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As Byrdie HQ’s resident Gemini, I tend to hop on skincare bandwagons, obsess over them, then cast them aside forever. So when I first discovered the benefits of using acids in my skincare routine in 2019, you can imagine I went a bit overboard. I compromised my natural skin barrier by using abrasive scrubs, chemical exfoliators, and retinol daily. This went on for months until my skin was left an inflamed, dry, patchy shell of its former self—with just a sprinkle of adult acne. A trip to my dermatologist revealed that my skin was in desperate need of hydration, barrier support, and protein. She recommended a Byrdie Skincare Award-winning moisturizer to get the job done: Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream. Ahead, my comprehensive, honest, no-B.S. review.
Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream
STAR RATING: 4.3/5
BEST FOR: Dry or mature skin
USES: Hydration, firming
ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: 9 Signal Peptide Complex, Pygmy Waterlily Stem Cell Extract, and Soybean Folic Acid Ferment Extract
BYRDIE CLEAN: Yes
ABOUT THE BRAND: Drunk Elephant is known for its cruelty-free, biocompatible skincare products. Everything in the Drunk Elephant line can be mixed, which means you can combine your serum, moisturizer, and SPF into a single super shot.
About My Skin: Hormonal acne, dryness, and sensitivity
I had completely clear skin until I turned 23, when hormonal acne started to rear its head. I keep it mostly under control with birth control, retinol, and a gentle skincare routine, but I still have about three or four pimples a month, always concentrated on my chin and jawline. My skin is also dry and sensitive, which means that harsh acne treatments (like salicylic acid) tend to further inflame my breakouts. My skin is its clearest and happiest when I use a skin barrier-supporting routine with Differin (a topical retinol) every other day.
Ingredients: Packed with peptides
9 Signal Peptide Complex: These are the star ingredient peptides referenced in this product’s full name, Protini Polypeptide Cream. Polypeptides are essentially the building blocks of proteins and, when applied topically, signal the skin to produce collagen. Of the skincare peptides, signal peptides (which Protini is formulated with) are considered the most effective for triggering collagen synthesis and subsequently improving skin’s firmness. Here’s how they work:
"Peptides tell your cells to produce more collagen: One of the major building blocks of the skin,” explains Dr. Erin Gilbert, MD, FAAD, PhD, and board-certified dermatologist in this Byrdie story from October 2019. “So by applying them directly to your skin, you’re telling your body it needs to make more collagen.” This surge in collagen production leads to firmer, tighter skin.
In addition to increasing skin firmness, this process of collagen synthesis triggered by the polypeptides is also directly associated with deep hydration, smoothing, strengthening the skin barrier, and even reparation of previous skin damage. (Carrier proteins are also particularly beneficial for repairing skin, but keep in mind that Protini only contains signal proteins.)
The basic idea? Applying polypeptides topically tricks your skin into thinking its collagen levels are depleted, causing it to produce more collagen.
Pygmy Water Lily Stem Cell Extract: Similar to polypeptides, topical application of stem cells is said to promote collagen production and cell turnover, revealing firmer, younger-looking skin. Protini is formulated with stem cell extract from the Pygmy Water Lily—this doesn’t have any benefits over animal or human stem cells but keeps the formula vegan and cruelty-free.
Soybean Folic Acid Ferment Extract: When applied topically (it’s also a common oral supplement), folic acid is said to improve the function of your natural skin barrier, boosting its ability to absorb and retain moisture. Folic acid comes from eating (or extracting from) leafy greens like spinach, citrus fruits, rice, and beans (including the soybean, Drunk Elephant’s source).
While Protini’s list of ingredients is lengthy, the formulation passes the Byrdie Clean Beauty Pledge, which means its formulated without sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, phthalates, mineral oil (and other petroleum distillates), coal tar, hydroquinone, and other potentially irritating or dangerous ingredients. It’s also received the Clean at Sephora seal, and none of its ingredients are linked to entering the bloodstream, triggering hormonal imbalances, or being particularly irritating to sensitive skin.
The Feel: Lightweight but a bit slow to absorb
Protini comes in pump tub applicator, which means you “pump” the teal palette and the perfect single-dose of moisturizer comes out. I would describe the texture as a lightweight, gel-cream consistency that comes out more like a gel (but blends in more like a light cream).
Unlike true gel moisturizers, I thought Protini was a bit slow to absorb. That's a common complaint from other users too because it leaves a slight white cast when you first apply it (just give it a minute for your skin to drink it up). I actually like the cast because it’s easier to tell if I’ve missed a spot. Once it dried, my skin didn't look wet or greasy and felt supple to the touch. In my routine, Protini doubles as a primer for makeup.
The Scent: Totally fragrance-free
Like all Drunk Elephant products, Protini is completely fragrance-free.
The Results: Hydrated, healthier skin
As a 24-year-old with hormonal acne, I’m in this unique window where I’m dealing with dryness, breakouts, and anti-aging concerns. Protini effectively addresses all three. The lightweight, hydrating formula treats my dry patches without clogging my more acne-prone areas (chin and jawline). Meanwhile, the polypeptides help strengthen my skin barrier so that it can regulate itself, while also triggering collagen production to delay signs of aging.
The Value: Worth the price
At first application, $68 might seem like a lot for a daily moisturizer that doesn’t even contain SPF. The first time I tested this moisturizer, my first thought was, what’s the big deal? At first it seems like another basic moisturizer, but the real value here is what this product is doing over time. I used this moisturizer consistently for a month and noticed an improvement in the lines under my eyes, zero dry patches (a common side effect of using Differin), and way fewer breakouts. After two months, I actually feel like my skin barrier is strong enough to work on its own—better regulating the excessive oil production on my chin that tends to trigger my hormonal breakouts. Protini is now an essential step in my daily skincare routine.
Similar Products: You have options
Mario Badescu Protein Night Cream: If you’re convinced you need proteins in your moisturizer but can’t swing the $68 for Protini, this night cream, which retails for $22, is a solid, more budget-friendly option. Bear in mind that this formula features a thicker consistency than Protini and isn’t recommended for acne-prone skin.
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream: The consistency of this moisturizer is near-identical to Protini; it just absorbs more quickly. This moisturizer doesn’t contain proteins, but it does contain the potent hydrating molecule hyaluronic acid, as well as barrier-supporting ceramides.
Our Verdict: Buy it—you won’t regret it.
The immediate results from this moisturizer are no different than a drugstore dupe. But if you have patience, you’ll see plumper, smoother, firmer, healthier skin in as little as a month. Protini has been a miracle moisturizer for my over-exfoliated, acne-prone skin, and I can’t recommend it enough as part of your daily skincare routine.
Head over to Sephora to buy Drunk Elephant's Protini Polypeptide Cream.