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Over the past few years, we've noticed a major trend gaining ground within the beauty industry and among skincare enthusiasts like ourselves. From 24 karat gold–infused facial oils to diamond dust–encrusted setting powders to colloidal silver eye masks, metallics are taking over. And most recently, copper—specifically copper peptides—has repeatedly caught our eye as we peruse the ingredient lists of our favorite serums.
And apparently, we aren't alone. We spoke to experts Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, founder of Mudgil Dermatology in NYC; Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skin Care; Marie Hayag, MD, board-certified Dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics; and Nancy Pellegrino, NP and co-founder of THE ROUTE.
Type of ingredient: Retexturizer
Main benefits: Antioxidant, stimulates collagen production
Who should use it: In general, anyone looking to get rid of hyperpigmentation.
How often can you use it: Twice a day.
Works well with: Copper peptides don't have an enhanced performance when used simultaneously with any particular ingredient, but in general, it's recommended that they are used in conjunction with a barrier-protecting moisturizer.
Doesn't work with: Dermatologists typically recommend that you don't use copper peptides simultaneously with vitamin C, but each case is different depending on the formulas you're using. Consult a dermatologist.
What Are Copper Peptides?
"Copper peptides are well known in the skincare world with decades of data as a skin restoring ingredient causing skin improvement including skin firmness, smoothness, reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, by promoting collagen, elastin, glycosaminoglycan (think HAs) and improved antioxidant activity," says Pellegrino. They're increasingly popular—for instance, in just one month, "copper peptides serums" was searched more than 1000 times on Google. And considering the acclaimed benefits of this particular kind of peptide (like the collagen-increasing and wrinkle-reducing), we're not all that surprised by the apparent fascination.
So we thought we'd do an Internet (and personal bathroom counter) deep-dive to come up with an editor-approved list of the best copper peptide serums money can buy. And yes, while some are heart-stoppingly expensive (one on our list is $410!), some are completely reasonable (think the $30 range). So, regardless of your budget, you can reap all the ingredients' metallic, youth-preserving benefits.
Benefits of Copper Peptides for Skin
Copper peptides "serve as an antioxidant, promote collagen and elastin production and also remove damaged collagen and elastin from the skin," says Vargas. Mudgil reiterates: "Copper peptides work as antioxidants and are also thought to stimulate collagen and elastin production, which can help soften the appearance of fine lines." Keep in mind that the key phrase here is that copper peptides are thought to boast these benefits. Dermatologists have mixed feelings, and there isn't any quantifiable evidence.
However, there are definite benefits copper peptides have: "I like products with copper peptides for wound healing," says Hayag. "Another benefit is that it can help with acne by normalizing the bacterial concentration on the skin."
Side Effects of Copper Peptides
Overuse of copper peptides in any form of skincare can be bad, but your best line of defense is just not ingesting them. While they're way gentler than retinoids are, they can still cause a rash. Also of note, too much copper intake can make you nauseous and give you gastrointestinal issues. But that's not the worst of it—they may cause serious organ system toxicity.
How To Use It
Copper peptides should only really be used in their designated concentrations within skincare products. Because of the way they're absorbed into the body, it's just too dangerous to use too much of them. Thankfully, it's pretty hard to find copper peptides in their isolated form; they kind of have to be mixed into stuff.
The Best Products With Copper Peptides:
Though this serum is described by the brand as "a precious gold elixir," the incorporation of skin-enhancing copper makes it just as appealing and even more efficacious for your skin goals. Organic Greek saffron extract, beta glucans, hyaluronic acid, oat, and tamarind seed polysaccharides tag-team to make this one of the best copper peptide–infused serums available to you and your complexion.
This highly potent serum boasts an impressive list of skin savers like time-released vitamin C, copper tripeptide growth factor, hyaluronic acid, arbutin, pentapeptide amino acids, kojic acid, vitamin B5, centella asiatica, and zinc sulfate. In other words, we pretty much feel like we've finally discovered the fountain of youth. Plus, in addition to maintaining the skin's elasticity and silky smoothness, it's also meant to encourage wound healing and diminish the discoloration associated with stretch marks, scar tissue, and other pigmentation concerns like acne.
Niod has been a (Byrdie) household name for years, mostly due to its magical Lip Bio-Lipid Concentrate ($60). (It really does give injection-esque results.) We were ignorant to the rest of the brand, however, before we discovered this two-for-one copper situation. It's meant to help impart a healthy glow to the skin as it promotes repair and collagen production. But what's really cool is the advanced two-part process: When you combine both the activator and the serum, you'll form "1% freshly assembled, pro-repair GHK-Cu (copper peptides) and 1% free-form, pro-collagen GHK peptide," according to the brand's website.
Why so expensive, you ask? Blame it on this game-changing serum's impressive ingredient list, which first and foremost includes diamond peptides (which, according to the brand, help preserve your skin's DNA), in conjunction with an expert blend of copper, nasturtium-derived polysaccharides called arabinogalactans, hyaluronic acid, and the brand's patented Healing Concentrate. Sure, there are definitely less expensive options out there, but how often can you say you're wearing diamonds beneath your makeup?
This one is specifically formulated for the delicate eye area, but the real question is what buzzy ingredient doesn't this copper peptide–infused serum contain? Alongside black tea ferment, edelweiss stem cells, niacinamide, and Co-Q10, copper peptides help slow down the telltale signs of aging like discoloration, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10 for short) is a naturally produced bodily enzyme that neutralizes free radicals and reduces the effects of external stress factors, like sunlight and pollution, on the skin.
Coming in as the most affordable "best of" copper peptide serum in the bunch, this iteration from The Ordinary falls just under $30 while featuring competitive skincare benefits like a silicone-, cruelty-, gluten-, oil-, and alcohol-free formula that's also vegan. So what does it contain? Copper peptides, vitamin C, and the list goes on.
Skincare doesn't just mean taking care of your face; it means taking care of your body, too. This body wash doesn't just have copper in it, it also has magnesium, zinc, silicon, and iron. It's meant to not only cleanse the skin, but to revitalize and energize you while you wash up. It also utilizes shiso (Japanese mint) to replenish the body's Omega-3s.
This rich cream, which utilizes Copper PCA heavily, is perfect for winter months or any time you know you're going to be up against the weather. It's intensely hydrating, and leaves a barrier between your skin and the elements. You only need to use a small amount (the brand recommends half a teaspoon) because of how emollient the cream is.
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National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem compound summary for CID 91820615, copper peptide(GHK-Cu)/. Updated October 31, 2020.
Borkow G. Using copper to improve the well-being of the skin. Curr Chem Biol. 2014;8(2):89-102. doi:10.2174/2212796809666150227223857
Knott A, Achterberg V, Smuda C, et al. Topical treatment with coenzyme Q10-containing formulas improves skin's Q10 level and provides antioxidative effects. Biofactors. 2015;41(6):383-390. doi:10.1002/biof.1239