Another look 

A star peptide in anti-aging: the copper peptide.

Cyrille Laurent

Doctor of Science (former researcher in stem cell biology)

Copper peptide is a little-known active ingredient that is not widely used in cosmetics, although it has been the subject of numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness against placebo. It was discovered in 1974 by Professor Loren Pickart who dedicated his research to it. Peptides - or "short proteins" - are very fashionable in cosmetics, although they benefit from little research, except for data from suppliers; in contrast to the copper peptide, which has been the subject of independent studies.

Copper peptide is a tri-peptide composed of glycine, histidine and lysine or GHK.

GHK has a strong affinity for copper with which it combines, forming the copper tri-peptide or GHK-Cu. It is a member of the "carrier" peptide family. In the list of ingredients (INCI list), it is called "copper tripeptide 1". They are present in saliva, plasma, urine and skin. Their plasma concentration decreases over time: 200 ng/mL at age 20, then 80 ng/mL at age 60. This decrease correlates with a decrease in the body's ability to regenerate.

Multiple studies have demonstrated its involvement in the skin healing process. 

Pickart et al. have shown that it accelerates healing and increases skin graft uptake while having anti-inflammatory activity. Independent work indicates that GHK-Cu stimulates collagen synthesis and degradation and increases the production of proteoglycans in the extracellular matrix of the dermis. An interesting point is that GHK-Cu modulates the action of metalloproteases (enzymes responsible for collagen degradation). In fact, it participates in the degradation of collagen which is essential to the dermal remodeling phase while stimulating the synthesis de novo collagen.

It acts as a regulator of the inflammatory phase and skin remodeling.  These data have been supported by several animal models but also in humans. GHK-Cu regulates the expression of more than 4000 genes, including those involved in skin healing.

For more information on peptides, I invite you to watch my video on peptides on my YouTube channel (Cyrille Laurent Fr).

There is some evidence that GHK-Cu has an effect on the epidermal stem cell niche.

These stem cells complete their differentiation by forming the stratum corneum (or skin barrier) and have an unlimited capacity to renew themselves. However, with age, this capacity diminishes. GHK-Cu stimulates the expression of integrins (adhesion and signaling proteins) and p63, thus increasing the niche of the epidermal stem cells.

The most convincing work in the field of cosmetics is the placebo-controlled studies carried out on men, which showed an increase in skin quality in women aged 50 and over.

The authors (A.Abdulghani et al.) have shown, after biopsy, an increase in the synthesis of collagen in vivo after application of a cream for one month. Further studies have shown that topical application of GHK-Cu reduces the depth of wrinkles and fine lines as well as the signs of photoaging.

Lhe copper peptide is unfortunately little used in cosmetics or used at derisory concentrations to have a biological effect in topical application.

The product using the healing and anti-aging potential of GHK-Cu is CAIS 3 marketed by NIOD. This serum combines 1% of copper and 2% of GHK. GHK-Cu is a water soluble complex. It should be used at the beginning of the skin care routine, avoiding combining it with cosmetics with a pH below 5 such as exfoliating acids (AHA, BHA, PHA) and vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid). A pH below 5 destabilizes the peptide/copper complex, making it ineffective. It is a star ingredient that complements the action of retinoids and stimulates skin repair.