No doubt you’ve noticed ceramides listed among the ingredients of some of your favorite skincare products, or products, at least, that you’ve considered using. From that, you’ve probably gleaned enough to know that they’re pretty important for keeping skin strong and healthy. But what are they, exactly?
Ceramides are lipids found in the epidermis, the top layer of the skin. In all, there are nine different types, and together they make up about half of the epidermis.
To understand their value, think of ceramides in the context of a brick wall. Your skin cells are the bricks, and the ceramides are the mortar that bind them together and create a solid, stable wall. When our skin is deficient in ceramides, it can become dry and cracked (not unlike a brick wall), which makes it all that much easier for irritants to get in and natural moisture to get out.
What you should be looking for in a product
While vital to our skin’s health – more specifically, the health of our skin barrier – ceramides don’t act alone. They work in conjunction with two other types of lipids, cholesterol and fatty acids.
Most products don’t disclose the amounts of these ingredients or whether the formulation uses the ratio that’s ideal for optimizing barrier function (one part ceramides to two parts cholesterol to two parts fatty acids). Ultimately, those details would be nice to know, but they’re relatively inconsequential. What matters most is that the product contains all three types of lipids.
You may also notice that there are various kinds of ceramides listed on labels. They can appear with accompanying numbers, like “ceramide 1,” or with accompanying letters, like “ceramide NP.” Remember, there are nine types of ceramides. As for which one a product includes, again, it doesn’t matter all that much. They all have the same effects.
However, there is one instance where it might be beneficial to use products that use different kinds. Each type of ceramide has a different molecular weight. So, applying various ceramides increases the likelihood of effective penetration into the different layers of the epidermis.
Who benefits from ceramides?
Pretty much everyone can benefit from adding a product with ceramides to their skincare regimen. It’s also highly unlikely that they’re going to cause irritation or an allergic reaction, no matter how sensitive your skin may be.
That said, ceramides should be considered essential for anyone showing the early signs of aging and beyond. That’s because natural ceramide production, like so many other components of our skin, slows with age.
It’s also thought that dark skin produces less ceramides, which could potentially explain why many Black people are prone to dry skin. The lipids in the epidermis, including ceramides, can also be affected by a number of external factors, including winter weather, the use of harsh skincare products, overly aggressive scrubbing, and over-washing.
If you’re new ceramides, start small. Try a ceramides-enriched moisturizer. Then simply apply as directed. That’s all there is to it.