When I first heard about ceramides, I thought maybe they were a new weird protein or some kind of herbal supplement. Definitely edible, in any case. (They are in many foods, for the record.) But, really, you’ll get the most out of ceramide—which might be a lot—if you put them on your skin in the form of a cream.
They’re touted to have incredible moisturizing benefits and to help reduce signs of aging, like fine lines. And, unlike so many of the ingredients in over-the-counter products, ceramides have a fair amount of research to back up some of those claims.
Here’s what you need to know about ceramides and why you might want to add some to your skin-care regimen.
What actually are ceramides and why would I want them on my skin?
Your skin already makes ceramides and they are a crucial part of the stratum corneum, that outer protective layer of skin, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF.
“The analogy we usually use [to describe the stratum corneum] is bricks and mortar,” Rajani Katta, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Houston who specializes in sensitivity and allergic reactions, tells SELF. Where your skin cells are the bricks, the lipids between them—which include ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids—represent the mortar.
When this structure of the stratum corneum is intact, it keeps hydration in and helps protect against anything that might irritate your skin. When it isn’t working properly, it lets water out (a process called transepidermal water loss, or TEWL) which can cause your skin to dry out and possibly become more reactive to irritants.
Unfortunately, our bodies naturally make less and less of these intercellular compounds as we age. And having too few of them or an incorrect ratio of them contributes to skin disorders like atopic dermatitis (eczema), Dr. Stevenson says. So, if your intercellular lipids are out of whack, you might notice irritation, dryness, or flaking.
But does putting more ceramides on your face actually help the issue? Actually, yes, say both Dr. Stevenson and Dr. Katta.
Here’s how to add ceramides into your skin-care routine.
If you have a diagnosable skin condition for which a prescription ceramide product might be useful, it’s important to talk to a dermatologist about what products make the most sense for you.
And, sadly, even though over-the-counter products that contain ceramides are piggybacking on some robust research, we simply don’t have studies to back all of them up. Some researchers even argue that the concentration of ceramides present in many over-the-counter products is simply too low to be helpful even though ceramides at much higher concentrations can provide significant results. Because over-the-counter products don’t go through FDA approval, we just don’t have the data to support or disprove their claims.
But for those of us who just want to experiment with ceramides, there are a ton of products out there for both your face and body (eczema can occur pretty much anywhere, after all) to choose from.
Some products specifically call out which ceramides (such as ceramide 1 or ceramide 3) are in their products and there are a few that are unique to human skin, Dr. Stevenson says. But ultimately it’s not worth paying a ton of attention to the exact ceramides you’re putting on your skin, Dr. Katta says. Just getting something with ceramides in general should be helpful.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t use ceramides? Basically no, Dr. Stevenson and Dr. Katta say. Even—or especially—those with sensitive skin may see benefits with a product like this. That said, it’s still important to keep your expectations in check and an eye on the other ingredients in the product that may cause a reaction in sensitive or irritated skin.
And, as always, if you have any questions about using ceramides or want guidance in finding the right product for your skin, talk to your dermatologist.