These Skin-Transforming Serums All Contain One Key Ingredient

It's clear that peptides are an important and highly beneficial skin care ingredient — but when it comes to choosing the best peptide serums, knowing how to use them properly, and what products to pair them with, things get a little murkier. That's why I turned to Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist, for more information on the topic.

First, some background. "Peptides are building blocks in our body that naturally support key cellular functions to build or repair cells," Dr. Shamban explains. "Acting as a ‘light switch,’ they can turn on or off any specific functions. For our skin, they are short amino acid chains in the proteins responsible for the production of our collagen, elastin, and keratin — all highly important foundational support functions for healthy skin proliferation."

In short, peptides can do all sorts of wonderful things for your skin, especially, Dr. Shamban explains, when paired with antioxidants and retinoids. You can use a peptide serum both in the morning and nighttime, but be aware that AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) may reduce its efficacy. Also, using stronger forms of retinoids along with peptide serums might be too aggressive for some people, so you may want to talk to your dermatologist about lowering to a less potent retinoid. You can also reduce retinoid application to twice weekly while you're integrating a peptide serum into your routine. "After a few weeks you can return to every other night, alternating the peptides and the retinoid product," Dr. Shamban says. As always, daily sunscreen application is a must.

Now that you're informed on peptides 101, scroll on to shop five of the best peptide serums on the market right now.

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The Overall Best Peptide Serum

The Paula's Choice Peptide Booster contains eight different peptides, including hexapeptides, which promote smoother, more even-looking skin, and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7, which works to fight inflammation, protect against UV damage, and "promote the production of collagen and the cellular humectant hyaluronic acid," says Dr. Shamban. In short, this serum aims to make your skin look (and feel) firmer, clearer, and more hydrated. With its lightweight, silky feel and fragrance-free formula, it's a great choice for any skin type. Use it on its own, or add a few drops into your favorite moisturizer to give it a boost (hence its name).


Runner Up

The ingredients in this Jack Black Protein Booster Skin Serum include palmitoyl oligopeptide, which provides the same skin-smoothing benefits as retinol without the side effects, Dr. Shamban says. "Both retinol and palmitoyl can preserve and renew collagen in skin damaged by ultraviolet light, so it's a good protectant against sun damage.” This is another lightweight, silky serum that should work for most skin types, and it can be used on its own or mixed in with moisturizer. Antioxidants like green tea and hydrating ingredients, like jojoba oil and aloe leaf juice, round out the multi-tasking formula.


The Best Budget Peptide Serum

With their highly concentrated formulas that are rich in active ingredients, serums tend to be among the priciest skin care products out there. But there are budget-friendly options, like the Derma E Advanced Peptides & Collagen Serum. With its blend of peptides (matrixyl synthe 6, argireline), moisturizers (panthenol, glycerin), and antioxidants (vitamin C, green tea), it's one of the best smoothing and hydrating serums you can buy for under $30.


The Best Spot Treatment Serum

Instead of an all-over facial serum, like the other products on this list, the powerful ExLinea Peptide Smoothing Serum from PCA Skin is intended to be used as a spot treatment wherever you need it most. It contains a blend of acetyl hexapeptide-8 (argireline), which promotes a smoother, more even-looking complexion, along with squalene, a highly effective emollient that works to hydrate and soften skin. It's admittedly a bit of a splurge, but since a little goes a long way, it'll last you ages.


The Best Copper Peptide Serum

Korres' Golden Krocus Elixir is certainly the most splurge-worthy serum on this list. What sets this "golden elixir" apart from the rest is its impressive formula, which contains copper peptides, beta-glucans, amino acids, and a whole host of rare botanical extracts, most notably krocus flowers — which bloom only once a year in Greece — to restore skin to its most radiant. Copper peptides work to promote collagen and elastin production, resulting in smoother, plumper skin, and may even have wound-repairing, damage-reversing benefits. Though pricey, you'll only need a few drops of this decadent serum to notice an immediate (and long-term) difference.


Dr. Ava Shamban, board certified dermatologist with offices in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, California, author of Heal Your Skin, and a co-host of the YouTube show, "The Gist."

Studies referenced:

Loren Pickart & Anna Margolina, Skin Regenerative and Anti-Cancer Actions of Copper Peptides - Cite