All About Ceramides

Ceramides have become quite the skin care buzzword recently, but do you know what they actually are, as well as why your skin might need them?

Before using any ceramide products on your skin, have a quick read through this guide to find out all you need to know about this unique ingredient.

What Are Ceramides?

To put it simply, ceramides are fats, otherwise known as lipids, that make up more than 50% of your skin.

Where can they be found?

The highest concentration of ceramides lies in the skin’s outermost layers, meaning that they play a huge role in how your skin looks and feels, as well as affecting how your skin responds to different environmental factors.

Where do Ceramides Come From?

The body naturally produces ceramides molecules, with this beginning in the deeper layers of skin, when new skin cells are made. As these new skin cells work their way up to the surface of your skin, they release ceramide molecules into the rest of your skin.

However, in the same way that your body produces less new skin cells as you age, ceramide production also drops.

Ceramides can also be found in certain foods, and these are referred to as phytoceramides, also known as plant-based ceramides.

The best food sources of ceramides include:

However, with ceramides being such a large part of your skin’s structure, you are unlikely to be able to “top up” your skin’s ceramide levels through food alone once your body stops producing as much of these lipids.

What happens then?

Read on to find out…

What Do Ceramides Do?

Ceramides are hugely important when it comes to healthy skin.

With a high concentration of ceramides being found in your skin’s outer layers, this means that, along with fatty acids and cholesterol, ceramides actually make up a large part of your skin’s protective barrier.

What does this barrier, along with the ceramides within it, do?

It has a couple of crucial functions, and these are:

While many of the other skin care ingredients out there play multiple roles when it comes to skin health, ceramides are quite specific, and mostly focus on the skin’s barrier.

Why Topical Ceramides?

As mentioned above, your skin’s natural ceramide production rate will decline quite rapidly with age.

Infographic on layers of skin including ceramides

Since you can’t completely replace this through your diet, topical ceramides are important when it comes to keeping your skin youthful and healthy, which is why they are often formulated into anti-aging skin care products.

Since ceramides are vital for supporting your skin’s natural barrier, those who suffer from a damaged skin barrier will especially benefit from the use of ceramides.

How do you know if your skin’s barrier is compromised?

Here are a few clues to look out for:

  • Redness
  • Frequent sensitivities and irritations
  • Skin feels rough and tight
  • Flaking or peeling skin
  • Rosacea
  • Dryness, from a lack of oil
  • Dehydration, from a lack of water
  • Skin rashes, such as eczema and psoriasis
  • Increased breakouts
  • Increased fine lines

Wondering what causes this barrier, along with the ceramides within it, to be damaged?

So many different factors, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Harsh skin care ingredients
  • Sun exposure
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Alcohol and cigarettes
  • Air conditioners and dry climates
  • Over-exfoliating and over-cleansing
  • Failing to regularly use a moisturizer
  • Aging, with the barrier usually beginning to weaken around the age of 45
  • Certain medications, such as antihistamines and prescription topical acne medications

This may all sound quite alarming, but using topical ceramides can actually make a huge difference in all of the above.

Benefits of Ceramides for Skin

Since ceramides play such an important role in skin health, it goes without saying that your skin will experience some major benefits when using topical ceramides.

These include:

  • Increases the amount of moisture your skin is able to retain
  • Improves skin softness, elasticity, suppleness and smoothness
  • Prevents itching, flakiness and dryness
  • Treats eczema
  • Keeps skin cells alive for longer, resulting in a more youthful and fresh complexion
  • Helps to inhibit free radical damage
  • Regulates healthy cell activity

Can ceramides be used by those who have sensitive skin?

Yes, because the ceramides you find in skin care products will be identical to those in your skin. This means that your skin and body will not see it as a foreign substance, and will therefore not react to it. Instead, it will put the ceramides to work, strengthening your skin barrier to help your skin become less sensitive in the first place.

How to Look for Ceramides in Skincare Products

When a skin care product contains ceramides, it will usually state this on the label. However, just in case it doesn’t, it is always helpful to know what to look out for on the ingredient list.

As you likely already know, many ingredient lists feature just the official scientific name of an ingredient, which can often leave many consumers guessing as to what some of the ingredients actually are.

So, how do you know if a product contains ceramides?

Well, there are nine different ceramides out there, and they are likely to be listed as the following:

  1. Hydroxypropyl bislauramide MEA
  2. Ceramide 1 or Ceramide EOS
  3. Ceramide 2, Ceramide NS or N-stearoyl sphinganine
  4. Ceramide 3, Ceramide NP or N-stearoyl phytosphingosine
  5. Ceramide 4 or Ceramide EOH
  6. Ceramide 5 or Ceramide AS
  7. Ceramide 6, Ceramide AP or A-hydroxy-N-stearoylphytosphingosine
  8. Ceramide 7 or Ceramide AH
  9. Ceramide 8 or Ceramide NH
  10. Ceramide 9 or Ceramide EOP

So, which ones should you be using?

Just about any of them will benefit your skin. Some products will be formulated with multiple ceramides, while some will contain just one.

The key here is to find a product that lists ceramides high up on its ingredients list.

Why?

Because the higher up an ingredient is listed, the more of it a product will contain.

Want the ceramides in your skin care products to work even better?  

Research shows that combining ceramides with cholesterol and free fatty acids will give you the best results when it comes to moisture retention and a stronger skin barrier, because these are the three main components that already make up your skin’s barrier. 

Phytosphingosine and Sphingosine

In addition to using products that contain actual ceramide molecules, you can also look for products that are formulated with either phytosphingosine or sphingolipids.

Never heard of these ingredients before?

That’s not surprising, because they are quite unique…

Both phytosphingosine and sphingolipids have the ability to trigger the skin into naturally producing more of its own ceramides.  

This can be extremely beneficial, because even though the ceramides in skin care products are identical to those in your skin, there is nothing quite like having the ingredient produced naturally by your body. While topical ceramides need time to soak into your skin and work their magic, the ceramides that your body naturally produces will be able to have a deeper impact.

How to Choose Ceramide Skincare Products

You will find ceramides in a wide variety of different skin care products, so which ones do you go for?

Well, it goes without saying that if you use a couple of different products, with each one containing ceramides, then this would be even more beneficial to your skin.

Since ceramides do need some time to penetrate into the skin, the best products to use would be a ceramide serum and a ceramide moisturizer.

Why?

Because unlike a cleanser, toner or exfoliant, serums and moisturizers, as well as specialized treatments, remain on the skin for a longer period of time, and are not designed to be washed away. This means that the ceramides within them have more time to penetrate into your skin and work their magic.

The Best Ingredients to Complement Ceramides

As mentioned above, ceramides work even better when combined with fatty acids and cholesterol, but here are a few other ingredients you can use along with ceramides to really benefit your skin:

  • Retinol this vitamin A derivative does everything from speed up the rate at which new skin cells are produced to minimize the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles 
  • Niacinimidealso known as vitamin B3, niacinimide helps to restore the skin’s surface texture while reducing the visibility of large pores and fine lines
  • Peptidessoothe and restore the skin, helping to boost firmness and reduce wrinkles 
  • Squalene and Squalane – an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that is highly moisturizing for the skin

How to Enhance the Efficacy of Ceramide Skincare Products

As you can see, ceramides can help the skin in so many ways, and can really make a huge difference to those with a weakened skin barrier.

However, if you really want them to work to their full potential, make sure that you only apply your ceramide skin care products onto cleansed skin.

Why?

Well, while you may not be able to really see it, the surface of your skin is covered with everything from dead skin cells to oil to bacteria and dirt. When you apply products over the top of this, they are not able to properly penetrate through these obstacles and actually enter into your skin.

Cleansing, as well as exfoliating, will clear all of this debris away, ensuring that the ceramides you then apply will be able to directly reach your skin, meaning that they are quickly and easily absorbed.

What About Oral Ceramide Supplements?

As mentioned above, ceramides can be found in certain foods, but oral ceramide supplements will contain ceramides in a much higher concentration.

For those who are experiencing severe symptoms of a damaged skin barrier, it could be worth looking into both topical and oral ceramides.

How do oral ceramide supplements actually work?

Well, once you consume them, they end up in your bloodstream. This then leads them to your skin’s extracellular matrix, where they would then integrate into your skin’s barrier.

Are oral ceramide supplements vegan-friendly?

Some are, and some aren’t. While some companies derive their ceramides from cows, others use plant-based versions that usually come from grains, such as wheat, corn and rice.

If you are concerned about the source of your ceramides, make sure that you do a little bit of extra research into the company that you are purchasing products from.

Bonus Tips to Improve Your Skin’s Natural Barrier

Ceramides are a great way to repair your skin’s natural barrier, but there are other steps that you should be taking too.

These include:

  • Cut back on exfoliation
  • Keep your skin away from hot water
  • Make sure that you are always wearing sunscreen during the day
  • Use mild and gentle skin care products
  • Avoid products that contain a fragrance

Wondering how long it will take to notice a difference in your skin’s barrier?

If you’re using ceramide products, as well as the ingredients and preventative steps mentioned above, you could notice a difference in just a couple of weeks. Of course, everybody’s skin is different, so it may take six weeks or so for others to see any improvements.

The most important thing to remember when wanting results from your skin care products is…

Consistency is key. Applying your products each day will allow the results to build up over time.

There are so many different skin care ingredients out there that it can be difficult to know which ones you should actually be using. When it comes to ceramides, this is an ingredient that would benefit most people, as just about everybody could do with an improvement in their skin barrier.