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Holding a dropper with GHK-Cu (copper peptide) serum. Text: understanding ingredients: what is GHK-Cu

Understanding Ingredients: What is GHK-Cu?

GHK-Cu, or copper tripeptide-1, is a small, skin-permeable peptide consisting of glycine, histidine, and lysine bound to copper. Its ability to absorb through the skin is one reason why it's such a highly valued ingredient for anti-aging and restorative skin care formulations.

In this article, we'll focus on where it comes from, how it's produced, and why it's become a popular ingredient for wound healing and overall skin rejuvenation, from in-clinic treatments to at-home topical creams and serums.

What Does GHK-Cu Stand For?

GHK-Cu Molecule

GHK-Cu stands for Glycyl-L-Histidyl-L-Lysine-Copper.

The GHK part consists of the three amino acids, classifying them as short-chain peptides, which are categorized by the number of amino acids they contain. Because there are three peptides in this grouping, it's called a "tripeptide." This chain is bound to copper and is represented by Cu.

Let's get into a more detailed look at GHK-Cu's components:

  • Glycyl (Glycine, G): The simplest of all amino acids, glycine is a non-essential amino acid and a building block in forming proteins and peptides of low molecular weight like creatine, glutathione, haem, purines, and porphyrins [1]. When it comes to skin health, glycine is needed at every third position to bring together the triple helix of the collagen [1].
  • Histidyl (Histidine, H): This essential amino acid has a unique side chain that can bind metal ions like copper, forming metalloproteins and peptides. Histidine also has properties that protect against oxidative stress and may play a role in tissue repair [2].
  • Lysyl (Lysine, K) is an essential amino acid important for protein synthesis. In the context of skin health, lysine helps form collagen, a foundational protein for maintaining skin elasticity and regeneration [3].
  • Cu (Copper): Copper is a metal element with many biological functions. In GHK-Cu, copper is a co-factor, enhancing the peptide's stability and biological activity. In the skin, copper helps build and strengthen the proteins that support the skin's structure and aids in the formation of new blood vessels [4].

Do GHK-Cu Peptides Work for Stem Cells?

A red cell rendering with DNA chains on the back

Yes, GHK-Cu peptides do impact stem cells for skin regeneration.

Skin regeneration relies on the health and growth ability of stem cells. It starts in the skin’s deepest layer, where cells called keratinocytes multiply.

As these cells move away from this layer, they change into their final forms. Although stem cells can renew themselves endlessly, their ability to multiply slows down with age.

Research shows that GHK-Cu, at certain levels, can boost markers important for the youthfulness and growth of these deep-layer skin cells [5]. This suggests that GHK-Cu might help keep skin cells youthful and active, supporting skin regeneration by targeting specific cellular pathways related to stem cell health.

What Ways Can You Use GHK-Cu (Copper Peptides)?

A woman holding a serum dropper with one hand

Copper peptides have an affinity to skin tissues, and with their potential to support normal skin functioning at a cellular level, it's become a highly sought-after compound for skin care routines that target collagen production for firmer-looking skin, hair growth, and skin clarity.

Targeted Skin Care Benefits of GHK-Cu Peptides

  1. Healthy Aging: A lot of research suggests GHK-Cu's potential for supporting healthy collagen and elastin production, foundational proteins responsible for maintaining bright and youthful-looking skin [5]. This is why you'll find GHK-cu treatment to tighten loose skin and reduce fine lines.
  2. Skin Repair and Regeneration: Copper peptide is a great ingredient for skincare treatments with a focus on repairing scars, reducing redness, and improving skin barrier function.
  3. Antioxidant Potential: Antioxidants are molecules that prevent or slow down the damage to cells caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that the body produces as a response to environmental and other pressures that lead to signs of aging. GHK-Cu has been shown to support free radical defense in the skin [5].
  4. Skin Tone and Texture: With its potential to support collagen and elastin, skin barrier function, and oxidative defense, consistent use of GHK-Cu may help with skin clarity and tone.
  5. Hair Health: GHK-Cu may help support the health of hair follicles based on its known effects in skincare and, by extension, scalp care. However, it hasn't been definitively found to prevent or stop hair loss [6].

Ways to Use GHK-Cu Copper Peptides

In Clinic Treatments

  • GHK-Cu Injections (Microneedling): GHK-Cu can be used in professional settings through microneedling procedures, where tiny needles create micro-trauma in the skin, helping to deliver GHK-Cu directly to the dermal layers. This method is thought to enhance the peptide's ability to stimulate repair and regeneration at a deeper level.

At-Home Skincare Products

A young woman applying crean to her cheek while holding a small round mirror
  • Serums: Highly concentrated and deeply penetrating serums containing GHK-Cu are ideal for targeting specific skin issues such as deep wrinkles, loss of firmness, and uneven skin texture. When targeting the delicate skin around the eyes, lighter-weight eye serums with less potent concentrations might provide more suitable care.
  • Creams and Moisturizers: These moisturizing products hydrate the skin while delivering the benefits of GHK-Cu. They are particularly beneficial for dry or mature skin types. You can also find more rich eye cream formulas with gentle concentrations of GHK-Cu to target fine lines and wrinkles around the eye area.
  • Face Masks: Typically containing a higher concentration of GHK-Cu, face masks are more of an intensive treatment than for daily use like serums and creams. These are excellent for use several times weekly as part of a comprehensive skincare regimen.
  • Supplements: Copper peptide dietary supplements aren't as popular as topical tripeptide copper complex formulas. Still, this idea is to nourish skin health from within, which may benefit those deficient in copper.

History of GHK-Cu: Where Does it Come From?

GHK-Cu, or Glycyl-L-Histidyl-L-Lysine-Copper, was first identified in 1973 by biochemist Dr. Loren Pickart [7]. During Pickart's research, he isolated the compound from human plasma but later found that it's also present in other bodily fluids such as saliva and urine.

This research helped to uncover the role of copper peptides in the body's natural processes including tissue repair and inflammation regulation.

But don't worry — the GHK-Cu in your topical creams doesn't come from these sources and is synthesized in a lab.

How Is Copper Peptide Made?

GHK-Cu peptide is typically made in these steps in a specialized lab:

  1. Solid-Phase Peptide Synthesis: The process involves assembling the peptide chain on a solid support (resin), simplifying the purification and allowing for automated synthesis. Each amino acid is added sequentially to the growing chain in a stepwise manner.
  2. Copper Chelation: Once the peptide chain is assembled and the protective groups are removed, the peptide is cleaved from the resin and purified. The purified peptide is then treated with a copper salt (like copper sulfate) in a process called chelation, where the copper ion binds strongly to the peptide, forming the copper peptide complex. This step is important because the copper stabilizes the peptide and contributes to biological activities attributed to copper peptides.
  3. Purification and Testing: The copper-peptide complex is purified to ensure its purity and effectiveness after synthesis. It's also tested to verify its structure and assess its stability and potency per cosmetic and dermatological standards.
  4. Formulation: Finally, this synthesized copper peptide can be formulated into skincare products in various concentrations, like moisturizers and serums, with other ingredients like stabilizers and penetration enhancers so that the products are effective and pleasant to use.

The Takeaway: Everything You Need to Know About GHK-Cu Tripeptide

Mature women looking at the mirror and applying an eye crean on her face

Copper peptides like GHK-Cu are a popular ingredient in many of your favorite anti-aging skincare products because this special tripeptide has an affinity to skin cells and supports many of the natural processes involved in maintaining healthy skin.

Though not confirmed by the FDA for hair care, there is growing interest in the potential of copper peptides to improve hair and scalp health, based on their known benefits to skin.

When shopping for copper peptide skincare products, make sure you read the entire ingredient list and that the brand lists the concentration of copper tripeptides in the formula. The ingredient list should also include other beneficial compounds that help to nourish and protect the skin and avoid pore-clogging compounds.


  1. Razak, M. A., Begum, P. S., Viswanath, B., & Rajagopal, S. (2017). Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 1716701.
  2. Holeček, M. (2020). Histidine in health and disease: metabolism, physiological importance, and use as a supplement. Nutrients, 12(3), 848.
  3. Kumari, S., Panda, T. K., & Pradhan, T. (2017). Lysyl oxidase: its diversity in health and diseases. Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, 32, 134-141.
  4. Borkow, G. (2014). Using copper to improve the well-being of the skin. Current chemical biology, 8(2), 89-102.
  5. Pickart, L., Vasquez-Soltero, J. M., & Margolina, A. (2015). GHK peptide as a natural modulator of multiple cellular pathways in skin regeneration. BioMed research international, 2015.
  6. Lee, W. J., Sim, H. B., Jang, Y. H., Lee, S. J., & Yim, S. H. (2016). Efficacy of a complex of 5-aminolevulinic acid and glycyl-histidyl-lysine peptide on hair growth. Annals of dermatology, 28(4), 438.
  7. Pickart, L., Vasquez-Soltero, J. M., & Margolina, A. (2017). The effect of the human peptide GHK on gene expression relevant to nervous system function and cognitive decline. Brain sciences, 7(2), 20.
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Katrina Lubiano

Based in Canada, Katrina is an experienced content writer and editor specializing in health and wellness. With a journalistic approach, she's crafted over 900,000 words on supplements, striving to debunk myths and foster a holistic approach to healthi...

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