Ceramides in Skin Care: Benefits and Uses
For years, ceramides were regarded simply as a structural component of the upper layer of the skin. After several clinical studies showed that dry and damaged skin often has reduced cellular ceramide levels, skin care manufacturers started including ceramides in many moisturizing and anti-aging formulas. Let’s see what makes ceramides so special…
What Exactly Are Ceramides?
Ceramides are naturally occurring, long chains of lipids, mostly found in the cell membranes of the outer skin layer, the epidermis. Ceramides makeup about 50% of all skin lipids. As the skin cells change, they move to the topmost layer (the stratum corneum), where they combine with cholesterol and fatty acids, and serve as a sort of ‘glue’ that holds the skin surface together.
By creating this sheet-like barrier, ceramides lock moisture in, preventing wrinkles, dry patches and flakiness + they restore skin’s natural healthy glow, and leave your face looking radiant and fresh.
Their water-retaining capacity is the main reason why cosmetics manufacturers are adding them to skin care products. Nonetheless, their benefits go well beyond keeping skin hydrated and plump. Interestingly enough, ceramides also act as signaling agents, and play a major role in cellular turnover.
Studies have also shown that people with certain skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis, have lower levels of ceramides when compared to people with normal skin. Considering this, the use of ceramide replenishing products might be a safer solution for people with eczema/psoriasis, compared to topical corticosteroids that have side effects, and are anything but skin-friendly.
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How Do Ceramides in Cosmetics Work?
The lack of ceramides is the reason why skin’s barrier becomes compromised and less effective at protecting us from harsh elements, bacteria, and environmental pollutants. When we are young, our bodies produce ceramide molecules in ample quantities, helping our skin stay smooth and supple. Unfortunately, as we grow old, the synthesis of these vital skin constituents slows down, which inevitably leads to ceramide levels dropping. A diet that lacks essential fatty acids, as well as some medications, can also contribute to the reduction of ceramide levels.
Skin care products that contain the right ratio of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids, create a topical layer that resembles skin’s natural lipid barrier. This artificially created barrier not only provides effective protection, but also improves the overall condition of the skin + gradually aids in the regeneration of skin’s natural lipid layer.
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In a study conducted in Japan, eight people treated their eyelids with a ceramide-based gel for a period of four weeks. At the end of the test period, a significant increase in water content, in the area where the skin was treated, was detected. Another study in France also showed that topically applied ceramides had the ability to improve damaged skin barrier, contributing to increased moisture levels.
To increase the ability of topically applied ceramides to penetrate the skin, cosmetics manufacturers are often combining them with penetration enhancers, most often liposomes. This way, they are able to reach the deeper layers of the skin, replenishing it from within.
Are Ceramides in Cosmetic Products Safe?
Nowadays, due to their proven benefits, you can find ceramides in all kinds of skin care products – from skin moisturizers and facial cleansers, to foundations and lipsticks. Ceramides are also added to shampoos and hair conditioners because they bind to the hair and make it less porous.
Of the nine different ceramides that have been identified in human skin (conveniently numbered from 1 to 9), those that are most frequently used in cosmetics are ceramides 3 and 2. You will also see them listed on the ingredient labels as phytosphingosine, sphingosine, ceramide AP, ceramide NG, ceramide NP, ceramide EOP, and ceramide NS. These are typically derived from plants, namely wheat. As such, ceramides usually cause no irritation and are perfectly safe for use, regardless of your age and skin type.
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