These power proteins are the latest haircare hero to help your hair grow thicker and fuller. Here's what to try
You’ve probably heard of peptides in skincare for ageing well, but did you know that these power proteins can also transform the thickness and length of your hair? They’re the latest skincare ingredient to have crossed over into the hair care sphere and according to Dr Sharon Wong, consultant dermatologist and hair specialist, using them is like "having a filler for your hair."
Considering that 40 per cent of women will experience hair loss before they are 40, and the fact that temporary hair loss has been named as one of the most common post-Covid symptoms, (never mind menopausal and stress-related hair fall), there's a huge need for ingredients to promote healthy hair growth - and regrowth. In fact, beauty e-tailer Cult Beauty reported a 330 per cent rise in sales of scalp scrubs and treatments in 2020.
Our quest for uber-healthy hair is not just driven by the increase in scalp and hair issues, says Errol Douglas MBE, Living Proof Pro Hair Expert, "but also through more recent research providing us with an understanding that scalp issues can result in hair problems including hair loss and dryness."
He's right. The key to a healthy head of hair is a healthy scalp and now there's a growing movement towards looking after the skin on our head with the same dedication as the skin on our faces. Says Grace Vernon, Global Culture and Trends Insight Lead at Boots, “Many hair products now focus on key ingredients similar to skincare products creating the ‘skinification’ of hair'. This is where peptides come in. So let’s get to the root of it and find out what peptides are, how they work and whether you need them.
What actually are peptides?
They are strings of amino acid molecules and precursors to proteins. "As more and more come together they make up proteins,” notes the lab team at Deciem, who created the Get The Gloss Award-winning The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Serum for Hair . "Proteins are the building blocks to many natural components of the hair and skin,” trichologist Patrick Maleedy reminds us. In fact, more than 90 per cent of hair is protein, adds Dr Sharon Wong.
What can peptides do for our hair?
Peptides are highly effective in hair care because they are very small so they easily penetrate the hair follicle. When they do, they have two main powerhouse effects: preventing breakage by increasing moisture and making your hair thicker. “Peptides restore the inner bonding of the hair as well as enhance cuticle production. They contribute to better hair growth as well as increasing the diameter and elasticity of individual hairs,” says Ricardo Vila Nova AKA The Hair Whisperer ( and biochemist) with a London clinic in Harrods. Trichologist Tony Maleedy . sums up: "Peptides increase the moisture content of the hair and help increase its strength so reducing splitting and breakage." Noted.
Which hair types can benefit from using peptides?
Well everyone really; who doesn’t want stronger, healthier hair? Although Maleedy does say that if you have very oily hair or exceptionally healthy hair (lucky you) then peptides won’t do much. But “dry, damaged, combination or even hair usually in good condition but just going through a ‘bad patch’, can all benefit from the use of peptides in hair products,” he says. Peptides can be great for textured hair, Maleedy tells us so look out for them in hair masks or deep treatments.
Will peptides make your hair grow?
Sadly, there is no silver bullet for hair growth (although genetics, a good diet and the right hair care all play a part). “Because of the conditioning effect they can have on the hair, peptides can help prevent hair breakage allowing the hair to grow longer than it otherwise would,'' says Maleedy. Vila Nova told us to think of using peptides like taking your hair to the gym. You need a good base to start building muscle on and the same goes for hair, if genetics have already killed off hair follicles then a hair serum won't bring them back to life. It can however increase the production or quality of hair in existing healthy hair cuticles.
How do you use peptide serum?
Most peptide products on the market are currently available in a serum form which you apply directly to a clean, dry scalp and leave on. There are a few shampoos and conditioners such as the Monpure Strengthening Silk Protein Shampoo and Conditioner , £36, which contain peptides that, once deposited on the hair penetrate the hair shaft and help to repair damage.
The hair peptide power list
Best natural feelgood serum
From Ayurvedic haircare brand Champo, this gel-like serum is formulated with a pioneering complex of biomimetic peptide amino acids and forms part of their Pitta dosha collection, which is aimed at volumising. It helps calm a sensitised scalp and protect against flakes. Apply a few drops and massage into the whole scalp post-washing. Our tester reported that it felt lightweight, non-sticky and had a soothing gentle smell of bitter orange that lifts your mood, a real plus for those of us for whom thinning hair is a real dent to our confidence.
Best for textured hair
This non-greasy serum from specialist curl brand Curlsmith, is brimming with patented hair growth actives such as Anagain and Redensyl. It also contains a biomimetic peptide which together with red clover extract helps reduce damages caused by inflammation, providing fuller, thicker and healthier looking hair. This is a nightly serum that can be massaged directly to the scalp every bedtime.
Best for fine hair
This clever serum uses Virtue's patented ingredient, Alpha Keratin 60ku. The brand says that the human body recognises as its own when applied topically, pulling the product to where the hair needs it most. Hello, targeted haircare. It's easy to use too, simply lift damp or dry hair into sections and spray directly onto the scalp massage in.
Best for whole hair conditioning
A bit like a body-builder for your hair, this lightweight serum includes two science-y sounding peptides: two per cent Keranutri and two per cent ACB Pisum Sativum Peptide. They fatten up your hair strands to make them look fuller and healthier. Unlike the other serums, you apply this one to the full length of your hair. According to the brand, it instantly makes you look like you have 10,000 more hairs – a figure that they based on clinical testing on a two per cent Keranutri formula. Our locks did feel thicker when we tried it, but we weren't counting hairs by any means.
Use a couple of times a week by massaging through wet or dry hair making sure to coat every strand for ultimate conditioning effects.
The 2021 Get the Gloss Beauty and Wellness Awards winner, chosen by judge and stylist George Northwood, this watery-like dropper uses peptide complexes to improve hair density by stimulating the existing hair follicles. It is applied to the scalp at night when it sinks into the hair follicles and helps to repair and strengthen hair. It leaves no residue on your scalp and we found it one of the easiest of the serums to stick with as it's weightless to apply whenever you remember, not just after washing. It's alcohol-free and also contains caffeine, a key ingredient for hair growth.
Best for volume
A trio of active ingredients (pea peptides, ginger extract and cedar essential oil) work to help anchor the hair to your head as well as ‘plumping’ individual hair for a thicker, fuller appearance. Pop a couple of drops onto a dry scalp and massage in without rinsing.
Best for frizzy hair
Like Professor Bader's celebrity favourite multitasking face product, The Cream , £205 this cream for your hair and scalp does it all: protects, repairs damage, tames frizz and promotes growth. It features Professor Bader’s trademark repair complex TFC8 (trigger factor complex), which you'll find in every one of his skincare products. It also contains Oligopeptide-177 as well a host of hair specific goodies such as biotin, rice protein and castor oil. Work through the lengths of the hair and leave to dry naturally.