Skincare that includes two types of newly discovered protein fragments may one day reverse the damage caused by aging.
The proteins that form an elastic network in our skin become more and more damaged by age due to increased levels of inflammation in our body and exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Over time, the damage causes the skin to lose its elasticity and become wrinkled.
As proteins break down, they release small protein fragments called peptides which can trigger some degree of skin repair. However, these are usually released at insufficient levels to even somewhat reverse the appearance of skin aging, says Michael Sherrat at the University of Manchester, UK.
Previously, some researchers have made cosmetic products containing high levels of these peptides, but few of these peptides have been shown to repair skin damage in humans.
In research presented at the American Academy of Dermatology conference in Louisiana on March 18, Sherratt and colleagues used a artificial intelligence to predict which peptides are produced when proteins are broken down in our skin. From there, they identified two peptides that they believe occur naturally in our skin as a result of damage.
The researchers then applied these peptides to an area of skin on the forearms of eight Caucasian people, aged 71 to 84. The treated areas were covered with a polymer patch known to improve the penetration of peptides into the skin.
After the participants wore the patch for 12 days, the researchers took a 3-millimeter-wide biopsy of the area where the peptides had been applied, as well as other areas that had not been exposed to these peptides.
They found that the peptides significantly increased levels of key protein structures called fibrillin-rich microfibrils, known to make skin more elastic, in treated skin compared to other untreated areas. The participants experienced no adverse effects from the treatment.
The researchers did not note whether this increase in protein levels correlated with younger-looking skin, such as fewer wrinkles.
But according to Mike Bell at Walgreens Boots Alliance – a healthcare company that funded the study – in Nottingham, UK, fibrillin-rich microfibrils reached levels similar to those that occur naturally in people several years younger than the participants.
The researchers plan to test whether these increased protein levels reduce the appearance of wrinkles in future trials that will include larger numbers of participants from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Bell says.
Although the study supports the idea that skin peptides can repair some damage, more work is needed to assess how long the effects last, says Raja Sivaman at Integrative Skin Science and Research, a clinical trials unit in Sacramento, California.
Further work should also determine whether the apparent anti-aging effects seen on forearm skin translate to facial skin, he says.
If it’s made into a skincare product, like with Boots’ No7 brand, you’ll likely need to apply the peptides daily to maintain any anti-aging effects, Bell says.