Ceramides are fatty acids that help maintain your skin's natural barrier to the environment and keep the skin hydrated.
In addition to keeping your skin hydrated, ceramides can also help alleviate eczema and psoriasis by repairing breaks in the skin.
Adding products with ceramides to your skincare routine can also have anti-aging effects.
There are plenty of harmful skincare ingredients that are artificial and potentially irritating to the skin. But some ingredients — like ceramides — are safe, effective, and naturally occurring compounds that we already have in our skin.
There's been lots of hype around ceramides, and for good reason. They are beneficial for all skin types and offer an array of skincare benefits. Here's what ceramides are used for and how they work to provide their benefits.
What are ceramides?
Ceramides are lipids, or fatty acids, which are found naturally in your skin and hold your skin cells (keratinocytes) together. They help to maintain the skin's natural barrier, which keeps the skin hydrated and provides protection against irritants and allergens.
"If you think of skin as a bricks-and-mortar wall, the keratinocytes act as the bricks, and lipids between the cells, such as the ceramides, act as the mortar," says Susan Massick, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor in the Division of Dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
On top of being found naturally in the skin, ceramides are in many skincare products, and their primary purpose is for moisturization. You can find ceramides in cleansers, moisturizers, and serums. Here's how they can benefit your skin:
1. Ceramides moisturize your skin
Though your body naturally produces ceramides, adding a ceramide-rich lotion to your skincare routine can keep your skin hydrated.
"Ceramides help replenish lost moisture in the skin by hydrating the skin and restoring the 'mortar' between the skin cells to help maintain cell-to-cell adhesion," says Massick. By maintaining this cell adhesion, ceramides strengthen the skin barrier, which can help prevent moisture loss.
A 2018 study found that a moisturizer containing ceramides is more effective than other moisturizers without ceramides. The researchers found that 24 hours after application, the skin of those who used the ceramide cream was still significantly more moisturized than those who used the other moisturizers. However, it should be noted that the manufacturers of the ceramide moisturizer sponsored the study.
2. Ceramides can help alleviate eczema and psoriasis
Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis are caused by small cracks in the skin, which are breaks in the skin barrier, says Massick. With both of these conditions, ceramides can help to repair these breaks in the skin, thereby restoring the skin's protective barrier.
A 2018 study found that ceramide-based cream is very effective for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. After participants used the cream for four weeks, they saw a 67% improvement in their skin, including irritation, redness, roughness, and peeling.
Additionally, a 2019 study found ceramide-based cleanser and cream to be helpful for people with mild to moderate psoriasis. For two weeks, participants used the cleanser twice a week and the cream twice a day. At the end of the two weeks, 84.8% of participants said that their psoriasis was improved, and 90.9% said their skin was softer and smoother. It should be noted that this study was funded by the manufacturer of the ceramide products.
3. Ceramides have anti-aging effects
There are less naturally occurring ceramides in our skin as we age, Massick says. Because of this, older skin loses moisture more easily, feels drier, and isn't as capable of repairing itself from damage.
By adding ceramides into your skincare routine, Massick says that aging skin can feel more supple, smooth, and hydrated.
There's also evidence that taking ceramides orally may provide anti-aging benefits. A small 2017 study gave participants either a placebo or an oral supplement containing ceramides. Those who took the ceramides orally saw improvements in skin roughness and wrinkles. You can get oral ceramides online or at supplement stores.
How to use ceramides for healthier skin
Anybody with any skin type can use ceramides, and this ingredient will not cause irritation or dryness, says Massick. However, the skin types that will benefit the most from ceramides are dry and sensitive skin, due to ceramides' ability to lock in moisture and maintain the skin barrier.
If you want to incorporate ceramides into your skincare routine, Massick suggests using a moisturizer that contains ceramides every day. For the best results, apply the product right after showering and/or washing your face to lock that moisture in.
The bottom line
Ceramides are dermatologist-recommended and scientifically proven to be effective at improving skin hydration, alleviating skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, and maintaining the skin barrier. Plus, they're safe and beneficial for all skin types, making this ingredient a great choice to add to your skincare repertoire.
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