Looking to find more information about ceramides before incorporating it in your skin care routine?
In this article we discussed in the detail about: what ceramides is, whether it is beneficial for our skin, and what to look for when you are looking for ceramides-containing moisturizers.
Can't be bothered with the details? Skip to the conclusion section at the end.
What are Ceramides?
Ceramides is a lipid compound (oily or fatty substance) that can be found naturally in our skin.
In our skin, lipids (and corneocytes) contribute to the water permeability barrier of our skin, which is what we usually refer to as the skin's barrier function.
As a reminder, our skin barrier function plays an important role in keeping the skin hydrated and protecting us from allergens and pathogens from the environment.
Ceramides form as much as 50% of lipids in our skin. Other important lipids in our skin are Cholesterol (25% of lipids) and Fatty acids (15% of lipids).
Is It Beneficial For Our Skin?
Just because something can be found naturally in our skin does not mean it is beneficial for us when applied topically. Some ingredients, especially those with large molecules, will have difficulty in penetrating our skin because the barrier function.
Luckily, ceramides are skin-identical ingredients and are lipophilic, hence it is likely to be absorbed into the skin (though they are expected to remain in the epidermis and not penetrate any deeper). Also, there are several clinical studies that support the benefits of ceramides for our skin.
When applied topically, ceramides can help to repair damaged skin barrier, especially when used together with cholesterol and fatty acids in a moisturizer.1
One study also found that when the three key lipids are used in a 3:1:1 molar ratio, for any of the ingredients, the skin barrier repair is accelerated2.
However, other studies seem to disagree on which ingredients should be the dominant component of the mixture.
At least one study found that a cholesterol dominant mixture (in 3:1:1 ratio) accelerated barrier recovery after 6 hours in human, while a free fatty acids dominant mixture significantly delayed barrier recovery in mice after 3, 6, and 24 hours3.
Another study found that ceramides should be the dominant ingredients in the mixture (also in 3:1:1) ratio4.
What these studies have in common is that all three key lipids (ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids) must be present for the moisturizer to have skin barrier repair property. When only two of the three lipids randomly applied, it shows delayed skin barrier repair.
The Many Different Type of Ceramides
Image extracted from Belsito, D. V., Hill, R. A., Klaassen, C. D., Liebler, D. C., Marks Jr, J. G., Shank, R. C., ... & Snyder, P. W. (2014). Safety Assessment of Ceramides as Used in Cosmetics.
When you are looking for ceramides in the ingredient list, you may find that there are several different types of ceramides, sometimes it may not even say ceramides at all.
So, what are the different type of ceramides and which one should we look for? The BeautyBrains blog have an excellent writeup on this, but the gist is as follow:
There are at least 9 different types of ceramides found naturally, the different types of ceramides can be made depending on the combination of its sphingoid bases and fatty acids chain. There is also pseudo-ceramide, which is a lipid that has similar properties to a ceramide but has a different structure.
Sometimes you will see ceramide listed followed with a number (e.g., Ceramide 3), this is the original naming system assigned in 1997, but has been retired. The new naming system use letters instead (e.g., Ceramide NP).
Here is the summary of comparison between the old and new naming system:
- Ceramide 1 = Ceramide EOP
- Ceramide 2 = Ceramide NS
- Ceramide 3 = Ceramide NP
- Ceramide 4 = Ceramide AS
- Ceramide 5 = Ceramide AS
- Ceramide 6-II = Ceramide AP
- Ceramide EOS
You may also find the following ingredients in your ceramide moisturizers that don't have "ceramides" in its name:
- Cetyl-PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide (Pseudo-ceramide)
- Sphingolipid E (Pseudo-ceramide)
- Hydroxypalmitoyl Sphinganine
- Hydroxylauroyl Phytosphingosine
- Hydroxycaproyl Phytosphingosine
- And many others....
So, how do we know which type of ceramides to look for? Luckily you probably don't have to bother digging too much into it. Most of the ceramides commonly used in skin care appear to be beneficial to the skin, even the pseudo-ceramides5.
If your primary concern is to look for moisturizers that can help with skin barrier repair, look for one that have all three key lipids (ceramides, cholesterols, fatty acids) in the ingredients.
Worry less about the ratio of these three key lipids or which one should be the dominant lipids.
Also, don't stress over which type of ceramides are used, chances are most of the commonly used one are beneficial to the skin.
- Baumann, L., & Saghari, S. (2009). Basic science of the dermis. Cosmetic Dermatology. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 8-13. ↩
- Mao-Qiang, M., Feingold, K. R., Thornfeldt, C. R., & Elias, P. M. (1996). Optimization of physiological lipid mixtures for barrier repair. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 106(5), 1096-1101. ↩
- Zettersten, E. M., Ghadially, R., Feingold, K. R., Crumrine, D., & Elias, P. M. (1997). Optimal ratios of topical stratum corneum lipids improve barrier recovery in chronologically aged skin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 37(3), 403-408. ↩
- Elias, P. M., Wakefield, J. S., & Man, M. Q. (2019). Moisturizers versus current and next-generation barrier repair therapy for the management of atopic dermatitis. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 32(1), 1-7. ↩
- Seghers, A. C., Cai, S. C., Ho, M. S. L., Giam, Y. C., Tan, L., Grönhagen, C. M., & Tang, M. B. Y. (2014). Evaluation of a pseudoceramide moisturizer in patients with mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis. Dermatology and therapy, 4(1), 83-92. ↩