All You Need to Know About Ceramides in Skin Care
Reading ingredient lists on your cosmetic products, you've probably stumbled upon ceramides. But, do you know what ceramides really are, and what their role in skincare is?October 18, 2021 8 minutes read
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Just like hyaluronic acid and collagen, ceramides are naturally present in our bodies. To be more precise, ceramides are lipids or fats that are found in high concentrations in the top, surface layer of the skin. They are an essential part of our skin's natural barrier, locking in moisture and preventing dryness and irritation. So now you might wonder, why do I need ceramides in skincare if I already have them in my skin?
Well, unfortunately, ceramides, like collagen, degrade as we age. So, we need to supplement them with skincare formulated with ceramides to keep our skin protected, bouncy, and supple.
Keep on reading to find out all there is to know about this superhero ingredient and its role in skincare.
What Exactly Are Ceramides?
About 50% of the outer layer of our skin, the stratum corneum, is made up of ceramides (the other important lipids are cholesterol, making up about 25% of total lipid content, and fatty acids, having 15%). Ceramides are lipids or waxy molecules, mostly composed of long-chained fatty acids and sphingosine, found in high concentrations in cell membranes and extracellular matrix.
In other words, ceramides form the skin's natural barrier, gluing the cells together and preventing the skin's permeability. This means that ceramides are essential in maintaining the healthy stratum corneum, our skin's natural protective barrier, preventing transepidermal water loss and protecting against external influences.
Unfortunately, ceramide levels in our skin decline with age, which weakens the upper layer of the skin, making it thinner, drier, sagging, and wrinkly. In addition, the use of strong detergents, harsh scrubs, soaps, and hot water dramatically contributes to the loss of ceramides in the skin. And, with the weakened skin barrier, the permeability of the skin is higher. Thus it becomes more sensitive to environmental threats and prone to irritation, leading to various skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis.
Also, with a smaller number of ceramides and a weaker skin barrier, our skin loses the ability to hold onto moisture. Besides leading to irritation and dehydration, this also results in skin that deteriorates and ages faster. For this reason, ceramides in skincare are praised by dermatologists and skincare experts as the No.1 anti-aging ingredient.
Benefits of Ceramides for Skin
Studies suggest that the topical application of ceramides, as well as its supplementation, can strengthen the skin's barrier. Therefore, ceramides have many benefits for the skin:
#1: Protecting the Skin
As we mentioned above, ceramides are lipids found in cell membranes and extracellular matrix that glue everything together – they are the mortar keeping the bricks (cells) tight together. They play a crucial role in maintaining the protective barrier in the top layer of our skin [source]. As a result, they are preventing water from getting out and bacteria from getting in. In addition, they protect the skin from pollution and other environmental factors.
#2: Improving Barrier Function
To maintain optimal skin health, it's essential to keep the superficial layer of the skin intact and healthy, which means maintaining an optimal level of lipid membranes or ceramides in the skin. Therefore, topical application of products formulated with ceramides can substitute the loss of this important part of the stratum corneum and prevent premature aging and other skin disorders [source].
#3: Keeping the Skin Hydrated
A damaged or weakened skin barrier equals dehydrated skin prone to cracking, itching, and sagging. With the help of ceramides, our skin is able to lock the moisture in and prevent transepidermal water loss [source].
#4: Preventing Skin Aging
The strong skin barrier and hydrated skin are the main precursors for plump and youthful skin. Also, skin thickness plays a major role in aging and is predetermined by a healthy level of ceramides in the epidermis (the upper layer of the skin) as well as the collagen in the dermis (the inner layer). Moreover, studies suggest that ceramides-infused skincare can protect the skin from UV radiation – another major factor that causes skin aging.
#5: Helping With Various Skin Conditions
According to a 2018 study, the use of creams containing ceramides repaired the skin barrier and improved moisturization levels in people with various skin disorders. Therefore, ceramides helped alleviate signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis and other types of inflammatory skin conditions.
How to Prevent the Loss of Ceramides in Your Skin
The ceramides level in our skin depletes over time, and it's inevitable. For example, by the time we reach our 30s, we only have about 60% of ceramides left in our skin. Then, once we reach 40, this level drops to 40%, and so on.
However, age is not the only factor that affects the number of ceramides in our skin. Unprotected sun exposure, going overboard with scrubs and exfoliating acids, as well as hot water and harsh soaps, can all contribute to the damaged skin barrier and ceramides depletion.
Still, the news is not all that bad. If you're gentle to your skin and use mild cleansers, try not to over-exfoliate, and wear sunscreen every day, you can preserve your ceramides and slow down their loss.
Likewise, there's a number of ceramides-infused skincare products, and using them daily will undoubtedly prevent your skin from losing ceramides as quickly. These products will replenish your skin with new ceramides and stimulate it to produce more. Also, they will restore your skin's natural protective barrier, maintain its hydration levels, calm any inflammations, and keep it less sensitized.
Different Types of Ceramides in Skincare
Ceramides can be found in a range of cosmetic products, from cleansers to creams and sunscreens. These ceramides are mostly synthetically made or derived from plants, such as soy, wheat, rice, sweet potato, and corn. Cosmetic products used to contain ceramides of animal origin. But since plant-derived ceramides are more affordable, this is rarely the case anymore.
In skincare products, you'll find ceramides listed as ceramide EOP, ceramide NP, ceramide AP, ceramide NG, and ceramide EOS, each with different chemical composition and function.
Ceramide 1, or ceramide EOP, is composed of linoleic acid and a phytosphingosine, a sphingoid base that is a naturally occurring fat in our skin cells and is an essential building block for other lipids. On the other hand, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid playing a significant role in maintaining the epidermal lipid barrier.
In the stratum corneum, the outer layer of our skin, ceramide 1 accounts for about 6.5% of total ceramide content. It has a binding role between lipid layers surrounding our skin cells. Together with ceramides 4 and 7, ceramide 1 plays a crucial role in maintaining our skin's natural barrier and acts as the main storage for linoleic acid, vital for barrier repair.
In skincare, ceramide 1, or ceramide EOP, is one of the three essential ceramides that has a skin conditioning role, replenishing and moisturizing it. Along with ceramide 3, another essential ceramide in skincare, it strengthens the skin's barrier function, prevents dehydration, and protects the skin from harmful environmental factors.
You may find ceramide 1 under its other chemical names, including 4-Octadecanetriol, Stearoyloxyheptacosanoyl-C18-Phytosphingosine, 2-Stearoyloxyheptacosamide, and Stearoyloxyheptacosanoyl-4-Hydroxysphinganine.
Ceramide NP, also known as ceramide 3, consists of a phytosphingosine base and stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid vital for rebuilding the skin's natural barrier. Ceramide 3 is another essential ceramide that makes up about 22% of the total lipid structure of the stratum corneum.
This ceramide type works synergistically with ceramide 1 (ceramide EOP) and is crucial for maintaining a healthy skin barrier function, retaining skin moisture, and preventing microorganisms and other irritants from getting in.
You may also stumble across this ceramide under a different name, such as N-stearoyl phytosphingosine, or Stearoyl-4-Hydroxysphinganine.
Ceramide AP, also known as ceramide 6-II, is the third essential ceramide consisting of a phytosphingosine base linked to alpha-hydroxy acid, saturated or unsaturated. It makes up about 8.8% of the total ceramide content in the stratum corneum.
Thanks to its AHA-like composition, this type of ceramide is particularly suitable for dry and aging skin, strengthening its protective barrier and smoothing fine lines and rough patches at the same time.
It can also be found under its other chemical names, such as α-hydroxy-N-stearoylphytosphingosine and 2-(2-Hydroxy) Stearamide.
Ceramide NG, also known as ceramide 2, is a synthetic sphinganine-based ceramide consisting of a sphinganine base and a long-chained fatty acid. It belongs to a group of sphingolipids which are vital structural components of cell membranes.
This type of ceramide plays a vital role in maintaining normal cell function and integrity as well as preserving lipoprotein framework and structure. Sometimes, this ceramide is also listed as ceramide NS.
Like ceramide 2, ceramide EOS is another type of synthetic sphingolipid, consisting of a sphinganine base and an esterified omega-hydroxy fatty acid, saturated or unsaturated.
This type of ceramide in skincare offers incredible benefits, such as strengthening and repairing the skin's surface layer and its natural barrier, soothing irritated skin, reducing signs of aging, and retaining moisture.
Instead of these ceramides, some skincare products may contain only ceramide precursors, such as phytosphingosine and sphingosine. These compounds stimulate the skin to produce more ceramides.
It's also important to note that when you decide to purchase a ceramide-containing product, you need to pay attention to its packaging. Ceramides in skincare aren't stable, and they lose their effectiveness when exposed to air and light. So, choose products in opaque bottles or tubes that are airtight and have pumps – this will minimize the product's exposure to the outside elements and ensure its potency and performance.
Which Skin Type Benefits the Most From Ceramides?
Ceramides are the so-called skin-identical ingredients since they are naturally produced by our skin. This means that they are suitable for any skin type and condition. People with dry and sensitive skin can greatly benefit from ceramides-rich skincare products as they repair the skin's disrupted PH balance and barrier and replenish the skin with moisture. However, those with oily skin should also make use of this amazing ingredient – just choose lightweight formulas suitable for everyday application.
In addition, people with atopic dermatitis usually have ceramide deficiency. Topical application of ceramides in the form of creams and lotions will restore their stratum corneum, filling up the cracks between the cells in the epidermis, preventing transepidermal water loss, and decreasing the skin's sensitivity to external factors.
Can I Combine Ceramides With Other Ingredients?
Yes. For maximum benefits, it's even recommended to use ceramides with other anti-aging and nourishing ingredients. You can combine ceramides with fatty acids, glycerin, cholesterol, peptides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, antioxidants, and retinoids. In synergy with any of these ingredient groups, ceramides will have an excellent effect on the skin.
What About Ceramides Supplements?
According to a 2016 study, dietary supplements with phytoceramides, ceramides derived from wheat in this case, showed remarkable results in improving skin hydration and skin conditions related to skin dryness, such as itching, roughness, and redness. In addition, the same study indicates that oral ceramide supplements have anti-aging effects as well, increasing dermis density and reducing wrinkle depth.
Also, certain foods (like eggs, soy, and dairy products) contain large amounts of sphingosine. As we already mentioned above, sphingosine is a ceramide precursor, helping our skin produce more ceramides. However, only eating these foods won't be sufficient to achieve those skin rejuvenating effects that ceramides tout. Therefore, it would be best to have a holistic approach in stocking up on ceramides, and replenish this precious ingredient from the inside and out, meaning eating ceramides-rich foods and using ceramides-infused skincare.
As we age, the production of ceramides in our bodies gradually slows down. Therefore, to maintain a healthy skin barrier and keep our skin plump and hydrated, we could greatly benefit from adding this precious ingredient to our skincare routine. Ceramides in skincare are incredibly versatile – perfect for every skin type and condition and suitable for daily application. On top of that, they can be combined with many other active ingredients.
Is ceramide same as niacinamide?
No, ceramides and niacinamide are two completely different substances. Ceramides are lipids (or, basically, fats), mainly made of long-chained fatty acids, and make up a major part of the outer skin layer. On the other hand, niacinamide is vitamin B3, an essential nutrient.
Do I need ceramides in my skincare?
With age, natural ceramide levels in our skin get lower and lower. With fewer ceramides or lipids, our skin loses elasticity and is more prone to dryness and aging. That's why we should compensate the lost ceramides with skincare that contains it.
Is hyaluronic acid a ceramide?
No, hyaluronic acid is not a ceramide. Even though these are both naturally present in our skin, they are completely different. Ceramides are lipids located in the outermost layer of our skin and are responsible for maintaining a healthy moisture barrier. On the other hand, hyaluronic acid is a humectant, drawing water from our environment and keeping the skin hydrated.
Which ceramides are best for skin?
The three essential ceramides you're likely to find in your skincare products are ceramide 1 or ceramide EOP, ceramide 3 or ceramide NP, and ceramide 6-II or Ceramide AP. Other great ceramides for skin are ceramide NG, also known as ceramide 2, and ceramide EOS. Sometimes, you may find ceramide precursors in your products, like sphingosine and phytosphingosine. These compounds encourage the skin to produce more ceramides.
Do ceramides help wrinkles?
Ceramides play a major role in maintaining a healthy skin barrier, protecting it from outside influences, preventing transepidermal water loss, and keeping the skin bouncy and thick. These are all factors that are essential in preventing premature skin aging, keeping wrinkles and sagging skin at bay.
Can I use Vitamin C with ceramides?
Our skin naturally produces ceramides or lipids, which makes them the so-called skin-identical ingredients. This, basically, means that ceramides are an excellent ingredient for any skin type and can be combined with other active ingredients. Therefore, you can use ceramides together with vitamin C and other actives, such as retinol.