Did you know that our skin is the largest organ of the body? Therefore, the skin barrier is crucial as the first line of defense against moisture loss, irritants, and bacteria.
What are Ceramides?
There are three essential lipids in the stratum corneum (most outer layer of skin), ceramides being the dominant lipid, together with cholesterol and free fatty acids in a ratio of 50%, 25%, and 15% respectively. The lipid layer acts to prevent transepidermal water loss and to block external factors from entering. In terms of the brick and mortar analogy, ceramides act as part of the lipid layer glue that holds skin cells (corneocytes) together to create a semi-permeable barrier. Also, ceramides keep our skin hydrated and waterproof!
Just like collagen and hyaluronic acid, substances found naturally within the skin are usually popular in the cosmetics industry. Hence, ceramides make excellent skincare ingredients. For skin disorders that compromise the skin barrier like eczema, ceramides in the skin are typically decreased and ceramide patterns are disrupted. Fortunately, ceramides in skincare products have been proven to improve these skin conditions and restore back a healthy skin barrier.
In addition to maintaining the structure and integrity of the skin barrier, ceramides are also well-known for their anti-aging and hydrating properties. Since ceramides are considered a naturally occurring ingredient, they are deemed suitable for all skin types and work well with other skincare ingredients. Most commonly used ceramides include ceramide 1, 3, and 6-II.
Where do Ceramides come from?
Some of us might be wondering if the ceramides in skincare products originated from animal sources. Rest assured because ceramides in skincare are primarily synthetic or derived from plants such as isolated wheat germ oil, sweet potatoes, and yeast. Although bovine ceramides have been used before, synthetic ceramides have the same chemical structure and are more affordable.
Major Functions of Ceramides in Skincare
The three major functions of ceramides within the skin and in skincare include:
1. Maintain Skin Barrier Homeostasis
Homeostasis of the skin barrier is maintained by keeping the specific ratios of all three lipids in the skin barrier (50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 15% free fatty acids). When ceramide content decreases with age or excessive cleaning, the skin barrier would be disrupted. Therefore, it is recommended to incorporate ceramides in your daily skincare routine to promote skin barrier balance.
2. Improve Hydration
Since ceramides account for half of the gel-like lipid layer holding up skin cells in the outermost layer of the skin, they exert great water-retention properties. In fact, ceramides have been considered to improve Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) and have been proven to significantly improve hydration in the skin.
3. Prevent or Treat Diseased Skin
Besides boosting skin health, ceramides could also be used to repair diseased skin. Impaired skin barrier function is associated with some skin disorders such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and some genetic disorders. Topical ceramide creams are potentially useful in improving overall skin condition.
Benefits of Ceramides
There is more to ceramides than merely just maintaining skin barrier and moisture balance. Here are 5 other benefits of ceramides:
1. Rejuvenate dehydrated skin
Providing moisture to the skin is an entirely different entity than reversing dehydration. Dehydration is a skin condition characterized by the skin barrier’s inability to retain sufficient water. When skin is dehydrated, it is actually lacking ceramides, which have the ability to hold onto water. This can disrupt the moisture balance (oil vs. water) in skin which in turn causes premature aging.
2. Treat acne
Owing to its anti-inflammatory properties, ceramides in skincare products may help alleviate acne issues. Although ceramides are not commonly found in facial cleansers and acne treatment products, the moisture-balancing properties of ceramides may also help to reduce acne by regulating oil and sebum. Therefore, mixing topical ceramide cream with non-comedogenic facial products would be helpful to resolve acne problems.
3. Anti-inflammatory properties
Besides relieving acne-related inflammation, ceramides have anti-inflammatory against other sensitive skin conditions as well. This is by providing relief from burning, itching, and radiation sensitivity.
4. Protect against internal aging factors
As the levels of ceramides in the skin decline with age, the uppermost layer of the skin becomes thinner and fine lines become deeper and more visible. Therefore, it is important to replenish ceramides in order for the skin to appear firmer and plumper by filling in the fine lines and wrinkles.
5. Protect against external aging factors
Skin barrier functions to protect us against pollutants, radiation, extreme climate conditions, and other environmental stressors. These stressors cause oxidative stress and free radical damage, which in turn leads to premature aging. Photoaging from sun exposure has been a long-time primary cause of fine lines and wrinkles. Covering at least half the skin barrier, ceramides protect against premature aging by protecting against harsh chemicals every day.
Prepared by: Chew Ee Wei, a HTM Pharmacist.
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