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Copper peptides for skin: the benefits, risks, and how to use them

This buzzy anti-aging ingredient may help fight fine lines and wrinkles.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 21, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Smiling Woman Applying Moisturizer
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 21, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you’re interested in reducing fine lines and wrinkles, there’s one skincare ingredient you probably can’t stop hearing about lately: copper peptides. 

While they’ve been studied in medical settings to promote wound healing for decades, copper peptides have been gaining popularity in recent years due to their reported anti-aging benefits. But what exactly are copper peptides, and how do they work?

Here, we’ll get into the science behind copper peptides, explore their potential risks and benefits, and share tips on how you can incorporate them into your daily skincare routine.

What are copper peptides?

Copper peptides, or Cu peptides, are a naturally occurring tripeptide found in human plasma, saliva, and urine.¹ Medical researchers have been studying them extensively for nearly 40 years. Clinical studies have shown that copper peptides have the ability to promote wound healing and skin regeneration by attracting new capillary cells that build new blood vessels, remove damaged cellular debris, and produce proteins that are important for tissue healing.²

While Cu peptides are naturally found in the body, the amount decreases with age. Researchers have found that humans have an average level of 200 ng/ml in their blood plasma at age 20, but this goes down to an average of 80 ng/ml by age 60.³ Researchers theorize that adding those depleted copper peptides back into the body may help reverse some signs of aging.

In recent years, the potential uses for Cu peptides have expanded from the medical world into the cosmetic realm. Small studies have shown that they have the ability to improve the appearance and skin texture of sun damaged or aged skin. They may also reduce fine lines and wrinkles and increase skin density and thickness.⁴

You can now find copper peptides in a wide range of skincare products, such as face creams, moisturizers, and anti-aging serums. These products are available over the counter without a prescription from a healthcare provider. Copper peptides may also be listed as GHK-Cu or copper tripeptides on product packaging.

The benefits of copper peptides for skin

As we’ve touched on, scientists have been studying the effectiveness of copper peptides on the skin for nearly four decades, first for its benefits in healing wounds and later for its use in cosmetics. Here are some of the significant potential benefits of using Cu peptides in skincare that have been uncovered over the years.

May increase collagen production: Fibroblasts are specialized cells found in your skin. They’re responsible for producing collagen and elastin, two important building blocks for young looking-skin and healthy connective tissues. Research shows that copper tripeptides may stimulate your fibroblasts to make more collagen and elastin. Increased collagen and elastin production may improve your skin’s elasticity and lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.⁵

May stimulate skin regeneration: Skin regeneration refers to the natural process your body goes through to shed old or damaged skin cells and replace them with fresh, new cells. The Cu-GHK complex, the most well-studied of copper peptides and the one found most often in skin care products, has been shown in scientific studies to stimulate skin regeneration. This cell turnover may improve the appearance of damaged aging skin.⁶ 

May reduce sun damage: Spending too much time in the sun without adequate protection, such as sunscreen, can lead to sun damage over time. Also called photoaging, this damage can make your skin look older by increasing the appearance of wrinkles and dark spots (hyperpigmentation). Research has shown that Cu peptide face creams may help reduce the signs of sun damage and hyperpigmentation.⁷

May protect against free radicals: Copper is a necessary cofactor for an antioxidant in your skin called superoxide dismutase—which means the two need to work together to make an impact.⁸ Antioxidants are molecules in your body that have the important job of clearing away unwanted free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage your cells and cause signs of aging.

The side effects of copper peptides

All skincare products carry some risk of side effects or adverse reactions. Ask a dermatology provider before using products with copper peptides if you have any questions or concerns.

The risk of adverse reactions when using copper topically is exceptionally low.⁹ Some people may worry that using copper in their skin care products might result in their body absorbing too much of the metal. The truth is that the risk of getting too much copper in your body (copper toxicity) this way is very low. Typically, this condition is only seen in people who have genetic disorders that affect copper metabolism.¹⁰

Skin hypersensitivity to metal is possible. This condition, also called a “metal allergy,” is when a person experiences red, itchy, swollen skin when they come in contact with certain metals. The most common metals involved in this reaction are nickel, gold, beryllium, and cobalt.¹¹ Research has found that copper has a lower risk of causing sensitivity reactions than other metals.¹²

How to add copper peptides to your skincare routine

Generally speaking, when you add a new product to your skincare routine, it is recommended to consider performing a patch test. By doing a patch test, you’ll find out ahead of time if you’re likely to have a bad reaction (such as an allergy or irritation) before you use the product on a large area of your skin.

A patch test is an easy procedure that you can do at home. It doesn’t require any special equipment. Simply follow these steps:¹³

  1. Apply a small amount of the new product to either the inside of your wrist or the inside of your elbow.

  2. Apply the product to the same area twice a day for seven days.

  3. Check the area for any signs of an adverse reaction. A red, itchy rash would raise suspicion for an allergy. Stop the patch test if this occurs.

As long as there’s no redness, irritation, or itching at the site of the test, you’re probably safe to add the new product to your routine. You can always check with a medical provider if you’re unsure. 

Copper peptides penetrate the outermost layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum, when applied topically. They have been studied and found to be effective as an ingredient in facial creams and eye creams.¹⁴ They can also be incorporated into sunscreens, day creams, and serums.

In one study, Cu peptide creams were used twice per day for 12 weeks.¹⁵ The results showed improved skin firmness and appearance, reduced fine lines and wrinkles, and increased skin density. Though, that’s not to say that you can’t use face creams with copper tripeptides for longer than 12 weeks at your own discretion. With that said, it’s best to follow the instructions on the package, or the advice of your healthcare professional.

Finding skincare that works for you

Copper peptides are a popular skincare ingredient that may have anti-aging benefits. They’re easily available in over-the-counter moisturizers, serums, or lotions at your local beauty counter if you’d like to give them a try.

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FAQs

At what age can you start using copper peptides?

There aren't any upper or lower age limits for those who can use copper peptides. If you want to, you can begin using copper peptides in skin care whenever you start to notice signs of aging, such as fine lines or wrinkles.

How often can you use copper peptides?

Copper peptides are generally safe to use up to twice per day (or as directed on the product packaging). Clinical studies followed participants using copper peptide products on their skin for as long as 12 weeks with no reports of safety issues.¹⁶

You will need to apply the product regularly for at least several weeks before you may start to see the benefits.

Can you use copper peptides under your eyes?

Using skincare products with copper peptides may help firm up skin under the eye area. In fact, one small study looked at women with sun damaged skin who used a copper peptide eye cream for 12 weeks.¹⁷ The women using copper peptides experienced a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, improved overall appearance and increased skin thickness when compared to the placebo group.

The under eye area can be sensitive, so be sure to watch for any signs of irritation.

Can you overuse copper peptides?

Copper peptides are considered safe and have been extensively studied. No safety concerns have been noted in any skin cosmetic or wound healing studies conducted.¹⁸ That being said, use them as directed on the product packaging and talk to a healthcare provider with any concerns.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Pickart, L., et al. GHK Peptide as a Natural Modulator of Multiple Cellular Pathways in Skin. Biomed Res Int. (2015, July 7).

  2. Dou, Y. et al. The potential of GHK as an anti-aging peptide. Aging Pathobiol Ther. (2020, March 27).

  3. Dou, Y. et al. The potential of GHK as an anti-aging peptide. Aging Pathobiol Ther. Ibid.

  4. Pickart, L. and Margolina, A. Regenerative and Protective Actions of the GHK-Cu Peptide in the Light of the New Gene Data. Int J Mol Sci. (July 2018).

  5. Borkow, G. Using Copper to Improve the Well-Being of the Skin. Curr Chem Biol. (August 2014).

  6. Zhao, X., et al. Collagen peptides and the related synthetic peptides: A review on improving skin health. Journal of Functional Foods. (November 2021).

  7. Pickart, L., et al. GHK Peptide as a Natural Modulator of Multiple Cellular Pathways in Skin Regeneration. Biomed Res Int. (2015, July 7).

  8. Borkow, G. Using Copper to Improve the Well-Being of the Skin. Curr Chem Biol. Ibid.

  9. Borkow, G. Using Copper to Improve the Well-Being of the Skin. Curr Chem Biol. Ibid.

  10. Linus Pauling Institute. Copper. (January 2014). 

  11. Wang, Y. and Dai, S. Structural basis of metal hypersensitivity. Immunol Res. (March 2013).

  12. Borkow, G. Using Copper to Improve the Well-Being of the Skin. Curr Chem Biol. Ibid.

  13. Higgins, E. and Collins, P. The relevance of 7-day patch test reading. Dermatitis. (September-October 2013).

  14. Pickart, L. and Margolina, A. Regenerative and Protective Actions of the GHK-Cu Peptide in the Light of the New Gene Data. Int J Mol Sci. Ibid.

  15. Pickart, L., et al. GHK Peptide as a Natural Modulator of Multiple Cellular Pathways in Skin Regeneration. Biomed Res Int. Ibid.

  16. Pickart, L., et al. GHK Peptide as a Natural Modulator of Multiple Cellular Pathways in Skin Regeneration. Biomed Res Int. Ibid.

  17. Pickart, L. and Margolina, A. Regenerative and Protective Actions of the GHK-Cu Peptide in the Light of the New Gene Data. Int J Mol Sci. Ibid.

  18. Pickart, L., et al. GHK Peptide as a Natural Modulator of Multiple Cellular Pathways in Skin Regeneration. Biomed Res Int. Ibid.

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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