Skin is our largest organ, one that has perhaps some of the most challenging jobs. Not only does it regulate our body temperature, assist in vitamin synthesis, and hold everything inside, it also forms an airtight, watertight protective barrier against microbes and the elements.
The outermost layer of skin is called the stratum corneum, and it’s there that the structure of this barrier is formed. If you think of the stratum corneum like a wall, with skin cells as the building blocks, the “cement” that holds all those cells together is an intercellular lipid network consisting of ceramides—naturally-occurring lipids (fats) that make up over 50% of our skin’s composition. Like cement to a block wall, ceramides serve an essential role in literally holding our skin together to create an effective barrier. And serving as the foundational powerhouse of overall skin health is just one of the many benefits of ceramides in skincare.
Are Ceramides Good For Your Skin?
Ceramides are vital for achieving and maintaining healthy skin. Unfortunately, ceramide production decreases with age and exposure to environmental stressors like ultraviolet radiation and pollutants. It’s thought that by our 40s, most of us experience a 60% depletion of ceramide levels. The good news is that it is possible to replenish ceramide loss. In fact, because restoring hydration at all levels is a focus of Japanese skincare, ceramides are a big part of the research and development of many Japanese beauty solutions. With so much of skin health dependent on proper hydration, and with the protective function of the skin barrier being critical to that goal, the benefits of ceramides in skincare cannot be overstated—especially in J-Beauty. Here are some of the ways ceramides help keep skin looking and feeling its best:
Replenish Lipid LevelsEpidermal lipids are the skin’s natural fats, composed of ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol. They are the “cement” forming the protective barrier that prevents sun damage, aids in healing, and keeps impurities out and moisture in. Many things can cause lipid levels to drop including age, exposure to external stressors like weather or chemicals, over-cleansing or over-exfoliating, and even incorrect layering of products that disrupt the skin’s pH balance. Low lipid levels lead to a compromised skin barrier which can develop into many different skin issues. Using products with ceramides, however, can easily and effectively help to replenish lipid loss and re-establish a balanced moisture barrier.
Increase MoistureProducts formulated with ceramides are proven to increase skin hydration and improve barrier function. Since properly hydrated skin is the foundation of good skin health, ceramide treatments benefit all skin types but are especially important for people who experience dry or sensitive skin. Ceramides keep the skin’s barrier healthy, which helps to repel irritants and lock in the essential moisture that prevents dryness and inflammation.
Improve Barrier FunctionYour skin’s barrier protects you from external dangers like harmful microorganisms, allergens, and chemicals. Ceramides, of course, have a central role in that function by providing the “cement” that maintains the barrier’s integrity. Aging, genetics, and external forces like UV exposure or over-cleansing can all strip away ceramides and break down barrier function, causing a whole host of ill-effects like dryness, redness, blemishes, or dull-looking skin. Adding ceramides to your daily routine helps to ensure lipid levels are optimal, which will improve the barrier function and ultimately assist with any weak barrier-related issues.
Prevent and Repair Signs of Aging
Ceramide levels naturally begin to drop off around the age of 30, meaning that fine lines and wrinkles become more apparent as the loss of lipids contributes to a weakened skin barrier and dryness. These telltale signs of aging can be prevented—and even repaired—with daily ceramide use. Since ceramides reduce dehydration and continuously renew barrier function, skin treated with ceramide stays smoother, plumper, and more resilient with age.
Types of CeramidesCeramides are naturally produced in our skin, but extracted and synthetic ceramides have been formulated for use in skincare with great success. While the term “synthetic” might seem off putting, there are virtually no structural differences between naturally-occurring ceramides and synthetic ones. In fact, some of these ceramides are considered bio-equivalent or bio-identical to the ones our bodies produce. Additionally, the function of all ceramides (naturally-occurring or otherwise) are pretty much the same: restore the skin barrier, lock in moisture, reduce signs of aging, and protect the skin. There are 12 types of ceramides found in humans, but here’s a breakdown of the four types used in skincare:
Bioceramide is produced using yeast and other organisms. With a structure similar to one of the 12 types of ceramides found in humans, bioceramide is sometimes called human ceramide or natural ceramide. This type of ceramide is highly valued in skincare for its high moisturizing power and ease of penetration into the skin. Because its structure is bio-equivalent to naturally produced ceramides, bioceramides are hypoallergenic and can be used safely by people with sensitive or atopic skin.
With a structure similar to that of human ceramide, natural ceramide is highly moisturizing and blends well with the skin. It has the property of blending well with both water and oil, making it ideal for all kinds of skincare products.