Ceramides are a special type of lipids and they play an essential part in the structure of the skin barrier, basically maintaining its water retention functions. The intercellular lipid domain in healthy skin is composed of roughly equal quantities of fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides, the latter probably being the most mysterious of all. Ceramides create a unique crystalline structure of lipids in the skin’s upper layer, which protects the skin from harmful molecules and pathogenic bacteria and at the same time keeps water sealed and controls evaporation.
Unfortunately, ceramides are fairly fragile.
They can be destroyed by heat and harsh chemicals, including not only household cleaning solutions, but also common soap and aggressive skin cleansers. So, say no to a steam bath for your face and use gloves when you do chores. Smoking, air pollution or exposure to ultraviolet can also ruin some of skin. And if that’s not enough, ceramides’ numbers decline with age – it is one of the reasons why skin becomes drier and more sensitive as we grow older.
Diet plays a part too, as people on a low-fat diet often experience skin dryness, leading to hypersensitivity and the appearance of wrinkles. Certain medication, such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, can have this effect too. Ceramide deficiency always leads to dryness, itching and irritation of the skin and plays a major part in the pathogenesis of many skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema.
If you have dry skin, it is likely that there is some problem with your ceramides.
Here’s what you can do:
- Eat healthy fats! Nuts, seeds, avocado, salmon and other oily fish are good for your skin.
- Use micellar cleansers, try do not use regular soap and switch to gentle creamy or foam shower gel and shampoo.
- Don’t use too cold or too hot water to wash and wear gloves for housework.
- Use skincare with active ingredients which help restore ceramide production. Look for vitamin B3 (niacinamide), vitamin C, vitamin E.
- Try skincare containing natural or synthetic ceramides.
- Does every skin type need ceramides? Do some need them more than others? Why do we need them?
Ceramide deficiency usually develops with age, in mature ageing skin that is. It can be genetic, too, in which case skin dryness and occasionally the development of atopic dermatitis (and some other dermatoses) will occur at a really young age. But in 99.9% of the cases, young, healthy and/or oily skin has enough ceramides of its own.
- How do ceramides work? How do they improve skin health and appearance?
To put it simply, ceramides form waterproof coating on the skin surface. It keeps stratum corneum stable, retains water and regulates epidermal cells so they produce new ceramides. Basically, your skin looks smooth and healthy, free from dryness and irritation.
- What’s the best way to incorporate ceramides into your skincare routine? What should we look for on skincare labels?
Ceramides are not difficult to insert in your routine. Obviously, your skincare product must be fat-soluble (cream, emulsion, etc). Natural ceramides are very expensive, because you can only extract a very small amount from plants, so beauty industry employs synthetic or pseudoceramides, similar in their structure to fatty acids of plant origin or phytoceramides extracted from yeast. If you see the word ceramides on a product label, that’s what inside. You can also look for phospholipids, sphingolipids, and phytosphingosine, as these are very similar to ceramides in effect.
- Do they work well with any other skincare ingredients in particular?
Ceramides belong to a class of skin-identical ingredients, so they work well with pretty much anything: oils (macadamia, sweet almond, olive oil, etc), vitamin E, niacinamide, cholesterol, lecithin; amino-acids, peptides, glycerine, carrageenan and hyaluronic acid. They are so skin-friendly and stable that it is difficult to say what ingredient wouldn’t be good to combine with ceramides.