MECCApedia is here to decode the science, unravel the jargon and give you the knowledge to understand the actives you're slathering on morning and night. Let your skincare education commence!
Ceramides are the unsung hero of the skincare ingredient world – the ones that you have to thank for keeping your complexion well hydrated, and looking and feeling juicy. These lipids (or fat molecules) make up over half of our skin composition, where they perform three very important jobs: they help skin hold onto moisture so that it's hydrated and feels soft, they help minimise the appearance of visible signs of ageing, and they strengthen the skin barrier, to keep all the not-so-good stuff (think irritants, pollution and environmental aggressors) out. So not only are ceramides critical for skin that looks healthy, they're also important for skin that functions properly, too.
Our bodies naturally produce ceramides, but that production process slows down as we age (this slow-down starts as early as age 20, and really slows down in our 30s and 40s). Don’t worry though, there are ways and means of still incorporating ceramides into your skincare routine so you can keep up that plush complexion.
What are ceramides?
Ceramides, both the type our skin produces and those found in skincare, are lipid (or fat) molecules that are found in all four layers of the epidermis. They’re also found in the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of skin).
One of the easiest ways to wrap your head around what ceramides are and how they work is to think of the stratum corneum like a brick wall: in this scenario, skin cells are the bricks, and ceramides are the mortar that hold skin together. If the mortar is compromised, the brick wall is not as strong as it can possibly be, and all sorts of things are able to get in – same with your skin. If ceramide levels are compromised, irritants and aggressors can get into skin and cause issues like skin irritation, and the hydration and moisture that keeps your face plump, supple and comfortable can evaporate. Ceramides are the hard workers that create a protective layer that plumps the skin and locks in moisture.
What are the benefits of ceramides?
As we mentioned, our bodies naturally slow down ceramide production over time, and this can be exacerbated by environmental and lifestyle factors, like the changing seasons, or overusing soaps, sanitiser and exfoliants, which can mess up skin's pH level. Skin that doesn't have enough ceramides is skin that has a compromised barrier, and this often leads to things like dryness, irritation and inflammation, including conditions like acne. Remember the brick wall: by acting like magnets that bond our skin cells together to create a barrier, ceramides help keep irritants and aggressors out.
In addition to these barrier-fortifying benefits, ceramides are also naturally moisturising, so they'll keep skin feeling soft and supple, too. And because they help keep the skin looking healthy, firm and plump, ceramides can also help reduce some of the visible signs of ageing, like fine lines, and help skin to better tolerate active skincare ingredients (like retinol or exfoliating acids). If you consistently use a ceramide skincare product, you can replenish your skin's ceramide supply and expect skin that's smoother, less lined and less irritated.
What are the different types of ceramides?
What skin types can use ceramides?
Because ceramides are already naturally produced in our bodies, and because they're so vital to a healthy skin barrier, all skin types can benefit from using ceramide skincare.
Ceramide skincare is particularly useful for anyone with dry skin, sensitive skin, or conditions like eczema and psoriasis. These skin types usually have a compromised skin barrier and lower levels of ceramides, which makes them more susceptible to external aggressors and irritants. Using ceramide skincare can help get skin back to a healthy-looking (and comfortable) state.
How to use ceramides in your routine
If you’re keen to incorporate ceramides into your current routine, you’re in luck: the ceramides used in skincare products are almost skin-identical, which means your skin recognises ceramides and absorbs them without any risk of breaking out or congestion.
You'll find ceramides in a range of products, including cleansers, toners, serums and moisturisers. In terms of the latter, when using a ceramide moisturiser as the last step of your routine, you’re effectively creating a protective shield or barrier that locks everything in place. And if you really want to up your ceramide game, use a nighttime ceramide moisturiser, which will work with your skin's natural repair processes.
If your body has itchy, dry or flaky skin, look for ceramide body cleansers and moisturisers to help moisturise and soothe it, and build up its resilience.
What skincare ingredients can I pair with ceramides?
Pretty much any ingredient! Niacinamide, glycerin, peptides... all your favourites love to play with ceramides – it’s really about what works best for your skin.
Ceramides work best when they're used alongside other skin-identical lipids, like cholesterol and fatty acids, which together, are the three lipids found in our skin barrier. Ceramides also work well alongside more active ingredients like retinol, antioxidants, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). By keeping skin moisturised, ceramides can potentially help offset any side effects (think dryness, flaking or irritation) that can happen when using these active ingredients.
Ceramides are also optimal when paired with hyaluronic acid, as the former helps reduce water loss through the skin's surface, and the latter pulls water into the skin and binds it there. The result? Plump, juicy-looking skin!