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 spot light. In this article we look at the science behind ceramides, their role in skin health and how you can add them into your skincare routine.

What Are Ceramides?

Ceramides are sphingolipid molecules (fats) that occur naturally in the upper most 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 layer that protects and plumps the skin as well as retains moisture. So you can 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 health of your skin barrier.

There are 12 different types of ceramides that you can normally expect to find in the skin. They are classed based on their structure. Ceramides 1, 3, 6-II, and 10 are present in the highest concentrations in the skin. These help to form the skin’s barrier and prevent water loss. Ceramides 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 are also present in the skin but present in lower amounts. They help to maintain the skin’s barrier and protect it from damage.

Why Are they Important?

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

Ageing also reduces our skin’s ceramide levels. This leads to a weaker 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 restore natural lipid levels, enhance skin’s hydration and support your overall skin health.

Ceramides in Skincare

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

When applied to the skin, they can help restore the skin’s barrier and retain moisture. It does this 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 water 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 younger.

The Different Types of Ceramides in Skincare

Ceramides are either natural or synthetic. Natural ceramides come 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.

How to Choose a Ceramide Product

When deciding on 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 that you commonly see in skincare products. The most common ones include Ceramide NP, Ceramide AP, Ceramide EOP, Phytosphingosine and Sphingosine. These different types of ceramides have slight differences 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 that you can find in skincare products:

  • Ceramide NP is the most common type of ceramide normally present in the skin. It helps to form the skin’s barrier and prevent water loss.
  • Ceramide AP helps to maintain the skin’s barrier and protect it from damage.
  • Ceramide EOS is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. That means it can help to reduce redness and irritation in the skin.
  • Ceramide EOP helps to improve the skin’s appearance by making it look more smooth and plump.
  • Phytosphingosine is a precursor that you find in plants. It helps to improve the skin’s barrier function and reduce inflammation.
  • Sphingosine is a precursor and it is present in both plants and animals. It is a long chain amino alcohol that helps to form the skin’s barrier and prevent water loss.

The Best Way to Add Ceramides to Your Skincare Routine

If you want to include ceramides into your skincare routine, start by thinking about what your skin needs. For example, is your skin usually dry, irritated or wrinkled? Or are you suffering from 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 light weight 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 looking for Ceramide containing skincare products, consider the type of ceramides used and their place in the ingredient list. This gives you an idea of how much the product contains. Also, ensure that the product package is air tight 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 well with 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 easily. 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 used 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. This traps in moisture and keeps out irritants.
  • Peptides: these molecules help boost collagen production, improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. These work well with ceramides to improve skin texture and make it firmer.
  • Retinoids: vitamin A derivatives like Retinol and Tretinoin have scientifically backed anti-aging effects. Retinoids boost cell turnover and promote skin renewal. As such, pairing with ceramides can counter balance 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 anti-oxidants, you can better protect your skin’s barrier and slow down the signs of aging.

Are They Safe?

Although ceramides are safe and can benefit 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 skin treatment, always perform a patch test to check for problems 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 angry skin, maintain a healthy skin barrier, or treat the signs of aging, they are a great addition to your skincare routine. However, beauty is never one-size-fits-all. It’s crucial to understand your skin’s needs and how it responds to any treatment. This way, you can tailor your skincare routine accordingly. So, if you want to boost your skincare results or treat specific problems, consult with a skin doctor for bespoke advice and treatments.

We firmly believe that skincare is personal and you only get the best results if it is suited to you. That’s why our virtual clinic offers safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin. We treat a number of skin conditions like acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. Book a virtual appointment or use our online skin consultation form 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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