chemistry lesson: amino acids

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In an age of more conscious beauty consumers, companies have caught on to many users new-found knowledge and have found ways to market products differently. Primarily through the language used on cosmetic labels, influencing the way people shop for beauty products now. You may have seen products being marketed as “amino-acid specific”, but what does this mean exactly? Amino acids are the building blocks of life and are found naturally in so many things.

what are amino acids?

Anyone who’s taken an organic chemistry course most likely had the joy of memorizing all 20 amino acids. Which leads me to the basics; there are 20 naturally occurring amino acids, 8/9 of them are considered non-essential amino acids and the rest are essential. The non-essentials are the amino acids naturally found and produced by our bodies, the essential amino acids are ones not created by our bodies and must be obtained in other ways. Luckily, unless you suffer from a deficiency or a specific disease, all essential amino acids can be obtained from a well-balanced diet.

Within our bodies, amino acids are used to help breakdown intake, grow, repair and provide energy for us. These amino acids are the result of protein breakdown that occurs (this is because proteins are assembled from amino acids).

All 20 amino acids exist in a variety of forms including; acidic, basic, aromatic, sulfur-containing, etc. Compound Interest has a great chart of all 20 if you’re interested in the specifics.

amino acids in cosmetics

The most common place where amino acids are present in cosmetics is in the form of peptides. Peptides are chains of amino acids that consist of 50 units of less. When 50 or more amino acids are present this is technically considered a protein. The use of peptides in cosmetic products has become more popular recently, however, considering the mechanism of these ingredients, the products should be listed as drugs rather than cosmetics. Technically the definition of cosmetics are products that change/alter our appearance if a product is chemically altering us it is considered a drug. This definition definitely is not taken very seriously in marketing, but it can help us see just how effective these cosmetics peptides are.

According to The Beauty Brains, there are four main types of cosmetic peptides commonly used. Neurotransmitter inhibitors peptides, such as Botox, that are meant to reduce wrinkle appearance. The fight to keep collagen alive can possibly be done with signal peptides, such as GHK. GHK can also act as a carrier peptide, that may deliver benefits via metals and other such ions that can help skin repair and elasticity. Finally, enzyme inhibitor peptides should ideally prevent skin degradation. However, the use of products containing these ingredients will take a long time to act/see potential results. Repairing collagen lost is not something that happens overnight.

So what is the verdict on these peptides use in cosmetics? The jury’s still not out. While we are able to find research on all these peptides and see results, there is not enough research out there to completely justify their use. Additionally, and most importantly, these ingredients are very much so drug-like and should be treated as such during use.

are amino acids in cosmetics simply marketing?

As I said previously, amino acids are the building blocks of life. Our DNA is constructed from it, these tiny molecules can determine our genetics, yet they don’t really have a place in cosmetics. Amino acids are found in our hair, skin, nails, etc. but the use of them in our shampoos, face washes and body lotions is completely unnecessary and are simply marketing claims. The peptides listed above would definitely be good to consider if you’re looking for some serious skin help however, they should be treated as drugs and not something that you can buy at a drugstore.

My final verdict, train yourself to look past the marketing claims and learn what’s important to actually include in your cosmetic products.


Do you have any experience with the use of cosmetic peptides? Have any more questions for me about the basics of amino acids? I’d love to hear your comments and questions below!







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