What Are Ceramides?

Topical ceramides can help repair the skin barrier and boost hydration in people with dry skin and eczema.

Ceramides are fat molecules found naturally in the outermost layer of skin. Essentially, ceramides help prevent water loss to keep your skin hydrated. However, some factors, like cold weather, low humidity, aging, and eczema, can reduce ceramides, causing dry skin. 

Manufacturers have developed topical products made of synthetic ceramides to help repair the skin barrier in people with dry skin. Several topical ceramides, like cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and toners, help add hydration back to the skin. 

What Are Ceramides?

Ceramides are a type of lipid, a fat molecule found naturally in the skin. Ceramides comprise nearly 50% of the lipids found in the stratum corneum, the most superficial layer of the epidermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer of skin, which protects you from environmental irritants like pollution and dirt. 

The stratum corneum has a brick-and-mortar-type structure. The bricks are corneocytes, a type of skin cell. In contrast, the mortar includes lipids, such as ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids.

What Do Ceramides Do?

Ceramides help maintain the skin barrier. Your skin has a permeable barrier, preventing environmental irritants from harming you. Your skin barrier also protects against water loss, which keeps it moisturized.

However, certain factors can reduce ceramides and breakdown your skin barrier, such as:

  • Cold temperatures
  • Low humidity
  • Chemical irritants
  • Microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses
  • Aging
  • Stress
  • Skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (eczema)

Manufacturers have developed topical products containing synthetic ceramides to help protect the skin barrier against those factors. Replenishing the skin barrier with ceramides can help hydrate the skin and protect it against irritants.

Benefits of Ceramides

Topical ceramics help replenish and repair the skin's natural barrier, which helps hydrate the skin, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and might treat acne.

Hydrates the Skin

Research has found that topical ceramides can help hydrate the skin, repairing the skin barrier from dry skin and eczema.

For example, one study published in 2018 in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found that after 24 hours, a ceramide cream hydrated the skin significantly more than other moisturizers. The researchers found that the ceramide cream also protected against water loss.

Therefore, ceramide creams may benefit people with skin conditions like eczema. Some evidence suggests that people with eczema have fewer ceramides than normal, which weakens their skin barrier.

Reduces Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Topical ceramides may also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. One study published in 2019 in Dermatologic Therapy studied the effects of topical ceramides on older adults with dry skin. The researchers found that after 28 days, the topical ceramides significantly decreased the appearance of wrinkles.

Helps Treat Acne

In a review of topical ceramides, dermatologists advised that the ingredient may treat acne. According to dermatologists, a weak skin barrier may cause acne.

Also, one of the side effects of several acne treatments, like retinoids, is dry skin and irritation. Often, those side effects cause people receiving acne treatments to stop. The dermatologists concluded that topical ceramides might treat those side effects, helping people adhere to treatment guidelines.

How To Use Ceramides

Topical ceramides mimic the lipids found in your skin. So, the skin more easily accepts and absorbs topical ceramides than other ingredients. Also, ceramides do not penetrate the skin deeply since they are only needed on the top layer. 

A topical formula will sink into the skin, filling any cracks from ceramide depletion. Manufacturers often pair ceramides with humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin for additional moisture. 

Apply a ceramide-rich formula onto damp skin for best absorption. You can use ceramides on your entire body, from your face to your legs. 

Where To Find Ceramides

Topical ceramides are available in many skin-care products, such as cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and toners.

When purchasing those products, steer clear of ones with added scents. Fragrances can irritate the skin, especially in people with dry skin or eczema. Likewise, unscented products typically contain scents that you cannot smell. Also, organic products may contain ingredients that trigger allergic contact dermatitis.

In addition to topical ceramides, some evidence suggests oral ceramides may also benefit the skin. For example, one study published in 2020 in the Journal of Oleo Science found that after 12 weeks, oral ceramides hydrated the skin. However, more research is needed to know the full effects of oral ceramides.

Side Effects of Ceramides

There are no known side effects of topical or oral ceramides. However, some people may be more sensitive to certain skin-care products than others. For example, some ingredients cause a flare of allergic contact dermatitis

Try a patch test on your skin to test whether you are allergic to topical ceramides. Dermatologists consider patch tests the "gold standard" of testing for allergic contact dermatitis.

Take note of the following steps to conduct a patch test at home:

  1. Apply a quarter-sized amount of topical ceramides to the skin twice daily for at least one week. 
  2. Do not immediately wash off the product. Instead, leave the product on your skin for as long as you use similar products.
  3. After one week, see whether you have any reaction, including red, itchy, or swollen skin. 
  4. If so, wash off the product right away and stop using it. You may need a cool compress or petroleum jelly to alleviate allergic contact dermatitis symptoms. 
  5. Consult a dermatologist right away if you have severe symptoms.

A Quick Review

Topical ceramides help repair your skin's natural barrier, prevent water loss, and boost hydration. Those benefits are beneficial for people with dry skin and eczema. Additionally, topical ceramides may reduce fine lines and wrinkles and help treat acne. 

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8 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Spada F, Barnes TM, Greive KA. Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin's own natural moisturizing systemsClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2018;11:491-497. doi:10.2147/CCID.S177697

  3. Lueangarun S, Tragulplaingam P, Sugkraroek S, et al. The 24-hr, 28-day, and 7-day post-moisturizing efficacy of ceramides 1, 3, 6-II containing moisturizing cream compared with hydrophilic cream on skin dryness and barrier disruption in senile xerosis treatmentDermatol Ther. 2019;32(6):e13090. doi:10.1111/dth.13090

  4. Lynde CW, Andriessen A, Barankin B, et al. Moisturizers and ceramide-containing moisturizers may offer concomitant therapy with benefitsJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):18-26.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to pick the right moisturizer for your skin.

  6. Tsuchiya Y, Ban M, Kishi M, et al. Safety and efficacy of oral intake of ceramide-containing acetic acid bacteria for improving the stratum corneum hydration: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study over 12 weeksJ Oleo Sci. 2020;69(11):1497-1508. doi:10.5650/jos.ess20115

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to test skin care products.

  8. Garg V, Brod B, Gaspari AA. Patch testing: Uses, systems, risks/benefits, and its role in managing the patient with contact dermatitisClin Dermatol. 2021;39(4):580-590. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2021.03.005

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