A blog for fashion, beauty, hair, cosmetics and lifestyle

4 Apr 2011

Science Behind Beauty Project - Pentapeptides

Today's article is written by my very clever friend Alkisti who is currently doing a PhD in Biochemistry at Cambridge. Her article is about the mysterious Pentapeptides some face creams claim to contain... take it away!


The Fountain of Youth and Olay’s Magical Pentapeptides

The fear of ageing and the quest for long lasting beauty are concepts that have long troubled humankind. Thankfully in the present day there is a huge range of products available promising magical solutions to these very troubles. In order to keep things simple, I’m going to focus this blog article on just the one particular range that caught my eye, and which also happens to be the Pentapeptide-packed product that I’ve been able to find the most information on.


The infamous “Olay Regenerist Anti-ageing cream”, presenting itself with scientific credibility and claiming that “Formulated with the exclusive Olay Amino-Peptide B-3 Complex, Regenerist combines a specific pentapeptide, Pal-KTTKS, with other proven anti-aging ingredients to firm and lift sagging skin, even along the jawline!” 


 – sounds like it may be the solution we’ve all been hoping for, right? But what on earth are they talking about when they say “pentapeptides”? And, more importantly, should we take such sciency claims at face value?

My first response as a biochemist is to cry out in horror and say that adverts such as this are complete BS and an insult to our intelligence, simply for assuming that by throwing sciency words around we’ll all be impressed and flock to the shops. But that’s just my personal opinion, so let me explain my reasoning:

Firstly, throwing around the term “pentapeptide” is a bit ridiculous. It is the scientific term for a protein made up of five amino-acids (the building components of proteins in all living things). The reason using this term in adverts is ridiculous is that it is so general that it could be used to describe thousands of different possible proteins, in much the same way that the term “food” can be used to describe thousands of vastly different dishes. It’s even more ridiculous to use the term “amino-peptide” as all peptides are made of amino-acids. It’s like saying “this product contains wet water” – all water is wet by default!

But what about the studies that are quoted by adverts in the Olay Regenerist range? I mean there’s no smoke without fire, right? In the adverts they say that “Pal-KTTKS” and “Amino-Peptide Complex B3” are proven active anti-ageing ingredients. In response to these claims, I decided to go in search of the fire behind the smoke, so I searched the web and the most popular scientific publication database (PubMed) for information, and here’s what I found:

Amino-Peptide Complex B3 seems to be non-existent. I couldn’t find mention of it anywhere except for on websites specifically talking about Olay Regenerist adverts. There is no mention of it in PubMed or any mention of it in any scientific context anywhere else that I looked. Either it is just made-up, or it’s possible that Olay were somehow using it as an alternative name for “Pal-KTTKS”.

How about this weird “Pal-KTTKS” they speak of? Well, it’s full name is palmitoyl-lysine-threonine-threonine-lysine-serine, which is basically a list of the five amino-acids it is made up of, and the “palmitoyl” bit is just a reference to something they use so it can be absorbed by the skin better. This pentapeptide is a chunk of a larger protein that is normally involved in collagen production, and the reason this chunk has been focused on is because if we chop the larger protein up, the KTTKS chunk is the smallest chunk that can still lead to collagen being made, meaning it’s important. This was all shown by a study carried out in 1993 in the states, which was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (a pretty legit paper).

KTTKS is mentioned in a couple of other studies, most of which are carried out by Proctor & Gamble and are published in journals such as the International Journal of Cosmetic Science. However, unfortunately, the studies described in these papers aren’t particularly well written and it’s quite easy to pick holes in them. Some of their results are produced  by getting a couple of “experts” (employed by Proctor & Gamble) to look at pictures of people’s faces and grade them, on a scale of -4 to +4, for how wrinkled they appear. This isn’t a particularly solid scientific method. Furthermore, the reason I keep mentioning Proctor & Gamble is that they actually own Olay, the whole cosmetics company. So I guess it’s only typical that studies showing the advantages of their product have been carried out by themselves.

I’ve put some references to some of these articles at the end of this post for anyone who’s interested, though unfortunately I couldn’t find all of them.

By this stage it may sound like I’m being picky and a bit mean. Surely, just because a company does its own studies to promote its product doesn’t really mean they’re doing anything wrong - It’s only in their best interests. However, in 2009 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) carried out an investigation into the Olay Regenerist advertising campaign because, amoung other reasons, a Doctor expressed concern that the advert’s scientific claims were misleading. Eventually, after analysing both published and unpublished data carried out by Proctor & Gamble, the ASA ruled that the data was indeed misleading and that no significant advantages were seen in tests involving  pentapeptides. As a result, the advertising campaign was banned from being broadcast again. The full Adjudication published by the ASA can be read here .

And that, folks, is the end of this story. Even though in this particular case it looks like the scientific claims being sold to us with the product are not all that reliable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is always the case. And, by all means, this doesn’t mean that all Olay products are misleading.

At the end of the day, we’ve all tried moisturising and anti-ageing creams and they still feel refreshing and leave our skin relatively uncreased, so these companies must be doing something right! I’d love to write something more optimistic about the stuff the cosmetics industry is doing right, and how come our products still feel good, even though the scientific claims mentioned in the adverts may not necessarily be 100% honest.

I hope this wasn’t too boring, and remember to be a little skeptical when it comes to cosmetic products. After all, you’re going to be rubbing the stuff on your face every day!


  • Topical Palmitoyl Pentapeptide Provides Improvement In Photoaged Human Facial Skin L. R. Robinson, N. C. Fitzgerald, D. G. Doughty, N. C. Dawes, C. A. Berge and D. L. Bissett          Intl. Journal of Cosmetic Sci. 2005

  • A Pentapeptide from TypeI Procollagen PromotesExtracellular Matrix Production. Kou Katayama, Juan Armendariz-Borunda, Rajendra Raghowgv, Andrew H. Kang, and Jerome M. Seyerl. Journal of Biological Chemistry 1993

  • Cutaneous Biology The Effect Of Niacinamide On Reducing Cutaneous Pigmentation And Suppression Of Melanosome Transfer. T.Hakozaki , L.Minwalla, J.Zhuang, M.Chhoa, A.Matsubara, K.Miyamoto, A.Greatens, G.G.Hillebrand, D.L.Bissett And R.E.Boissy. British Journal of Dermatology 2002

  • Topical Niacinamide Reduces Yellowing, Wrinkling, Red Blotchiness, And Hyperpigmented Spots In Aging Facial Skin. D. L. Bissett, K. Miyamoto, P. Sun, J. Li and C. A. Berge. Intl. Journal of Cosmetic Sci. 2004


Wow, thank you for a very informative post! It's interesting companies try to make things more sciencey! Does science alter how you view products?


  1. I always think adverts try to blind us with science so we'll think "wow that sounds clever it must work". Thanks for this advice!

    Please vote for me to win Westfield's blogger style competition!

  2. I've always hated the Olay advert for the exact reason you mentioned - pentapeptides could mean anything! xxShivvyxx

  3. I'm loving this project - having qualified people saying that the science jargon means absolutely nothing is interesting AND money saving! Plus I'm a science nerd :\

  4. What an excellent post! Thanks, very informative!

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