Skincare that includes two types of newly discovered protein fragments could one day repair age-induced damage.
The proteins that form an elastic network in our skin become increasingly damaged with age due to rising inflammation levels in our body and exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Over time, the damage causes the skin to lose its elasticity and become wrinkled.
As the proteins degrade, they release small protein fragments called peptides that can kick-start some degree of skin repair. However, these are usually released at insufficient levels to even somewhat reverse the appearance of skin ageing, says Michael Sherratt at the University of Manchester, UK.
Previously, some researchers have made cosmetic products containing high levels of such peptides, but few of these peptides have been shown to repair skin damage in people.
In research presented at the American Academy of Dermatology conference in Louisiana on 18 March, Sherratt and his colleagues used an artificial intelligence to predict what peptides are produced when proteins are broken down in our skin. From this, they identified two peptides that they think occur naturally in our skin as a result of damage.
The researchers then applied these peptides to an area of skin on the forearms of eight Caucasian people, aged between 71 and 84. The treated areas were covered with a polymer patch that is known to improve the penetration of peptides into skin.
After the participants had worn the patch for 12 days, the researchers collected a 3-millimetre-wide biopsy from the area where the peptides had been applied, as well as from other areas that had not been exposed to these peptides.
They found that the peptides substantially increased the levels of key protein structures called fibrillin-rich microfibrils, which are known to make skin more elastic, in the treated skin compared with other, untreated areas. The participants experienced no adverse effects from the treatment.
The researchers didn’t record whether this increase in protein levels correlated with a more youthful skin appearance, such as fewer wrinkles.
But according to Mike Bell at Walgreens Boots Alliance – a healthcare company that funded the study – in Nottingham, UK, the fibrillin-rich microfibrils rose to similar levels as those that occur naturally in people several years younger than the participants.
The researchers plan to test whether these increased protein levels reduce the appearance of wrinkles in upcoming trials that will include a larger number of participants of diverse ethnic backgrounds, says Bell.
Although the study supports the idea that skin peptides can repair some damage, further work is needed to assess how long the effects last, says Raja Sivamani at Integrative Skin Science and Research, a clinical trials unit in Sacramento, California.
Further work should also look into whether the apparent anti-ageing effects seen in forearm skin translate to facial skin, he says.
If made into a skincare product, such as with the Boots’ brand No7, you would probably need to apply the peptides every day to maintain any anti-ageing effect, says Bell.