Retinol vs Peptides

Retinol vs Peptides | Which Is Better?

There are many different types of anti-aging treatments available, but it’s often hard to figure out which is the best.  Some people swear by retinol, while others suggest peptides are better. So what’s the difference between retinol vs peptides? Is one ingredient better than the other? Can you use retinol and peptides together?


retinol vs peptides


Retinol is a type of vitamin A that has been shown to be effective in reducing the signs of aging as well as treating a wide-variety of other skin conditions.


It’s an antioxidant that increases the rate that your skin makes new skin cells and moves them to the surface of your skin in order to be shed. It also:


  • Boosts collagen production
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Helps prevent acne scarring
  • Helps unclog pores and treat acne
  • Reduces pigmentation by preventing melanin production as well as getting rid of existing pigmentation by increasing skin cell turnover
  • Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.


Unfortunately, retinol is renowned for causing skin irritation – particularly when you first start using it. It can also damage your skin barrier if used improperly which can make a lot of skin conditions worse and take a long time to correct.


However, as it requires a few conversions to reach its active form, it’s less irritating than other retinoids (e.g. tretinoin, retinal, differin).



Peptides are short chains of amino acids that have various functions within your skin, including facilitating the production of proteins like collagen. In theory, applying peptides to your skin can promote the production of collagen and keep your skin looking youthful.


They’re also great for boosting skin hydration.


There are five different types of peptides, each of which have slightly different benefits for your skin:


  • Signalling peptides – encourage the production of a particular protein (e.g. collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid).
  • Carrier peptides – help transport important trace elements (e.g. copper) into your skin cells.
  • Enzyme inhibiting peptides – prevent the activity of particular enzymes (e.g. tyrosinase).
  • Neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides – help reduce muscle movement for a ‘botox-like’ effect.
  • Antimicrobial peptides – help prevent the growth of bacteria.



Retinol vs Peptides

There is no definitive answer as to whether retinol vs peptides are better for anti-aging. However, there is a lot more research backing retinol as an effective ingredient, while peptides are still relatively new on the scene.


It also depends on the type of peptide. For example, palmitoyl tripeptide-1 increases collagen and hyaluronic acid production in a similar way to retinol but without the associated irritation.


For this reason, you may find that it’s a better option for you if your skin is particularly sensitive although it’s unlikely to be quite as effective as retinol.


The most well-researched peptide is probably GHK-Cu, or copper peptide, which acts as a signal and carrier peptide. It encourages wound healing, boosts collagen, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.


When compared with vitamin C and retinol, GHK-Cu (copper peptide) was found to improve collagen production in more women over a 12-week period.


However, even though there’s far more research behind GHK-Cu than other peptides, it doesn’t quite compare to the decades of research behind retinol.


Overall, both retinol and peptides are effective ingredients for anti-aging, but retinol is a little more well-known and researched.


If you’re looking for an ingredient that’s guaranteed to give you good results, retinol is probably your best bet. However, if you want to try something new that might be less irritating, peptides may be a good alternative.



Can You Use Retinol and Peptides Together?

Yes, you can use peptides and retinol together. In fact, using both together may be more effective than using either ingredient alone. Retinol and peptides both help to increase collagen production and this effect may be enhanced when they’re used together.


In addition, because peptides are very hydrating, they can help reduce the irritation that’s commonly experienced when using retinol.


How To Use Retinol vs Peptides

There are a few differences when it comes to the best way to include retinol vs peptides in your skincare routine.


If you haven’t used retinol before, it’s best to begin with a low concentration and gradually increase the strength over time. You should also introduce retinol into your routine slowly.


For example, by using it once a week for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, and gradually building up to nightly use. This way you can reduce any skin irritation and/or purging.


Retinol is easily broken down by, and increases your skin’s sensitivity to, sunlight. You can use it during the day as long as you apply sunscreen afterwards. However, it’s better used at night – especially as this is when your skin’s cellular turnover process is naturally higher.


Peptides are less likely to irritate your skin and can be used in both your morning and evening routine.


It doesn’t matter too much whether you use retinol or peptides first but a general rule of thumb is to apply your products from thinnest to thickest. So, if your peptides are in a serum and your retinol is in a cream, you would apply the peptides first.


If both ingredients are in serum form then it doesn’t matter which way round you use them.


The Bottom Line

In the debate of retinol vs peptides, both ingredients can be effective at targeting the signs of aging. If you’re looking for guaranteed results, then retinol would be a better option. However, if you have very sensitive skin or are looking to try something new, peptides are a great choice.

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