There are certain skincare ingredients that simply don’t get the kudos they deserve and one of those ingredients is ceramides. Cera-what? Exactly. Ceramides are lipids, or fats, that are found naturally in our skin’s epidermis and help to form the skin’s protective barrier, which is responsible for retaining moisture within the skin and preventing water evaporation.
The problem is, as we age, and due to other factors explored below, our ceramide levels can become depleted – and the result is dry or dehydrated skin, irritation, inflammation and fine lines and wrinkles. So what do we need to know about this hydrating skincare hero? Let’s find out…
What are ceramides and how do they work?
To understand how ceramides work, think about bricks and mortar. Your skin cells are the bricks and the ceramides form part of the glue – or the mortar – that hold them together.
This ‘barrier’ is essential when it comes to protecting your skin and locking hydration in, as well as keeping the skin looking firm and supple. It’s responsible for the water, lipid and protein balance within the skin, and when this balance is thrown off, we experience a range of skin issues, from acne, and rosacea to psoriasis and eczema.
Ceramides make up over 50% of the skin’s composition, which is why they play such a vital role in determining how your skin looks, how it responds to environmental threats and how healthy it is. Depleted ceramides are a huge factor in multiple skin conditions.
The great thing about ceramides in skincare is that, unlike typical moisturisers that simply add moisture to the skin and disrupt the skin’s natural moisturising processes – ceramide skincare products are designed to mimic those natural moisturising processes and help to repair the skin’s protective barrier so that it can retain more moisture within the skin.
Ceramide creams have been found to increase skin hydration and reduce water loss, with the effects lasting for a full 24 hours after application. That’s because they not only hydrate the skin, but also help to maintain the moisture the skin is producing by preventing evaporation.
What causes the skin to lose ceramides?
There are a number of reasons we can see a decline of ceramide levels, from age and some skincare conditions to the use of certain products and environmental factors.
The body’s natural production of ceramides gradually declines as we age, leading to drier, thinner and more sensitive skin. You lose an increasing number of ceramides in your 30s and 40s, in particular, and so adding ceramides into your skincare regime becomes necessary for maintaining a healthy complexion.
Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, causes dry, red and itchy skin. People with this condition not only have fewer ceramides genetically, but the ones they do have cover less of the skin’s surface area.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which skin cells reproduce too quickly and form dry, scaly patches called plaques on the skin. In areas of skin that are covered by psoriasis plaques, the skin contains fewer ceramides and is less able to retain water.
Using products that contain ceramides can help to relieve everyday dryness, as well as dry skin caused by conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Cold winter air is drier than more humid summer air, and this dryness can strip the skin of its moisture. Winter also reduces the amount of protective ceramides in skin. In fact, one study found a 50% drop in ceramides in the skin on participants’ arms during the autumn and winter months, compared with spring and summer.
UV rays have also been found to reduce ceramide levels, as well as exposure to harsh soaps, exfoliants and chemicals in certain products.
What are the benefits of using ceramides?
We’ve touched on a few of these already, but the list of benefits to using ceramides in your skincare regime is endless. Ceramides help to:
- Restore the skin’s protective barrier: An impaired protective barrier allows bacteria to enter and water to evaporate through the tiny cracks, causing irritation. Replenishing those ceramides is essential in order to keep the barrier healthy and functioning properly.
- Lock in moisture: A healthy barrier seals the moisture in and prevents water loss, which causes dry or dehydrated skin.
- Protect the skin: Ceramides protect the skin against environmental aggressors, such as pollution, which causes oxidation in the skin leading to tissue degeneration, skin damage and exacerbated skin conditions.
- Make the skin more tolerable to active ingredients: Ceramides protect the skin from the chemicals or active ingredients that we apply, which can cause initial irritation. They can be particularly helpful in buffering retinol and helping with the shedding and initial irritation that occurs when using it for the first time.
- Reduce visible signs of ageing: Your skin’s barrier is key to making sure the skin looks firm and supple.
- Treat inflammatory skin conditions: When the skin’s barrier isn’t working properly, the skin can get dehydrated, which leads to transient epidermal water loss (or TEWL). This makes the skin dry, inflamed and prone to conditions such as eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis.
What skin types would benefit from using ceramides?
As ceramides are a natural part of the skin, they’re ideal for all skin types. It’s a very important ingredient within a moisturiser to treat a true dry skin – at Kate Kerr London we only recommend moisturisers for those with a true dry skin, which is around 5% of the UK population and ceramides are a key ingredient.
Ceramides are also great if you’re interested in ingredients that will support your skin through the natural ageing process, or if you have oily and breakout-prone skin.
Breakout-prone skin is often depleted in ceramides and repairing the skin’s protective barrier is key when it comes to treating acne as it protects the skin from harmful, acne-causing bacteria.
Anyone with an impaired protective barrier can also benefit from using ceramides. Typical signs of an impaired barrier include:
- Fine lines from dehydration
- Red patches
- Easily irritated
Ceramides are non-comedogenic, meaning they won’t clog your pores, but be mindful of the formulations they’re contained in. They have no known side effects and have been deemed as safe in skincare products – ceramides can also be combined with most ingredients, such as antioxidants, retinol or peptides, without producing any negative interactions.
How should you integrate ceramides into your regime?
If you are one of our clients, it’s highly likely that you have ceramides within multiple products across your regime – from your cleanser through to your antioxidant serum and even your sunscreen.
Ceramides are great to use twice a day (as part of your morning and evening regimes) in cleansers and exfoliants in order to help maintain healthy barrier function and not strip the skin. They’re most effective when used as a leave-on formulation – think a serum or a leave-on mask, particularly if you’re someone who suffers with a dry skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis.
How to prevent the loss of ceramides
In addition to adding ceramides to your skin with skincare, you can also prevent the loss of ceramides by following a few simple steps:
- Turn your heating down a couple of degrees in cold, dry weather
- Use SPF daily (yes, even in the autumn/winter months!) and avoid sunbathing when the weather warms up; UV rays have been found to damage intercellular lipids, such as ceramides
- If your skin’s barrier is particularly depleted, then use gentle cleansers and body wash; avoid products that contain certain types of alcohol or perfume, which can dry the skin. You also want to focus on using products designed to repair and heal the skin.
So ceramides are skincare superstars, but they aren’t the answer to achieving optimum skin health on their own. If you would like advice on how a comprehensive skincare regime, together with targeted facials and treatments, can transform your skin, get in touch to book a consultation and we can provide a tailored plan that’s focused on your skin alone.
If you’re an existing client and would like to know more about the specific ingredients we’re using to treat your skincare concerns, and if ceramides might be a good addition, get in touch or mention it at your next appointment.