Peptides are an extremely broad subject with many areas of opportunity in skin care. Recent research indicates that some types of peptides may have a beneficial role in slowing the aging process, reducing inflammation, and even destroying microbes. A vast array of peptides can be found in many skin care products, promising everything from tighter, more youthful skin to longer, thicker lashes. So, how do you sort through the hype to understand what each peptide does and whether it will even be effective? In the ASCP Esty Talk Ingredient Decked Out subseries “The Peptide Perspective,” we explore many opinions and perspectives to help bring clarity, answer questions, and dispel misinformation. In Volume 2, we discuss peptides with Dr. Neal Kitchen, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Geneticist for HydroPeptide.
About Dr. Neal Kitchen:
Dr. Kitchen holds a bachelor’s degree in cell biology and a doctorate in protein and molecular biology from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He also has a master’s degree of business administration. His background includes research in epigenetics, signaling pathways, and the molecular mechanisms involved in antiaging. Before joining HydroPeptide, Dr. Kitchen managed over 40,000 products involved in protein biology research, focusing on the development of new products for the life science industry.
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0:00:49.8 EC: You are listening to ASCP Esty Talk where we share insider tips, industry resources and education for aestheticians at every stage of the journey. Let's talk 'cause ASCP knows, it's all about you.
0:01:05.4 EC: Welcome to ASCP Esty Talk, the Ingredient Decked Out Series. Here we explore the fascinating world of ingredients and how they work within the skin. I am Ella Cressman, licensed esthetician, certified organic skincare formulator, owner of the HHP Collective and a total and complete ingredient junky. Today we have Volume Two of the sub-series, The Peptide Perspective. Peptides are an extremely broad subject with many areas of opportunity in skincare, and many skincare products contain many different peptides, promising everything from tighter, even youthful skin to longer luscious lashes. So how do you sort through the hype to understand what each peptide does and if it will be effective? To help us sort through this subject, I am thrilled to explore peptides with Dr. Neil Kitchen, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Geneticists for HydroPeptide. So Dr. Kitchen is pretty impressive.
0:02:02.9 EC: He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Cell Biology and a Doctorate in Protein and Molecular Biology from the University of Illinois, and he also has a Master's Degree in business. His background includes research in epigenetics, signaling pathways and the molecular mechanisms involved in anti-aging. Before joining HydroPeptide, Dr. Kitchen managed over 40,000 products involved in protein biology research, focusing on the development of new products for the life science industry. Wow, impressive. Thank you so much for being here, Dr. Kitchen. Do you prefer to Dr. Kitchen or Neil?
0:02:39.8 Dr. Neil Kitchen: Yeah, it's funny. Most of my team just calls me Dr. Neil, and I don't know if saying Dr. Kitchen sounds weird to everyone, but they always just like to say Dr. Neil, but I'm fine with whichever. Neil is fine for me too.
0:02:50.4 EC: Oh, good. Well, I'm excited. Thank you, Dr. Neil and I'm very excited. I wanna acknowledge that. Yeah, I'm appreciative of you taking the time to help us understand this peptide subject because it seems a little bit it can be overwhelming. So with that said, what is a peptide? And where do they come from? Where do you start? [chuckle]
0:03:07.7 DK: Yeah. Great questions. And yeah, peptides are a really cool ingredient, and obviously, those listening are probably mostly interested in how they impact the skin. But peptides in a very basic definition are just a string of amino acids. Just like a protein is a string of amino acids, the building blocks for proteins and peptides are the same. The interesting thing is, is there's actually not a real clear definition of what makes a peptide versus a protein. In general, protein is just a longer string of amino acids that then becomes a protein. A peptide is generally considered something of a smaller sequence, so when you think about peptides and skin care, you're typically thinking of anywhere from two amino linked together to make a dipeptide up to about 10 amino acids. So you're generally looking at a smaller length of amino acids, so it's quite a bit smaller than what a large protein like collagen would be, which is a couple of thousand amino acids stringed together.
0:04:04.7 EC: Oh, wow. I didn't realize the difference in size.
0:04:08.6 DK: Yeah, so there's...
0:04:09.3 EC: 10 to 10,000. [chuckle]
0:04:11.0 DK: Yeah, and so there's kind of like that around that 50 Amino acid range is typically where see something go from being called a peptide to a protein.
0:04:19.7 EC: And that's the same for... That's in the name of them, you can see the length of them. Would that be...
0:04:25.8 DK: Yeah, that's true. So typically, those smaller peptides will have that intermittence, so you'll get dipeptide or tripeptide or two amino acids or three amino acids. Typically, you'll see that for some of the smaller two through six. Once you get up past that, you'll either see something like oligopeptide or polypeptide, and that typically means many. So it means like something above 10 amino acids. And so in skin care, on the back of those, in that ingredient list, you'll typically see tetrapeptide, which means four amino acids linked together, or you can see oligopeptide and that's typically gonna be in that 8-12 range when they call it that.
0:05:04.8 EC: That's on an ingredient, Doc, but how do peptides in a product work within the skin?
0:05:10.0 DK: Yeah, that's a great question, and one of the key things of why peptides have become such a popular ingredient, not only for a brand like HydroPeptide where it's right in our name, but you see it virtually across all skin care companies, they'll use peptides as some of the, what we call active ingredients in their skin care. And why we call it active ingredients is because peptides provide signaling cues to our body. And so one of the key things that you're looking at in a skin care product is from a functional standpoint, is what is it doing to communicate to the skin to do something better or do something different? And what I love about peptides is that we call them biomimetics, and what that means is that they can mimic the actual response of the body. One of the advantages we have to using peptides over, say, like a drug molecule is that peptides are already universally familiar within our body system. In our communication process, we're already using proteins for all of those signaling that's happening inside ourselves, and we also use peptides. So we use both larger proteins and smaller peptide molecules to create signals in our cells to make them do different responses. And so we can take advantage of that by using peptides in topical skin care to still provide that same mimetic or mimicking signal that we're looking for.
0:06:35.1 EC: Don't we also need to have bioavailability?
0:06:38.1 DK: So that's actually a really important question as well. So it's not only biomimetic with your mimicking signals, bioavailability is also one of the crucial things that you need for effective topical skin care. And that works as well for peptides. So one of the things you have to consider is that our skin is one of the most important organs that we have from meeting our environment. Our environment has all sorts of both good and bad stuff that can impact our bodies, and our skin acts as that barrier to prevent foreign objects from coming in. And so that's really important that a lot of our skin care products, we actually are designing to help improve and enhance the skin barrier for our skin to help protect it. But at the same time, we're also wanting to get the good stuff into our skin, and that includes things like peptides. And so bioavailability is really defining, "Can we get the peptide to the place it needs to go in order to create the signals that will actually help the body improve?"
0:07:38.6 DK: And so we can go into a little bit more of how versatile peptides are, but one of the key functions that all peptides have is that they need to be bioavailable, meaning that if they're using a topical skin care product, you have to have a way for it to easily pass through or effectively pass through the skin barrier to the point that it needs to in order to create the signal. And there's a lot of different tools and techniques that we've used throughout the years, both in specifically designing the peptides to make them more effective at passing the skin barrier, as well as other ways of combining other techniques such as micro-needling, is a great example of techniques that we use within the industry to help facilitate getting those active ingredients into the skin.
0:08:27.1 EC: Interesting.
0:08:28.7 DK: So one of the things that you can actually look at in reference to that, is really two-fold. Peptides in general are smaller molecules, and that's actually important for the skin care barrier. When we look at size, anything around 500 Daltons or less, typically will passively enter the skin, and that's why there's been some molecules that have been used in pharmaceutical or drug deliveries that are actually using topical or trans-dermal pathways such as estrogen type molecules and where they're smaller, and they can actually pass through the skin barrier. One of the challenges you have not only is size, but is also the hydrophobicity and hydrophilic nature of the molecule. And so one of the things that you'll oftentimes see with a peptide, for example, is even a smaller molecule like a tetrapeptide, which is four amino acids. You may also get a group called palmitoyl or myristoyl in front of it, so on the back of some myristoyl tetrapeptide 34.
0:09:31.7 DK: And what that means is that they've added a molecule that's hydrophobic that allows it to have more effective penetration into the skin, and so you can directly tag that peptides with these types of molecules in a ____ group, palmitoyl group or myristoyl group, and that makes the peptide itself more effective at getting through the skin barrier. And of course, the second way that you can do that is through just the formulation itself, where you're creating vesicles or different types of molecules that can help with the penetration of small molecules even to larger molecules as well to get through the skin barrier more effectively.
0:10:09.0 EC: Myristoyl. Is that how you pronounce it?
0:10:11.3 DK: I always pronounce it myristoyl, but I could actually be wrong in that too. I haven't actually looked that one up to see how the... You go on to Google and they say the pronunciation of this or whatever, but I always say myristoyl but I will openly admit I could be wrong on that.
0:10:28.0 EC: Hey, guys, stop. Let's take a quick break.
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0:11:02.3 EC: Let's get back to the conversation. So when you're looking at myristoyl pentopeptide-17, that would mean myristoyl... [chuckle] And I cannot say it the way...
0:11:13.7 DK: Let's go with myristoyl.
0:11:14.9 EC: Myristoyl, so that is the actual door opener, and then the penta would mean five.
0:11:21.1 DK: Five, yeah.
0:11:21.7 EC: Peptide chain, and that's what's gonna get in. That's awesome.
0:11:26.3 DK: And then that last part of that number is actually really important too, and this is actually one of the things I think is fundamentally missed oftentimes in understanding the diversity and versatility of peptides. So that myristoyl helps you know that's a header to help it penetrate the skin barrier. You have the pentapeptide, but then you have that number at the end. And the reason why that number is important is it helps define what is this peptide. A pentapeptide just means five amino acids, but when you think about it, there's 20 different amino acids that are just, are nature amino acids. You can obviously get into other types of amino acids that are more man-made. But of the 20 amino acids, that combination of five means that you can have a crazy amount of pentapeptides that may or may not do something within the skin. And so that reference number at the end is very important because it helps to define what specific amino acids are in this peptide and what order or the sequence that they're in. And that actually matters, it's really important. When we use amino acids, we typically use single letters to help define them. There's 20 different letters, and so you could have, for example, a tripeptide that's HKG. And those HKG stand for three amino acid, histidine, a lysine, and a guanidine.
0:12:46.8 DK: And so that order is also really important, meaning HKG tripeptide acts very differently in how it communicates to our bodies than the reverse that and having it as GKH. And so those numbers become really important because they help define specifically what peptide sequence it is. And they're arbitrary numbers based off of discovery of a new peptide, but by definition, those peptides are going to be unique in the function that they actually do in the skin. And that's why like at the beginning, when you were talking about peptides, you can have peptides that are designed to help volume for the skin, but you also have other peptides that can actually function in preventing acne or helping with hyper-pigmentation. And that's because each peptide is actually very unique just like all proteins are unique within our body, we can use those different sequences to create very potent responses or signals to our skin to tell it to do something specific.
0:13:46.9 EC: Those biomimetic responses.
0:13:49.1 DK: Exactly.
0:13:49.9 EC: So they kind of help to restore function.
0:13:52.5 DK: Yeah, absolutely, and that's where the science of epigenetics becomes really exciting to me when we talk about peptides, because what we're really defining is that our DNA blueprint is the same whether when we're 10-years-old to 30-years-old to 50-years-old. We want that actual sequence, the code, that makes us who we are, that DNA blueprint. We don't want it to change. DNA mutations, we all know that's bad. We hear that all the time it's mutations that cause some of the deadly diseases like cancer and everything. But it's interesting though, that even though your blueprint is the same when you're 10, 30, 50-years-old, it obviously is expressing differently. The way that that blueprint is being read changes over time, and that's one of the things that causes the aging process. That's really what the science of epigenetics is all about, is understanding how the blueprint is being read.
0:14:45.5 DK: We think about it in the context of, epi means above the code, kind like an epicenter for and earthquake means the location down in the Earth that the earthquake took place. That epi word means that. And so epigenetics means above that code of DNA, and it's above that code really dictates how we're going to express our DNA. And so you need molecules, signalling molecules like peptides to change the way the expression patterns are going. So you can call it a correction tool, for example, where you say, "Hey, I don't wanna produce less collagen, I want to tell my body to produce more collagen as I age so that I can keep that plumpness and tautness to my skin." And the only way to actually do that is to feed it the right kind of signals that say, "No, continue making collagen protein at that robust level that you were doing in your 20s." And without that, if you don't do those kind of signals, then the aging process will modify the expression patterns in an accelerated way. And so the only way that you can fight against that is to use the right kind of signals to contradict that aging process.
0:16:00.1 EC: So you talk about the aging process, but it sounds... And I believe that peptides are not just for anti-aging, though they're part of, as you mentioned, acne or pigment, or just really keeping protecting the integrity of the skin, natural function of the skin. Epigenetics sounds like a fascinating topic. I would love to have you back on for that if that's okay because I imagine there's even more to share about that subject.
0:16:26.0 DK: Absolutely, yeah, and obviously peptides become one of those very critical or effective tools in how we use epigenetics within skin care, but peptides by themselves are such an important tool for a diverse level of concerns that we may have in our skin. As you mentioned, aging obviously is one of them, but there are some very effective peptides that actually help against acne. There's peptides that help with the growth of our hair follicles, for lashes, for example. And obviously those peptides have that biomimetic signal that acts very differently than the ones that we're using to stimulate collagen. And so it's really fascinating because it means that you have this versatile list of peptides that you can use, and one of the things that makes it so cool is it means you can also combine different peptides together to make a more effective formulation for your skin care products so that you have a more robust response to the target that you're looking for.
0:17:23.7 EC: Like covering all your bases.
0:17:25.5 DK: Yeah, exactly. And obviously, you don't wanna put everything in one thing 'cause you really have to understand how you make that signal work and maximize that signal. But when we talk about peptides and how you use them in a formulation, one of the best ways that you could do so is by combining multiple peptides together. A classic example, and when we think about the collagen peptide pathway, and of course, it's more towards the aging process, but within that, there's actually a lot of fascinating ways that you can dictate or communicate to your body on how to produce more collagen. One of them could just be to send a signal that says, "Cells, make more collagen." But the other part is the breakdown of collagen. So one of the things that we have to look at is, "Are we accelerating the breakdown process, and if so, can we slow that down?" And so you can actually design peptides that are actually doing a little bit different signaling, but because you put them together, you're actually amplifying the actual response of producing collagen by taking it from more than one pathway to generate the signal that you're looking for.
0:18:29.0 EC: Wow, [chuckle] it sounds like an art, a crafting art. That sounds like a fun... Like an amazing formulation time, too.
0:18:36.8 DK: It is, and I think it's one of the things that's important. One of the questions I think that oftentimes people ask is like, "Well, everyone's using peptides, so how do you differentiate between them?" And I often talk about there's three core things that you need to understand about. A product when it comes to peptides, is that there's that versatility that we're talking about, and so having a combination of peptides becomes important. But you have to also understand how those are being used. And so one of the things that's really important, but unfortunately it's oftentimes hard to see, and so that's where you have to really dig into the brand and build a relationship, particularly with the esthetician. So you have to build that level of confidence and trust because one of the things that you absolutely have to have, to have a functional peptide is to use them at the clinical levels. So a lot of times the manufacturers that are developing, they're doing all these screens of thousands and thousands of peptides to say, "Hey, which one's gonna actually work?" Or in many cases, they're actually looking at one that works and saying, "How can we make it better?" But when they do so, they actually... They'll do clinical tests on this as well, but they do them at a percentage that is at the right level to actually generate the response.
0:19:50.9 DK: If you have too low of a response, even with that peptide in the formulation, you're not gonna actually get any kind of changes to your skin from that. You have to have that clinical level. And of course, part of that last critical part is that repetition, both in the combination of using multiple peptides and other ingredients to complement the peptides, but that you're using them in a way that allows them to correct any problems that you're specifically looking at, whether that's aging, hyper-pigmentation, or you're just simply trying to enhance your skin. One of the things that I love talking about to estheticians in the groups that I kind of educate on this is how important it is for us to kind of separate the aging of our skin versus the aging of our bodies or that chronological aging 'cause it is and can be truly different. You have as an esthetician, you have clients that you're gonna meet that are in their 20s and they have awful skin.
0:20:48.3 DK: It's unhealthy, and it simply doesn't look right. And then you have other clients that are in their 50s and they have this gorgeous, flawless skin. That chronological age does not impact that, and it has to do with how they're treating it, how are they taking care of it? We oftentimes kind of joke when they talk about that fountain of youth, but it really can on the cellular level be possible. And so I love talking about aging at the cellular level as opposed to the chronological level because it really helps to define how we look at the health of our bodies overall, but in particular with our skin, it's a very fascinating study because you can really look at transformation within skin by using the right kind of peptide signaling and other key ingredients that are gonna help keep your skin in that youthful state or what I like to call the happy state. And that goes more into the epigenetics, so we can talk more about that. But I think it's really important to look at those things as, is a company using the peptides effectively, meaning they're combining them the right way, that you see a story within that formulation?
0:21:51.7 DK: And I love telling stories of formulation. Why do we put these together? Why does this matter? Why does this combination matter? And then a validation of one way or another that you're confident that this company is using them at their clinical levels, and they're not just using it as a marketing ploy.
0:22:08.2 EC: That is key. I am so glad that you said that. That is so important to ask those questions, to ask at what concentration, because nothing gets under my skin, pun may be intended, more than like they take an ingredient and a hype for an ingredient and they put a trickle inside a formulation and they boast that they have this in there but they don't have it in there at an effective volume. So thank you for saying that. And estheticians, skin care practitioners don't be afraid to ask, Hey, consumers, don't be afraid to ask those questions either because it's a very important question to ask. I appreciate that.
0:22:46.6 DK: There's not any regulation that you can typically look at to have that visibility, but it is telling, when you're looking at a product that is, say, like on Amazon or another site and it says it has these peptides, but then the product is only costing $20-30. I can guarantee you, based off of just cost analysis, that that's not a product that's using it at clinical levels. And so there is a certain trust that you can do, based off of price point, but the other one is just typically understanding... Transparency, I think is something that absolutely has to continue to be pushed and pressed because it is important for us as a company to build that relationship with the esthetician, with our consumers if they can understand that this product has been designed. And ultimately it's far more satisfying as a scientist, but also as a brand, to get a product that you see repeat business coming, because you know that the customer is seeing a difference in their skin.
0:23:53.7 DK: And I love that more than anything else when I have a product that they not only fall in love with, but they become addicted to and they say, "I have to have this," and they continue to buy it because they see the difference it makes in their skin. And that's satisfying for me as a scientist, but also, of course, as the brand, when you have that transparency because it ultimately gives the confidence that you wanna see and is good for your business as well.
0:24:17.2 EC: So many more questions, [laughter] but I think as we wrap this up, there's two main questions that I have. And one of them is, "What's the difference between mass-produced and bioactive peptides? Is there a difference? Or is that marketing?"
0:24:36.0 DK: So there's a couple of ways that you can get a peptide. And both can be highly effective, but you have to understand the difference. One of them is, as we talked about at the very beginning, of the definition of a protein and a peptide is really kind of blurred and that a peptide is also defined as a protein fragment. And so one of the effective ways that you can do a mass-produced protein is that you break down a protein, and you'll sometimes see that in the ingredient list, such as hydrolyzed collagen or hydrolyzed wheat protein or something like that. Hydrolyzed is a term that's basically a technique that's used to fragment a protein into a lot of small pieces of protein fragments, which we can call peptides.
0:25:20.8 DK: Now, fundamentally, these can actually be very effective in skin care, and we use them in some of our formulations where we're using, for example, hydrolyzed collagen. And one of the reasons why that's effective is that our body natural uses collagen fragments or collagen peptides as a signalling cue to make more collagen, and it was actually one of the first that was discovered when we first found that collagen was really important. A lot of companies said, "Well, let's just put a bunch of collagen into some lotion and sell it and we'll make lots of money, and people's skin will look great." And they did make lots of money, but it didn't help people's skin and that's because as we talked about the skin barrier is a deterrent to that. You can't just throw collagen onto your skin and it will integrate into your body's system. But what they did find is if they broke down the collagen into peptides, that's actually a natural, a mimetic that the body is using as a trigger point to say, "Do we need to make more collagen?"
0:26:16.4 DK: And so they actually broke down the collagen into peptide fragments and found that this actually generates response. Now, then as they studied it more, they actually found a very specific sequence that if they bioengineered that specific sequence, they actually created a more potent response. And so hydrolyzed collagen can be very effective, but you can also synthesize in the lab that specific sequence and make it a more potent response. And so those were the key differences. That pool of protein fragments has some of the signals that you're looking for, and they can be effective. In fact, in some aspects, those could be more effective for what you're designing to do, and obviously they can both be effective. Generally hydrolyzed protein as a peptide molecule was a little bit more economical, whereas the specific sequences that they're gonna be more potent, but they're generally gonna be a little bit more expensive, particularly at that clinical level. But I recommend using both, but being aware of what both can do is important as well.
0:27:24.1 EC: So with that being said, I think we can agree that the entire formulation is important for the efficacy of these peptides. So what other ingredient best complement peptides?
0:27:36.8 DK: Yeah, and this is where it gets really fun because one of the other things that I love about peptides is that they have very little contraindication, meaning that you absolutely can use peptides in complement with any of your other favorite ingredients, whether that be your vitamins like vitamin A, retinols or vitamin C to antioxidants. I love combining antioxidants with peptides because you get the best of both worlds of what you're trying to do in treating the skin. One of the ways I look at peptides and just the overall formulation processes, one that's important is delivery, but one is also the aesthetic value of what you're delivering to the skin. And I always say the reason why HydroPeptide named itself HydroPeptide was of course to call it peptides, but that hydro is just as important, that hydration to the skin becomes a really important part of how you formulate. And so peptides can be combined virtually with any active ingredients. Of course, there are gonna be some exceptions where you have this copper-designed peptide and what it might do with vitamin C. And so you have to be wary of that particular formulation or in some cases, depending on what you're using on your skin, you might treat it where you stagger how you use those kind of products together.
0:28:55.1 DK: But in general, you can actually use most peptides with any other active ingredient that you have in skin care, and so that makes it very potent and effective to say, "How do we combine to get the specific response that we're looking for and to amplify that response more effectively?"
0:29:10.1 EC: Awesome, well, I gotta tell you, I'm very excited that I got to learn so much today, and I would love to have you back on to talk about epigenetics or even formulation design. That sounds like fun. But we would really appreciate that. Is there anything else that you wanna add before we close?
0:29:27.4 DK: I just think that it's been great to see the evolution of peptides over the last 20 or so years, and how much more they're just ubiquitous throughout the industry, and I think that's highly valuable because it is a key part of where we're taking the industry next. When we think about future technologies and how epigenetics will dive into that, I'm excited about peptides because they do have that versatility that will bring them into the future with us. They'll be a key part of how we treat our skin, not only now, but five, 10 years from now when we get all these novel technologies, peptides will still be part of that.
0:30:05.9 EC: Awesome, well, thank you so much. Dr. Neil is a wealth of knowledge, and I'm sure that you guys will want to reach out to him. So to see how to get in touch with Dr. Neil or for more information on HydroPeptide, please check the show notes. And I want to thank you for tuning in today to the Ingredient Decked Out Series, the Peptide Perspective Sub-Series. Again, I am your host Ella Cressman, and we will talk to you very soon. Thank you.
0:30:30.8 DK: Thanks Ella.
0:30:32.9 EC: Thanks for joining us today. If you like what you hear and you want more, subscribe. If you wanna belong to the only all-inclusive association for estheticians that includes professional liability insurance, education, industry insights and an opportunity to spotlight your sick skills, join at ascpskincare.com. Only 259 per year for all this goodness. ASCP knows, it's all about you.