What Are Peptides?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 02, 2023
3 min read

There’s been a lot of buzz about peptides and what they can do for your skin, muscles, and health. What exactly are they, and do they live up to the hype?

Your body makes peptides. They're strings of amino acids, which are the "building blocks" of proteins. But a peptide doesn't have as many amino acids as a protein does.

Lab-made peptides can mimic some of those found in your body. Some of them are used in medications for conditions ranging from diabetes to multiple sclerosis.

Studies have also found that certain types may have benefits for your skin, muscles, and maybe your weight. So companies are putting them into skin products and dietary supplements you can buy over the counter.

Keep in mind that the FDA doesn't regulate cosmetics and supplements as strictly as drugs. So use caution when buying and using peptide products.

There are lots of different peptides, each of which has a different role in your body. We need more research into what synthetic peptides can do and how they do it. But some of the benefits certain peptides are thought to offer include:

Anti-aging. Collagen peptides help make collagen and elastin, proteins found in healthy skin. An antimicrobial peptide (AMP) is involved in the production of melanin, a skin pigment. Another AMP is involved in skin whitening, so a synthetic version might help with hyperpigmentation or "age spots."

Improving the skin barrier. Antimicrobial peptides can help your body fight bacteria and promote wound healing.

Muscle growth. Creatine and collagen peptides help boost muscle growth or muscle repair. (Certain types of synthetic peptides thought to be linked to muscle growth, called growth hormone releasing peptides, may be illegal and unsafe.)

Weight loss. Scientists are looking at whether some peptides could help you lose weight. But we need more studies on this.

Studies have shown that copper peptides can help your body make collagen and elastin. They also act as antioxidants, helping to repair damage to your skin. Other types of peptides can give your skin a boost, too. Just don't expect a major change -- the benefits are subtle.

You can find peptides in:

Peptides are sold in dietary supplements including pills or protein shakes. They claim to help you build muscle, boost weight and fat loss, and help with muscle recovery.

But there's little direct evidence to back up most of these statements. And it's not clear how well your body can absorb peptides from supplements.

Some of the peptides available as supplements include:

  • Creatine peptide, said to help build muscle
  • Collagen peptide, marketed for skin, hair, and nail health as well as weight loss
  • Ipamorelin, said to aid weight loss and fat burn
  • Follistatin, marketed to help with muscle gain and weight loss
  • BPC-157, said to help joint recovery

Keep in mind that peptides are naturally found in many foods, including:

Peptides are also used to create drugs to treat a variety of diseases. More than 100 peptide drugs are available in the U.S. They're used to treat conditions like type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and high blood pressure. And more are coming out all the time.

Unlike some cosmetics and supplements, these drugs have been well-researched and are tightly regulated by the FDA. Ask your doctor if you have any questions about taking a peptide drug.

Before you try or buy any dietary supplements:

  • Research the company’s website.
  • Look up the active ingredients in the supplement.
  • Be skeptical of claims that sound too good to be true.
  • Don’t take more than the suggested amount.

Tell your doctor about any supplements you take and why. If you’re having problems with your skin or hair, see a dermatologist for a diagnosis and a treatment plan. If you have an allergic reaction to a peptide-based skin care product, get medical attention as soon as possible.