Why Ceramides Are a Skin-Care MVP

Find out the function of ceramides in skin care, plus the best products that incorporate the ingredient.

Why Ceramides Are a Skin-Care MVP
Photo: Getty Images - Design: Alex Sandoval

Chances are you've heard about skin-care favorites such as retinol, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide, as well as their standout skin benefits. Another ingredient that's constantly getting name-dropped? Ceramides.

Ceramides' claim to fame is their ability to help restore your skin's barrier, which can help your skin retain moisture. So what can that mean for your skin's appearance and what are the best ways to incorporate them into your routine? Stay tuned to find out more.

What Are Ceramides?

Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids (fats) found in the outermost layer of your skin, aka your skin barrier. A common analogy used to illustrate the role of ceramides likens your skin barrier to a brick wall. "If the skin cells are the 'bricks,' you can think of ceramides (along with cholesterol and fatty acids) as the 'mortar' that holds them together to form a protective layer," says David Lortscher, M.D., dermatologist and CEO/founder of Curology.

Since ceramides help hold skin cells together, they help seal in good things (ex: moisture) and keep out bad things such as bacteria, irritants, and pollutants, adds Dendy Engelman, M.D., F.A.A.D., a dermatologist at the Shafer Clinic in New York City. When your skin barrier is functioning properly, you're less likely to face certain skin concerns, including dryness, redness, and excess oil, which can have environmental or genetic causes.

Like collagen, the amount of ceramides in your skin naturally drops over time as you get older. "As you age, certain processes in your body naturally slow down," explains Dr. Engelman. "Ceramide production is one of these processes (along with collagen and elastin production). After age 30, ceramide levels decline by about 40 percent and after age 40, that decline is over 60 percent." So, after you pass 30, adding ceramides into your skin-care routine can help boost elasticity and the overall appearance of skinwhile helping to reinforce your skin's moisture barrier so new problems don't arise.

Of course, you don't have to wait until your ceramides start to diminish to use them in your skin-care routine. Using skin-care products with ceramides at any age can "help maintain the skin barrier's effectiveness in protecting against environmental stressors such as pollutants and extreme climate conditions," says Dr. Lortscher.

Different Types of Ceramides

The ceramides are found in skin-care products are typically derived from plants or made synthetically, according to Dr. Lortscher. Synthetic ceramides are created in a lab to mimic the molecular structure and function of the ceramides that occur naturally in your body, he says. Plant-derived ceramides, also called phytoceramides, are found in a variety of plants— e.g. spinach, soybeans, wheat, or potatoes, according to an article published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology — and are similar in molecular structure to the ceramides that your body produces. No need to get too caught up with which version is in your products, though. "Both synthetic ceramides and phytoceramides are equally effective in skin care; one is not better than the other," says Dr. Lortscher. (

Ceramides are also classified by numbers. "There are at least a dozen types of ceramides, and newer techniques [and researchers] have begun to identify even more ceramide molecules and classes" that naturally occur in our body, says Dr. Lortscher. Currently, the most common types of ceramides found in skin-care products are ceramides 1, 2, 3, and 6-II, which are referred to as ceramide EOP, ceramide NS, ceramide NG or NP, and ceramide AP, respectively, on ingredient lists. And while all of these are known to lock in moisture and strengthen your skin barrier, each one of these commonly-used ceramides stands out for a specific reason.

Ceramide 1: Ceramide 1, in particular, has a unique structure and a few special properties — including binding skin cells together and storing linoleic acid (an acid that plays an important role in skin barrier repair), explains Dr. Engelman. This is why you may have heard that ceramide 1 is the most important ceramide. When working in tandem with ceramides 2 and 3, it provides even more potent moisturizing effects.

Ceramide 2: This ceramide "captures water and binds it to the epidermis [the outermost layer of skin], which supports healthy, hydrated skin," says Dr. Engelman.

Ceramide 3: "Ceramide 3 has a synergistic effect with ceramide 1 and serves to strengthen the skin barrier and improve its function," says Dr. Engelman.

Ceramide 6-II: This is another type of ceramide which research suggests can reduce water loss when used in skin-care products, along with the above three. Its structure allows it to help reconstruct a depleted skin barrier to resemble more of a healthy skin barrier, according to an article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The key takeaway from all of this? "I recommend using skin-care products that combine multiple ceramides, as they work synergistically to create a strong, healthy skin barrier," explains Dr. Engelman. Using multiple types of ceramides together seems to equal a stronger skin-care barrier, echoes Dr. Lortscher, though more research is needed to prove that as a tried and true fact, he says.

The Benefits of Ceramides for Skin

"Pretty much every part of your body can benefit from a ceramide boost, especially those areas that are the first to show signs of aging, like the eyes and hands," says Dr. Engelman. "Incorporating ceramides strengthens the skin barrier and restores hydration, plumpness, and elasticity."

Ceramides also pair well with certain acne treatments (i.e. salicylic acid) as well as retinoids.That's because ceramides are known to reduce irritation and inflammation — both of which can be caused by these more drying products. To put it bluntly, ceramides are moisture-trapping superstars. They fill in gaps between skin cells, which reduces how much water can escape through the skin.

Although ceramides on their own are helpful for maintaining healthy moisture levels in skin, pairing a humectant (an ingredient that attracts water to the skin's surface, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin) with ceramides (for example, in a moisturizer) will provide even greater hydration benefits, says Dr. Engelman. Humectants draw water to the skin while the ceramides then help lock it in.

The Best Skin-Care Products with Cermamides

You can use products that contain ceramides at any time of day and even twice a day, depending on your skin's needs (think: dry, peeling skin in the dead of winter). "You can apply a moisturizer with ceramides as often as needed," says Dr. Lortscher. In addition, you may also use a serum or other product that contains ceramide — and unlike with some ingredients (see: retinols or acids), you really can't go overboard with ceramides.

If you want to add products with ceramides into your routine, here a few standouts.

01 of 08

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Line Erasing Eye Cream

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Line Erasing Eye Cream
Elizabeth Arden

This eye cream contains ingredients to brighten eyes, reduce puffiness, and minimize the signs of aging with a blend of ceramides, peptides, retinol, and niacinamide. Dr. Engelman recommends this since it's a "super potent formula designed to penetrate deeply."

02 of 08

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

This cream uses a ratio of 2 percent ceramides 1 and 3, 4 percent natural cholesterol, and 2 percent fatty acids, a combo that helps restore the skin's moisture barrier. The ceramide cream promises to nourish skin while reducing the appearance of fine lines.

03 of 08

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser

Every single product from CeraVe includes ceramides (thus the "cera" in "CeraVe"). And both Dr. Engelman and Dr. Lortscher recommend the brand's products. "This cleanser is specifically formulated for normal to oily skin," says Dr. Lortscher. "It helps remove excess oil, dirt, and makeup while helping maintain the skin's moisture balance with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides."

04 of 08

Glo Skin Beauty Phyto-Active Firming Mask

Glo Skin Beauty Phyto Active Firming Mask
Glo Skin Beauty

If you're seeking extra hydration and anti-aging benefits, add this mask to your skin-care routine up to three times per week. It includes plant stem cells to firm up the skin as well as ceramide NP (aka ceramide 3) to repair skin's moisture barrier and minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

05 of 08

Spectacle Performance Cream

Spectacle Performance Creme

This ceramide moisturizer doubles as a primer to layer under makeup and even out skin tone and texture before you apply foundation or CC cream. It's a gel-cream hybrid that addresses dullness, dehydration, and inflammation with the inclusion of ceramide NP (aka ceramide 3) in its ingredient list.

06 of 08

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration Moisturizer for Face and Body

If you want total-body moisturization, reach for this ceramide-infused repair cream that may help target dry skin and even relieve minor irritation due to eczema. It soothes skin with the help of ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal and allantoin.

07 of 08

Naturopathica Marshmallow & Ceramide Sensitivity Serum

Naturopathica Marshmallow & Ceramide Soothing Sensitivity Serum

The marshmallow flower in this formula works to relieve skin from irritation and redness while evening primrose oil — along with the ceramides, of course — offers additional soothing benefits. Follow this serum with a moisturizer listed above to double up on ceramides.

08 of 08

Typology Lipid Replenishing Serum with 1% Ceramides

Typology Lipid Replenishing Serum Ceramides & Lavender

One of the more affordable options on this list, this supercharged serum combines ceramide NP (aka ceramide 3) and squalane, another ingredient that's known for reinforcing the skin barrier, to help seal in moisture. Just use three to four drops of the product on your skin in the morning and again at night before you go to bed. For bonus points, follow up with one of the aforementioned moisturizers.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles