When used in moderate amounts, copper peptides (Glycl-L-histidyl-L-lysine-Copper II, also known as GHK-Cu) may be a powerful weapon against skin aging.
Can copper peptides drastically improve collagen synthesis?
Yes. Copper peptides have been known to induce collagen production in fibroblasts in vitro as long ago as 1988. Since that time, some studies have found that copper peptide complexes stimulate even greater procollagen synthesis than potent anti-agers Retin-A (tretinoin) or ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Comprising 15% of the dermis (collagen type I comprises 80%), collagen type III gives the skin compliance, and its levels decrease naturally with age. Although the exact mechanism is not known at this time, it is known that copper is involved in the formation of the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which serves as a potent antioxidant in the skin. Copper is also essential for the enzyme lysyl oxidase, which is involved in the cross-linking of elastin and collagen, so it is possible that these are at least partially responsible for the increase in collagen synthesis.
Does this mean that copper peptides are more effective anti-agers than Retin-A or vitamin C?
Not necessarily. Although copper peptides were established by Abdulghani et. al. to be more effective in stimulating procollagen synthesis, it has not been found to improve the texture of skin (as both Retin-A and vitamin C have), or as a matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor. Dr. Patricia Wexler, a New York-based dermatologist with a skin care line at Bath and Body Works, recommends both Retin-A and vitamin C as two of the ten most effective matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors, which inhibit the enzymes that degrade collagen.
Can copper peptides really improve wound healing?
Yes. According to numerous studies, including a 1993 study by Maquart et. al., copper increases the rate of connective tissue accumulation in vivo, effectively increasing the rate of wound closure.
Do copper peptides potentially have any negative effects?
Yes. According to Dr. G. Todorov, copper peptides generally have a good safety profile, but may have side effects in those who are sensitive to the ingredient. In addition, Dr. Todorov notes that excessive use of copper can increase the levels of free copper in the skin (and hence free radicals) and possibly trigger the production of damaging metalloproteinases. In fact, a 1999 study in Nature found that copper peptides activate matrix metalloproteinase-2 during healing processes. As the study suggests, in these instances of healing, it is possible that the usually damaging matrix metalloproteinase-2 is actually useful. However, whether applying copper and inducing matrix metalloproteinase-2 formation in non-wounded areas induces the collagen-breaking effects of matrix metalloproteinase-2 over time remains yet to be seen. Further, it is unknown how much copper would need to be used, or for how often, for free radical or matrix metalloproteinase formation to occur. As Dr. Todorov notes, further study clearly needs to be done.
In what products are copper peptides available?
According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, author of Cosmetic Dermatology, Neutrogena (i.e., Johnson & Johnson) licensed the rights from Procyte and has made a relatively inexpensive formula in Neutrogena Visibly Firm with Active Copper ($16.91, Amazon.com). The product unfortunately does not contain any other potent anti-agers, such as retinoids or antioxidants, but if skin laxity and wound healing are major concerns, the formulation does contain a good concentration of copper peptide complex, particularly for the money.
Overall, are copper peptides worth it?
Copper peptides have been established in the Abdulghani et. al. study to induce surprisingly high levels of collagen production. However, there are so many potent anti-aging ingredients that stimulate collagen production and provide additional benefits. For instance, soy extract and amino acid peptides repair collagen and stimulate hyaluronic acid production, whereas Retin-A and vitamin C are both antioxidants. It is a shame that the Neutrogena Visibly Firm with Active Copper product does not combine antioxidants, retinoids, hyaluronic acid or matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors with the copper, particularly when there are suspicions that the copper may induce free radical and matrix metalloproteinase formation. At any rate, however, copper is an exciting ingredient, if only for its collagen production and wound healing effects. (Neutrogena Visibly Firm with Active Copper product rating: 6.5/10).
Ingredients in Neutrogena Visibly Firm with Active Copper
Water, PPG-2 Myristyl Ether Propionate, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Hexydecyl Stearate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Canola Oil, Squalane, Butyrospermium Parkii, Polyacrylamide, Glyceryl Stearate, Copper Tripeptide-1, Allantoin, Nylon 12, Cyclohexasiloxane, Arginine, PEG-75 Stearate, Ceteth-20, Steareth-20, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth-7, Tocopheryl Acetate, Xanthan Gum, BHT, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Fragrance.