What Are Ceramides? Benefits for Skin and Hair - Dr. Axe

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What Are Ceramides? Benefits for Dry, Red or Irritated Skin


What Are Ceramides?

If you struggle with xerosis (the fancy name for dry skin), then the best face cream for you may likely be one that contains ceramides. What if you don’t consider dry skin an issue? You’ll still want to consider using a ceramide cream because the potential benefits can be that good!

Ceramides make up around 50 percent of our skin so it’s no wonder that they are vital to the optimal health and appearance of our face as well as our entire body. Unfortunately, ceramide production in the skin reduces as we age (just like collagen).

If you’re looking to improve how your skin looks and feels, you’re going to want to learn more about ceramides.

What Are Ceramides?

Natural ceramides are found both in plant and animal tissue. Ceramides are a major component (around half) of human skin composition.

So what is ceramide exactly? It’s a lipid (fat molecule) found in the outermost layer of the skin or epidermis. Are ceramides in food? Yes, they are! Ceramides derived from plants are called phytoceramides and can be found in several healthy foods, including brown rice, wheat germ, beets and spinach.


For humans, ceramides play a vital role in determining how skin looks and feels, and also how it responds to environmental stressors.

What do ceramides do? There are several types of ceramides found in human skin. In the skin, ceramide works with saturated fatty acids as well as cholesterol to create a barrier that prevents water loss from skin. By preventing water loss, ceramides help to prevent dryness and protect the skin.

When the skin is lacking ceramides, it can lead to dryness and irritation. A lack of ceramides can contribute to increased symptoms of dry skin conditions like eczema and can also make signs of aging more likely or prevalent.

Related: Tartaric Acid Benefits for Skin (Plus How to Use It)

Health Benefits

According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City,

Everyone needs and uses ceramides naturally. In people with dry skin and conditions like eczema, rosacea, and even acne, we know that ceramide levels in the skin are lower than they should be. This contributes to dryness, sensitivity and skin inflammation.

Potential skin benefits of ceramide include:

  • prevention and relief of skin dryness
  • improvement of skin conditions like eczema, rosacea and dermatitis
  • reduced redness and irritation
  • decreased inflammation
  • help for acne sufferers (research shows that people with acne often have a deficiency in skin ceramide content)

Can you use ceramide for hair? Ceramides are also naturally found in the hair’s cuticle so using natural hair products that include a form of ceramide can help to improve hair texture.

Over washing, using heat (blow dryers, flat irons, etc.) and coloring the hair are all some of the common activities that can leave hair needing a ceramide boost. By adding a ceramide hair product to your routine, you may be able to prevent and improve signs of damage.

Related: Chlorine Rash Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention


You now know that your skin contains ceramides so why would you want to consider using a product that contains ceramides? Unfortunately, things like sun damage and aging can decrease the skin’s natural content of ceramides, which can leave you with a skin barrier that is less than ideal.

Signs that you may benefit from a ceramide cream or a ceramide lotion include having:

  • dry, rough skin
  • irritated skin
  • red and/or inflamed skin
  • visible signs of aging (fine lines and wrinkles)

You can easily find ceramide products for your eyes, face and body in stores or online. Look for natural products free of questionable ingredients like parabens and synthetic scents. Ceramides are known to work well in combination with other skin-boosting ingredients like peptides and hyaluronic acid.

You’ll also often see products that contain a ceramides as well as retinoids or glycolic acid (ingredients known to increase the penetration of ceramides into the skin).

Broccoli seed oil can be used topically, and it’s an example of natural product that is known to boost the production of ceramides. How so? Broccoli seed oil contains linoleic acid, which promotes ceramide synthesis.


In addition to using a topical product, some people opt to take a ceramide supplement. There are both synthetically derived supplements as well as plant-derived (phytoceramide) supplements. These supplements are typically marketed as boosting the health of skin, hair and nails. There are also ceramide capsules which are meant to be used topically.

Importance of Packaging

Many experts advise looking for ceramide products that are in vacuumed packaging such as a container with a pump dispenser rather than a jar.

Tubes and opaque bottles with air-tight dispensers or pumps can help to keep out light and air, which can make skincare products less stable and therefore less effective.

Synthetic vs. Natural

There are nine natural ceramides which have been identified in human skin.

The following is a list of ceramides found in human skin and also made synthetically for use in skincare products:

  • ceramide AP
  • ceramide EOP
  • ceramide NG
  • ceramide NP
  • ceramide NS

According to Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, dermatologist, these different ceramides vary in terms of the length of their carbon chains. So which one to choose in a skincare product? She says even though the structure of ceramides can be different, their function is pretty much the same.

You can also look for products that contain natural plant ceramides called phytoceramides. These waxy lipids often come from plants like rice, wheat and sweet potatoes.

Risks and Side Effects

Ceramides are considered a “skin-identical” or “skin-replenishing” product, which means they typically work well for most skin types including sensitive, oily and acne-prone. However, you always have to beware of what other ingredients are used in a ceramide skincare product.

Talk to your dermatologist about the best ceramide product for your skin if you’re feeling unsure.

If you avoid wheat-containing beauty products, be careful not to use a product with plant ceramides from wheat (you can always ask a company the source of its ceramides).

Check with your healthcare provider before taking a ceramide supplement internally. Discontinue use of a ceramide product if you have a negative reaction.

Final Thoughts

  • Simply put, ceramides are lipids (fats) that are found naturally in high concentrations in the uppermost layers of skin.
  • Natural ceramides are found in both plant and animal tissue.
  • Ceramides are key to healthy skin function because they help the skin retain moisture. They form a barrier that keeps the skin from becoming dehydrated.
  • The skin’s ceramides decrease with age and sun damage. Adding ceramides to your skin care routine can be especially helpful for dry, irritated, red or inflamed skin. It’s also known to be helpful for acne and reducing the signs of aging.
  • Dry skin can often be chronic. You may have already tried many natural remedies but yet the struggle continues. The ingredient you may be missing and needing could be ceramide.
  • Ceramides are also naturally found in the hair and using ceramide-containing products are known to boost hair health.

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