Ceramides are lipid molecules that support skin health. The skin benefits of ceramides include moisturizing skin, as well as protecting the skin from environmental damage and bacteria.

Ceramides play an important role in the structure and barrier function of the skin, such as preventing moisture loss and protecting against environmental damage. Although the body produces ceramides, levels in the skin decline with age.

When ceramide levels decline, it can lead to drier, more sensitive skin or other issues. However, people can take supplements or use skin care products that contain ceramides to replenish their levels. Some research suggests that these may help improve skin health.

Keep reading to learn more about ceramides, their benefits, and potential drawbacks for the skin.

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Ceramides — a type of lipid made of sphingosine and a fatty acid — constitute about 50% of the intercellular stratum corneum lipids. These are the lipids between the cells of the top layer of the epidermis.

Ceramides play a role in brain and nervous system development but are also important in maintaining healthy skin. They create a barrier that helps prevent moisture loss — keeping skin hydrated, plump, and supple. The barrier also protects the skin from harmful irritants, bacteria, and other environmental toxins.

Learn more about the skin and its structure here.

Ceramides have multiple benefits for skin health.

Maintains skin barrier

The natural aging process and the overuse of harsh soaps or exfoliants can lead to ceramide loss in the skin.

When ceramide levels decline, the stratum corneum or protective outer barrier of the skin becomes compromised, and tiny cracks can form. This breakdown in the skin barrier can make it easier for infection and skin inflammation to occur.

Replenishing lost ceramides keeps the skin barrier healthy and functioning as it should.

Boosts hydration

Ceramides can lock in moisture and boost hydration. When skin is dehydrated, it can become rough, and cracks can develop.

When the skin’s barrier becomes compromised, it can lead to transepidermal epidermal water loss (TEWL). This water loss refers to the amount of water that passes through the epidermis, a layer in the skin, and evaporates on the skin’s surface. As a result of TEWL, the skin may then become dry and inflamed with an increased risk of developing inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema.

Research shows that ceramide cream can significantly decrease TEWL, which, in turn, boosts skin hydration and improves barrier function.

Some studies also suggest that using ceramide moisturizers in conjunction with acne treatment can help combat the dry skin and irritation these treatments cause.

Increasing hydration also helps soften and smoothen the skin, which improves its overall look and feel.

Rejuvenates aging skin

As people age, their skin changes as it loses structural proteins, such as collagen, elastin, and keratin. This, and the other processes involved in the degradation of the skin barrier, leads to thinner skin and visible signs of aging such as wrinkles, lines, and sagging.

Ceramides have water-retaining properties that prevent moisture loss from the skin. Hydrated skin can help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, which are often more visible when the skin is dry.

Ceramide creams can also stimulate the production of keratinocytes, which make keratin. The increase of keratin helps rejuvenate the skin barrier and reduce signs of aging.

Protects against UV damage

Exposure to sunlight and UV rays is responsible for 90% of the visible skin changes such as wrinkles, fine lines, and pigmentary changes. Dermatologists refer to this as photoaging, and it is the direct result of cumulative sun damage over a lifetime.

A 2021 study found that using ceramide-containing moisturizers and sunscreens can protect the skin against UV damage to the skin barrier. In addition, the products seemed to improve skin hydration, help maintain normal cell turnover, and combat redness and hyperpigmentation.

Topical ceramides typically work well for most skin types, are safe for most people, and are not likely to cause side effects.

However, individuals should be aware that certain cosmetic products often contain multiple ingredients besides ceramides.

Therefore, as with any new addition to a skin care routine, performing a patch test before using it on a large area is good practice. This involves applying a small amount of product on an area of skin and waiting 24 hours for any reaction.

People should be aware that ceramide dietary supplements may contain allergens, such as gluten, soy nuts, or fish.

Natural ceramides are found in the skin, whereas skin care products can contain synthetic ceramides.

Plant-derived ceramides can support skin ceramides and are chemically similar. Foods that may contain ceramides include:

Various products contain ceramides, including:

  • moisturizers
  • cleansers
  • serums
  • toners

Ceramides 2 and 3 often appear in the ingredients labels of products designed for the face and neck.

Ceramides may appear as ceramide AP, ceramide EOP, ceramide NG, ceramide NP, ceramide NS, and phytosphingosine, in the ingredients list of over the counter products. The label may also list sphingosine, an organic chemical compound involved in making ceramides.

Ceramides are lipids that play a central role in skin structure. They improve the barrier function, which helps prevent moisture loss and keeps the skin hydrated and supple.

The skin barrier also protects the body from harmful pathogens, irritants, and environmental toxins. Therefore, infections and other skin conditions can develop if it is compromised.

As people age, they naturally lose ceramides. However, a person can boost ceramide levels through topical ceramide creams or dietary supplements. These products may help improve skin health, boost barrier function and hydration, protect against harmful UV rays, and rejuvenate aging skin.

Typically, ceramides are safe. They are not likely to cause serious side effects. Although before using, people should perform a patch test on a small area of skin to check if they are sensitive to any ingredient in the product.