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Formes de cuivre.

In what forms does copper exist in cosmetics?

Antioxidant, regenerative, biocidal, anti-inflammatory... For all its benefits, the skincare industry is gradually starting to use copper as an active ingredient in cosmetic products. However, several types of copper exist and are used. We enumerate them in this article.


The copper PCA.

The copper PCA (INCI: Copper PCA) is a copper salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid. Thanks to its carboxyl function (-COOH), the PCA is associated with copper. It can be of mineral or synthetic origin, and it presents itself in the form of a blue-green powder.

Chemical Characteristics
Chemical FormulaC10H12CuN2O6
Molecular Mass319.76 g/mol

What are the benefits of Copper PCA?

The copper-PCA complex combines the intrinsic properties of L-PCA, namely its action on hydration and strengthening of the skin barrier, with the virtues of copper universally recognized for its astringent, purifying, sebum-regulating, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial effects. Hydrating, copper PCA regulates the skin's water balance with its water retention capacity. This means it helps to reduce dryness and flaking. This mineral complex also regulates sebum flow seborrheic and tightens pores, meaning it helps to mattify and purify combination to oily skin and oily scalp tendencies. Copper PCA is also an anti-inflammatory, meaning it has the ability to soothe skin irritations and reduce redness caused by inflammation. For blemished skin, it can even help in the event of skin eruptions by normalizing the bacterial concentration on the skin.

The zinc and copper PCA are often used together for additional synergy.

What are the potential dangers of using copper PCA in cosmetics?

No matter the skin type, copper PCA is non-irritating and is not known to cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin. However, as with any new product, it is recommended to gradually introduce it into your skincare routine and to test it beforehand in the crook of your elbow, behind your ear, and on the inside of your wrist for 24 hours.

Structure chimique du cuivre PCA.
Source: PubChem.

Copper gluconate.

The copper gluconate (INCI: Copper Gluconate) is a copper salt of D-glucuronic acid, which is a constituent of glycosaminoglycans (hyaluronic acid). Light blue to bluish-green in color, it is created as a result of a reaction of glucuronic acid with cupric oxide or cupric carbonate. The role of gluconate is to increase the bioavailability of copper through the epidermis. In other words, it allows the skin to assimilate copper more easily.

Chemical Characteristics
Chemical FormulaC12H22CuO14
Molecular Mass453.84 g/mol
SolubilitySoluble in water; Insoluble in ether, acetone, and alcohol

What are the benefits of copper gluconate?

One of the primary benefits of copper gluconate in skincare is its potential to stimulate the proliferation of fibroblasts, and to promote the synthesis of collagen and elastin, resulting in firmer and smoother skin. It also possesses antioxidant properties. Involved in several enzymatic systems, copper is a cofactor of superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme. It thus helps to combat free radicals, thereby helping to prevent the formation of premature wrinkles and fine lines on the skin and to inhibit cellular oxidative effects (membrane damage and lipid peroxidation). Copper gluconate also has potential wound healing capabilities. In fact, studies have shown that its topical application can induce the expression of integrins in keratinocytes, affecting cellular mobility during the re-epithelialization phase of the healing process. Finally, copper gluconate also has the ability to inhibit and prevent microbial growth.

What are the potential dangers of using copper gluconate in cosmetics?

Copper gluconate is generally considered to be safe in typical amounts ranging from 0.001 to 1.0%. Studies have demonstrated its safety and effectiveness in numerous skincare products. No study has highlighted any specific dangers associated with its use. It is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and it does not cause any adverse effects. Pregnant women and infants can also use it, as it has not been associated with any health risks for them.

Structure chimique du gluconate de cuivre.
Source: PubChem.

Copper oxide.

Thecopper oxide (INCI: Copper Oxide) is a chemical compound resulting from the combination of oxygen with copper. It is present in the form of a black powder, which is the result of the oxidation of metallic copper.

Chemical Characteristics
Chemical FormulaCuO
Molecular Mass79.55 g/mol
SolubilityPractically insoluble in water or alcohols; Soluble in hydrochloric acid and ammonia

What are the benefits of copper oxide?

Socks, nurse uniforms, hospital clothing, pillowcases... a variety of textiles have been developed, where insoluble cupric oxide has been introduced into the polymer threads (polyester, nylon, etc.) to take advantage of the properties of copper.

  • Copper oxide socks to prevent and treat various acute or chronic infections of athlete's foot and diabetic foot, optimize wound healing, increase the stability and integrity of the skin in order to reduce the risk of wounds and secondary infections, and improve blood circulation and the efficiency of the immune system.

  • pillowcases infused with copper oxide to reduce the depth of facial wrinkles and improve skin appearance, by inducing the proliferation of dermal fibroblasts, increasing the synthesis of skin proteins (collagen, elastin, fibronectin, integrin) and stabilizing the extracellular matrix.

  • Dressings containing cupric oxide to control wound and dressing contamination, induce angiogenesis, enhance skin regeneration, and stimulate wound healing.

What are the potential dangers of using copper oxide in cosmetics?

The safety of using copper oxide-infused products has been examined in several clinical and non-clinical studies. In all studies, no adverse reactions were recorded, such as skin irritation, itching, or a burning sensation. Copper oxide has proven to be non-irritating, non-sensitizing, and safe to use, whether in contact with intact or compromised skin.

Structure chimique de l'oxyde de cuivre.
Source: PubChem.

Copper peptides.

First isolated from human plasma in 1973 by Dr. Loren PICKART, the copper peptide or GHK-Cu (INCI: Copper Tripeptide-1) is a combination of three peptides (Glycine-Lysine-Histidine) complexed, with a high affinity, to copper (Cu2+). Already naturally present in the human body, it is notably found in certain body fluids (plasma, saliva, and urine).

The GHK acts as a transporter, supplying cells with the necessary copper for cellular functions in a non-toxic form by inhibiting the redox activity of copper by complexing with the tripeptide. Blue in color, the copper peptides used in cosmetics are of synthetic origin.

Chemical Characteristics
Chemical FormulaC14H24N6O4Cu
Molecular Mass/

What are the skin benefits of copper peptides?

  • Activating the wound healing process: GHK-Cu is equipped with various biological actions that accelerate wound healing and skin remodeling: (1) it can activate the production of metalloproteinases and anti-proteinases, thus allowing the removal of damaged proteins from the extracellular matrix; (2) it can stimulate the synthesis of collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycan by fibroblasts to restore skin integrity; (3) it can support the function of epidermal stem cells by positively regulating the expression of p63 in keratinocytes; (4) it helps to restore blood flow in damaged tissues by stimulating the formation of new blood vessels through the increased production of vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF).

  • Enhancement of Vascularization: Copper peptides are believed to boost blood circulation around hair follicles, thereby supplying the scalp with the necessary oxygen and nutrients to promote hair growth and increase hair size.

  • Diminishing the visual signs of aging: Studies on mature skin have shown that copper peptide can help to firm the skin, improve its firmness, density, and elasticity, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and photo-damage, by stimulating the production of extracellular matrix macromolecules (collagen, glycosaminoglycans and elastin) and increasing cellular activity.

  • Influencing hair growth: in a study, AHK-Cu (L-alanyl-L-histidyl-L-lysine-Cu2+) has shown that it can stimulate the elongation of human hair follicles ex vivo and the proliferation of dermal papilla cells in vitro, which are specialized fibroblasts that play an important role in the morphogenesis and growth of hair follicles. The copper peptides thus have the ability to extend the hair growth cycle, meaning that it takes longer for the hair to fall out.

  • Protection against free radicals: It has been demonstrated that GHK-Cu increases the level of antioxidant enzymes and the activity of superoxide dismutase, which requires copper metal ions to be active. The copper peptide is also capable of inhibiting lipid peroxidation by modulating iron levels. Thus, the copper-peptide complex is able to effectively neutralize harmful free radicals and their actions on the skin.

  • Reducing Inflammation: Studies have established that copper tripeptide can suppress inflammation by lowering the expression level of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TGF-β, IL-6, and TNF-α in dermal fibroblasts. It is thus suggested that GHK-Cu could be used as a topical agent to soothe irritated skin and inflammatory skin conditions.

  • Enhancing hair color: copper is an essential trace element for the functioning of many metalloenzymes, acting as a co-factor, including the tyrosinase, an enzyme essential for the biosynthesis of melanin responsible for the pigmentation of the skin and hair.

Despite its numerous benefits for the skin, its absorption through the skin remains challenging and low due to its hydrophilic nature. That's why several devices have been developed to facilitate the skin penetration of GHK-Cu.

What are the potential dangers of using copper peptides in cosmetics?

Copper peptides generally do not present major risks. Moreover, when GHK is coupled with copper, the peptide inhibits the redox activity of copper, allowing the administration of copper in a non-toxic form that can then be utilized by cells. However, it has been reported that they can trigger an allergic reaction, causing itching and/or redness.

Structure moléculaire du tripeptide GHK-Cu.
Source: MARGOLINA A. & al. The human tripeptide GHK-Cu in the prevention of oxidative stress and degenerative conditions of aging: Implications for cognitive health (2012).

Copper sulfate.

The copper sulfate (INCI: Copper Sulfate) is an inorganic salt produced by reacting copper oxide with sulfuric acid. It appears as a blue crystalline solid. In its natural state, copper sulfate is found in chalcanthite.

Chemical Characteristics
Chemical FormulationCuSO4
Molecular Mass159.61 g/mol

What are the benefits of copper sulfate?

Copper sulfate is primarily used for its ability to kill bacteria and fungi through several mechanisms. The contact with copper ions causes damage at the cellular envelope level. Moreover, copper also easily catalyzes reactions (Fenton and Haber-Weiss) that lead to the production of hydroxyl radicals. These reactive oxygen species induce lipid peroxidation and protein oxidation. Finally, copper ions also target the metabolic enzymes necessary for the normal functioning of microorganisms, leading to their inactivation.

What are the potential dangers of using copper sulfate in cosmetics?

Non-sensitizing, the external use of copper sulfate is generally perceived as safe. A few rare examples of allergic dermatitis to copper sulfate have been reported in the literature. In one study, 10,936 patients applied copper sulfate epicutaneously over a 10-year period (1975 - 1985) and 37 (0.34%) of them reacted.

Structure chimique du sulfate de cuivre.
Source: PubChem.


  • MARK H. & al. Copper sulphate allergy in special consideration of internal exposure. Zeitschrift für Hautkrankheiten (1990).

  • DRÉNO B. & al. In vitro modulation of keratinocyte wound healing integrins by zinc, copper and manganese. British Journal of Dermatology (1999).

  • ROY S. & al. Copper-induced vascular endothelial growth factor expression and wound healing. American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology (2002).

  • MAIBACH H. I.& al. Copper hypersensitivity: dermatologic aspects – an overview. Reviews on Environmental Health (2003).

  • COBIAN E. P. & al. Examination of the cutaneous absorption of copper after the use of copper-containing ointments. American Journal of Therapeutics (2004).

  • KIM K. H. & al. The effect of tripeptide-copper complex on human hair growth in vitro. Archives of Pharmacal Research (2007).

  • PICKART L. The human tripeptide GHK and tissue remodeling. Journal of Biomaterials Science, Polymer Edition (2008).

  • GABBAY J. & al. Reducing the risk of skin pathologies in diabetics by using copper impregnated socks. Medical Hypotheses (2009).

  • MARIKOVSKY M. & al. Molecular mechanisms of enhanced wound healing by copper oxide-impregnated dressings. Wound Repair and Regeneration (2010).

  • BORKOW G. & al. Reduction of facial wrinkles depth by sleeping on copper oxide-containing pillowcases: a double blind, placebo controlled, parallel, randomized clinical study. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2012).

  • BORKOW G. Using copper to improve the well-being of the skinCurrent Chemical Biology (2014).

  • MARGOLINA A. & al. GHK peptide as a natural modulator of multiple cellular pathways in skin regeneration. BioMed Research International (2015).

  • MARGOLINA A. & al. Regenerative and protective actions of the GHK-Cu peptide in the light of the new gene data. International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2018).


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