POSTED: 27 Jul 2023

What Are Ceramides & How Can They Help Your Skin?

When it comes to skincare, it can sometimes be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are lots of ingredients and every day there’s a new trend. Despite this noise, ceramides are the real deal and have for some time been basking in their well-deserved spotlight. In this article we look at the science behind ceramides, their role in skin health and how you can incorporate them into your skincare routine.

What Are Ceramides?

Ceramides are sphingolipid molecules (fats) that occur naturally in the uppermost layers of the skin called the stratum corneum. They make up over 50% of the skin’s composition, so it’s no surprise they play a vital role in determining how your skin looks and how it responds to environmental threats. In short, they hold skin cells together. They form a protective layer that plumps the skin and retains moisture. Think of them as the mortar between bricks—if the cells of your skin were bricks, ceramides are the substance that keeps them together and maintains the integrity of your skin barrier.

There are 12 different types of ceramides found in the skin. They are classified based on their structure. Ceramides 1, 3, 6-II, and 10 are found in the highest concentrations in the skin. They help to form the skin’s barrier and prevent moisture loss. Ceramides 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 are found in lower concentrations in the skin. They help to maintain the skin’s barrier and protect it from damage.

Why Are they Important?

Ceramides play a pivotal role in maintaining the skin’s natural barrier. This is what shields your skin against environmental aggressors such as pollutants, dry climates and wind. Your skin barrier also reduces water loss keeping and hence they are essential to maintain your skin’s moisture. This function makes them particularly important in managing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis which damage the skin barrier.

Ageing also reduces our skin’s ceramide levels. This leads to to a weakened skin barrier which results in dry skin, irritation and an increase in visible signs of aging such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity. Incorporating ceramides in your skincare routine can help replenish natural lipid levels, enhance skin’s hydration and support your overall skin health.

Ceramides in Skincare

Skincare products formulated with ceramides help to reinforce the skin’s barrier and increase hydration. This gives skin a plump, smooth and more youthful appearance. You can find them in a variety of products, including moisturisers, lotions, serums, cleansers and even some hair products.

When applied topically, they can help restore the skin’s barrier and retain moisture by replenishing its ceramide levels. These are some of the key benefits of using ceramides in skincare:

  • Improved skin hydration: they help to keep the skin hydrated by forming a barrier that prevents moisture loss. This helps to prevent dry, itchy and irritated skin.
  • Reduced inflammation: they can help to reduce inflammation in the skin, which can improve the appearance of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
  • Improved skin barrier function: they help to improve the skin’s barrier function, which can protect the skin from damage caused by the environment.
  • Improved skin appearance: they can help to improve the appearance of the skin by making it look smoother, plumper, and more youthful.

The Different Types of Ceramides in Skincare

Ceramides can be classified as either natural or synthetic. Natural ceramides are derived from animal or plant sources. Synthetic ones are made in a lab. Both natural and synthetic ceramides can be effective in skincare. However, natural ceramides are more likely to be gentle on the skin and less likely to cause irritation.

When choosing your skincare product, look for one that contains a variety of ceramides. This will help ensure that your skin is getting the full benefits of the different types of ceramides. There are several types of ceramides found in skincare products. The most common ones include Ceramide NP, Ceramide AP, Ceramide EOP, Phytosphingosine and Sphingosine. These different types of ceramides have slight variations in their molecular structure, which affects their function and absorption rate in the skin. Furthermore, both phytosphingosine and sphingosine are precursors. This means that they help the skin to produce its own ceramides.

Here are some of the most common types of ceramides found in skincare products:

  • Ceramide NP is the most common type of ceramide found in the skin. It helps to form the skin’s barrier and prevent moisture loss.
  • Ceramide AP helps to maintain the skin’s barrier and protect it from damage.
  • Ceramide EOS is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It can help to reduce redness and irritation in the skin.
  • Ceramide EOP helps to improve the skin’s appearance by making it look smoother and plumper.
  • Phytosphingosine is a precursor found in plants. It helps to improve the skin’s barrier function and reduce inflammation.
  • Sphingosine is a precursor found in both plants and animals. It is a long-chain amino alcohol that helps to form the skin’s barrier and prevent moisture loss.

The Best Way to Add Ceramides to Your Skincare Routine

If you want to incorporate ceramides into your skincare routine, start by figuring out what your skin needs. For example, is your skin persistently dry, irritated, wrinkled or are you battling conditions like eczema or psoriasis. These are the biggest skin problems that respond well to this skincare ingredient.

Choosing the right product is the next step, and the good news is that there’s no shortage of options on the market! If your skin is extremely dry, try a rich cream and even a ceramide-containing sunscreen. On the other hand, if your skin is oily, then you might do better with a lightweight serum or lotion. Ceramide-containing cleansers are effective if you have very dry irritated skin or you are using a lot of active products like Tretinoin or exfoliating acids and want to ensure the rest of your skincare routine is gentle and hydrating. When choosing containing skincare products, consider the type of ceramides used and their place in the ingredient list. This is an indication of the product’s concentration. Also, ensure that the product packaging is airtight as they can break down in the presence of air and light.

Skincare Ingredients To Pair With Ceramides

There are several skincare ingredients that work synergistically with ceramides to enhance their benefits. These ingredients include:

  • Hyaluronic Acid or Polyglutamic acid: these potent hydrators attract and hold onto a significant amount of water. They also help the skin absorb ceramides more effectively. This combination plumps up the skin and makes it look more hydrated and youthful.
  • Niacinamide: also known as Vitamin B3, niacinamide reduces inflammation, hyperpigmentation and improves the skin’s barrier function. When combined with ceramides, it can enhance barrier repair and lower skin sensitivity.
  • Cholesterol and Fatty Acids: whilst these are ingredients you’d want to avoid in excess for your heart health, they’re actually crucial for skin health. They work with ceramides to help maintain and repair the skin’s natural barrier, trapping in moisture and keeping out irritants.
  • Peptides: these molecules help boost collagen production, improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They work well with ceramides to improve skin texture and firmness.
  • Retinoids: vitamin A derivatives like Retinol and Tretinoin have scientifically backed anti-aging effects. Retinoids stimulate cell turnover and promote skin regeneration. Pairing with ceramides can counterbalance potential dryness, irritation or purging from retinoids.
  • Antioxidants: vitamins C and E, help to protect the skin from environmental damage and free radicals, which can break down collagen and speed up the aging process. By pairing ceramides with antioxidants, you can better protect your skin’s barrier and slow down the signs of aging.

Are They Safe?

Although ceramides are largely considered safe and beneficial for most skin types, some people may experience minor skin irritation. This is especially likely in people with sensitive skin, rosacea or allergies to other skincare ingredients. As with any skincare product, always perform a patch test to check for allergies before full application.

Ceramides are a core part of the skin’s structure and function. They can also be a fantastic weapon in your skincare arsenal. Whether you are trying to soothe dry and irritated skin, maintain a healthy skin barrier, or treat the signs of aging, they are a great addition to your skincare routine. However, skincare is never one-size-fits-all. It’s crucial to understand your skin’s needs, responses to any treatment and tailor your skincare routine accordingly. If you want to maximise your skincare results or treat specific problems, consult with a skin doctor for tailored advice and treatments.

We strongly believe that skincare is personal and you only get the best results if its tailored to you. Our virtual clinic offers safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin for conditions like acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. Book a virtual consultation today to take your first step towards great skin.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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