognitive functionality slows, and those niggling injuries start to appear more often. After the age of 30 ageing starts to take control and rapidly increases and the years stack-up, marking the shortening of your healthy lifespan.
As cells age, they become larger and less capable of reproduction, undergoing changes that eventually result in the loss of cellular identity. Our cellular repair process is complex, requiring efficient cell signalling and cellular metabolism. Cellular metabolism is regulated by peptides, hormones, enzymes, and their various transport systems.
What sorts of effects might we see from ingesting peptides?
There is a range of solutions that peptides bring that improve the 'health-span' of individuals, ranging from promoting everyday improvements to addressing a variety of chronic and acute issues. Given peptides have highly specific and targeted functions and are well-tolerated by most, they have taken the health and wellness world by storm.
Potential benefits of peptides include anti-aging, fat loss, improved gut health and immunity, injury repair and recovery, lean muscle mass and sexual health. For example, our BPC-157 (Body Protecting Compound) peptide accelerates healing of a range of wounds including tendon-to-bone, soft tissue repair healing and superior healing of damaged ligaments.
BPC-157 has also shown to protect organs and aids in the prevention of gastric ulcers and acts systemically in the digestive tract to combat leaky gut, IBS, gastro-intestinal cramps, and Crohn’s disease. It’s important to remember however that peptides aren’t a magic pill that are going to reverse the effects of a poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, lack of sleep, alcohol consumption or smoking. Whilst human optimisation can be obtained through peptides, good nutrition, quality sleep, reducing stress and regular exercise are important elements when it comes to our skin's health.
What sort of effects might we see from applying peptides topically? There are lots of creams that promise anti-ageing effects through topical application of peptides, is this true?
It is possible, but it’s important for consumers to do their research and ensure the ingredients in the products are as advertised. It’s also important that consumers purchase from reputable brands and aren’t swayed by cheap prices. A reputable clinic will ensure you are able to access pharmaceutical grade peptides, including transdermal creams, that have been prepared in strict lab conditions. When adding peptides topically, you're adding more peptides to the area of the body in which it is needed to restore itself. Various peptides are recognised to improve collagen production, leading to improved skin health and appearance.
Keep in mind topical cream means it does not penetrate through the skin into the bloodstream, which is what is needed for the peptide to be effective.
What is the difference between a topically applied peptide and an ingestible one?
Some peptide molecules are ‘too big’ to be applied topically so they need to be ingested, for example collagen peptides. The molecules in collagen peptides are too large for the skin to absorb, so collagen peptides are best as ingestible skincare. Another good example is Vitamin C, whilst not a peptide it’s a good example of the difference between topical and ingestible skincare. Ingesting additional amounts of Vitamin C has limited effectiveness on our skin, however topical applications of Vitamin C are a powerful antioxidant, reduces skin pigmentation and induces collagen production.
Generally topically applied peptides will have quicker results as opposed to feeding it from within, which will take longer to see the effects. If you’re wondering whether you should be looking at topical or ingestible skincare, it comes down to the goals that you’re trying to achieve with your skin. As a general rule though ingestible and topical skincare work best when used in conjunction with each other.
In what instance might someone like to start using peptides? Is there a reason we would not get our fill naturally from our diets?
Our health and performance is completely dependent upon how efficiently our cells, organs and tissue communicate with each other. Our body’s ability to constantly sense, adapt, and correct changes in pH, temperature, energy status and toxin exposure, which is essential for our overall health, is all due to cell signalling.
Certain lifestyle factors can negatively affect proper cell signalling. These include an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise, environmental factors, exposure to toxins, and the normal ageing process. However, recent research has shown that living a healthy lifestyle along with a number of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients can support cell signalling pathways.
Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats can help our body’s cell-signalling pathways, as these are needed to maintain the shape of our cells. Specific nutrients can also help cells communicate better, defend what needs protection, restore what is exhausted or damaged, and enhance our metabolic fitness. These nutrients include B vitamins, N-Acetylcysteine, Vitamin D, minerals like magnesium and zinc and a rich assortment of micronutrients found in select plant foods.
Our cells must be supplied with the nutrients and building blocks for energy production and proper signalling, be protected from damage by excessive stress and have the necessary support for repair and regeneration. However, there is no singular approach and this is where biohacking comes in - thinking of the body as a system. Everything can change an outcome from what you are eating, to the soil your fruits and vegetables were grown in, the light you're exposed to, levels of pollution you’re exposed to and the amount of sleep you have - or don’t have.
Peptides are increasingly being recommended by medical experts to assist with the various health issues brought on through ageing, whether this be tendon repairs through to general cellular health and cognitive functionality. After all there are over 7,000 individual peptides in our bodies that sometimes need replenishing to operate effectively.
What do you think more people should understand about peptides?
Like any product, whether it be medical or otherwise, not all peptides are of the same quality. That said, when looking to buy any medicine it’s pretty important to put quality at the top of your list. Saying that, how do you source the best quality peptides with peace of mind?
In general, most peptides are available in an injectable form, typically administered subcutaneously, while others may be available as transdermal creams, capsules or nasal sprays. In any case the peptide solution is made up of the raw peptide material, and the quality and quantity of this raw material will dictate the efficacy. Further to this, if the peptide is not compounded or reconstituted properly this can also drastically tarnish the product. This is why we do all the compounding from you in our Australian compounding pharmacies. In a nutshell if the quality is poor or the raw material has passed its expiry date, then the results you should receive just won’t happen.
This is also the case if the quantity of the raw material is less than advertised. As such you would be shelling out money for inferior products and will probably not see any benefits you’d expect to see. Basically, a waste of money and time - avoid. As a worst case your product may even contain contaminants or completely different ingredients all together. This could lead to serious health issues - again avoid.
Even though it is illegal to import peptides into Australia (you are only able to buy Australian made peptides within Australia), some people are dazzled by the low prices they see online and buy peptides that have no quality control. This means you simply don’t know what you are getting. The reason laws have been enacted in Australia in regard to compounding peptides in Australia is to ensure premium peptide products are made available to the Australian public. Raw materials are required to be sourced from reputable licensed pharmaceutical companies, and strict compounding processes must be adhered to in sterile laboratory environments.