What are ceramides?

Ceramides are a class of fatty acids called lipids. They’re naturally found in skin cells and make up about 50 percent of the outer layer of skin (epidermis).

While ceramides are noted for their role in brain and nervous system development, they’ve gained a lot of interest in the skin care world for their potential skin health benefits. Other cosmetic uses include shampoos, deodorants, and makeup.

Read on to discover how your skin could benefit, how to choose the right products, and more.

Ceramides are made up of long-chain fatty acids that link with other important molecules to promote cellular function.

Ceramides help create a barrier to prevent permeability. This locks moisture into your skin, which helps prevent dryness and irritation. It may also help protect your epidermis from environmental damage.

These benefits may have anti-aging effects. Fine lines and wrinkles are often more noticeable when skin is dry. Locking in moisture may minimize their appearance.

Although human skin is naturally made up of ceramides, these fatty acids are lost over time. This can result in dull, dry skin. You may be able to minimize these effects by supplementing your skin with extra ceramide.

It’s unclear whether your skin’s naturally occurring ceramide levels relate to your risk of developing certain underlying skin conditions. However, research does suggest that people who have eczema or psoriasis have fewer ceramides in their skin.

Although more research is needed, there’s reason to believe that using ceramide-containing skin care products may help soothe related irritation and provide an additional barrier to certain cases of dry skin.

You may also benefit from supplementary ceramides if you have mature skin.

There’s no clear-cut answer to this. People who have certain skin conditions may be more likely to benefit from ceramide supplements, as these treat the underlying condition from the inside out. Ceramide-containing topical products may be more appropriate for dry, aging skin.

Your product selection will depend on your skin type. For example, if you have dry skin, consider a ceramide-containing cream. Creams and ointments contain more moisture and may be less irritating than lotions.

Exactly where you include ceramides in your skin care routine depends on the type of product you’re using.

Creams and moisturizers are used as a last step at night or right before applying sunscreen in the morning. They also work well at trapping in moisture when applied right after a shower or bath.

Ceramides are also available in some skin cleansers. These are used twice a day.

When it comes to ceramides, not all product packaging is created equal.

Look for products in opaque, airtight bottles and tubes. Jars and similar packaging expose the bulk of the product to light and air with each use. This exposure may render the product ineffective over time.

Also pay attention to product expiration dates.

There’s more than one type of ceramide available on the market.

If you’re looking for a product to heal dry, irritated skin, you can look for one that has ceramides 1, 3, or 6-II. Ceramides 2 and 3 are widely used in products designed for the face and the neck.

Ceramide may also appear in products as sphingosine. This is an amino acid chain that includes ceramide as one of its molecules.

The only “natural” ceramides are the ones already in your skin.

The ceramides in most skin care products are synthetically made. This doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of quality or efficacy. As long as ceramides are replenished, your skin can benefit.

If you’re looking for a more “natural” way to induce ceramide production in your skin, consider adding healthy fats to your diet. Ceramides may also be found in:

  • sweet potatoes
  • soy
  • wheat
  • rice
  • corn

Using ceramides in combination with other skin care ingredients may help you better achieve your desired results. For maximum benefit, look for restorative products with ingredients like:

  • antioxidants
  • peptides
  • retinol

Topical ceramides are generally considered safe. Although there isn’t any research or reports documenting adverse reactions, always do a patch test to determine how your skin will react.

To do this:

  1. Apply a dime-sized amount of product to the inside of your forearm.
  2. Wait 24 hours.
  3. If you begin to experience redness, itching, or other irritation, wash the affected area and discontinue use.
  4. If you don’t develop any side effects, the product should be safe to apply elsewhere.

Like any new skin care product, ceramides can take time to reveal their full effects.

Although creams and lotions may have an immediate moisturizing effect, the anti-aging appearance may take weeks to show. It all depends on your skin cell turnover rate. You may begin to notice firmer, smoother skin within three to six months of consistent use.

Ceramides are also sometimes added to shampoos and conditioners. They act as a conditioning agent, locking nutrients in and strengthening the overall hair shaft.

If your hair is extremely dry or damaged, ceramide hair products may help restore its overall appearance.

Ceramide skin care products may help supplement your skin’s natural ceramide production.

They’re primarily used to help restore moisture and minimize irritation. They may also have a role in the treatment of eczema and psoriasis.

If you want to use ceramides to soothe an underlying skin condition, talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider before use. They can answer any questions you have and may be able to advise you on product selection or alternative options.