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Why Ceramides Are Among the Most Hydrating Ingredient in Skin Care Right Now

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Why Ceramides Are Among the Most Hydrating Ingredient in Skin Care Right Now

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You can probably rattle off hard-hitting skin care ingredients by the mile, but we can bet there’s one super effective, super important ingredient that you most likely don’t even know to look for on the label. 

What Are Ceramides?

“Ceramides are certainly the underdog when thinking about skin care,” explains Greenwich, CT dermatologist Kim Nichols, MD. “While you may not recognize them as a well-known skin care ingredient, they certainly deserve to be—they create the skin’s natural protective layer, assist in holding the skin together and are vital in helping to retain moisture in the skin.” Denver dermatologist Joel Cohen, MD agrees: “Most patients don’t know about them or much about them. The few that do, know that they are helpful in moisturizing the skin. I absolutely recommended patients use ceramides.”

Why Are Ceramides Still So Under-the-Radar?

So how can something so important be so stealth? For starters, Dr. Nichols says that the accessibility and formulations of ceramides have changed somewhat over the years, so it’s not so much that they’re “new,” as they are more accessible (brands like Elizabeth Arden, Dr. Jart+ and CeraVe even have entire ranges devoted to them). “Now you will find them in many over-the-counter skin-care products, which was not always the case. Also, many skin care lines are combining ceramides with other hydrating lipid ingredients, such as cholesterol and fatty acids to give extra intense moisture retention.”

How Do Ceramides Contribute to Skin Health?

That all sounds like a plus, but beyond the hydration factor, ceramides are imperative to healthy skin because they ARE the naturally occurring lipids (i.e. oils) present in the skin and are pretty much the most important factor that plays into a parched complexion. “Along with protecting, repairing and hydrating, ceramides, which make up more than 50 percent of our skin’s composition, are literally the glue that helps keep skin looking and feeling its best,” explains Saddle Brook, NJ dermatologist Dr. Fredric Haberman, who likes the ingredient category to “cement to a block wall,” serving an essential role in holding our skin together to create an effective barrier. “And serving as the foundational powerhouse of overall skin health is just one of the many benefits of ceramides in skin care.”

How Do Ceramide Products Work?

We’re going to turn this over to Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, dermatologist and founder of barrier-boosting skin-care line Epionce. “The lipids that hold the skin barrier together are a mix of ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids, so ceramides play an important role in supporting a healthy skin barrier. Ceramides support the structure and barrier function of the skin, such as preventing moisture loss and protecting against environmental damage and bacteria. Ceramides have water-retaining properties that ensure that trans-epidermal water loss does not occur too quickly by holding onto water and preventing moisture loss from the skin. Ceramides can also reduce free radicals in the skin that destroy elastin and collagen.”

However, Dr. Thornfeldt explains, ceramides work best when they are used within the context of the other two lipids—cholesterol and free fatty acids. It is this combination that truly helps the skin barrier. “Relying on ceramides alone is not what is best for the skin.It is also important to think about where the ceramides are sourced from, as the quality of the ceramides can vary widely. The less expensive a ceramide product, the chances are the quality of the ceramides in the product is lower.”

How Do Ceramides Help With Anti-Aging?

Then there’s the aging factor: “With early skin aging, we notice a decrease in the foundation of our skin, such as collagen proteins and ceramide production,” explains New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “In the top layer of the skin, ceramides hold skin cells together, forming a protective layer that plumps the skin and retains moisture.”

As Dr. Russak also points out, ceramides aren’t just an ingredient intended for external skin slathering. “A great analogy would be to think of skin cells as bricks, and the ceramides as the mortar or spackle holding it together. Ceramides’ crucial role of re-enforcing the skin barrier ensures our skin, which is meant to protect us, does this job effectively.” 

“That’s what I think is the most interesting benefit of them,” Dr. Cohen says. “Besides helping to seal in moisture and prevent transepidermal water loss, ceramides also serve as an barrier to irritants and micro-organisms and function in many important cell-signaling pathways—including cellular proliferation, cellular differentiation, and even programmed cell death—as well.” 

Can You Get Ceramides Through Diet?

While you can find ceramides in certain foods, such as brown rice, sweet potato spinach and eggs, Dr. Russak says it’s a good idea to not only incorporate them via diet, but through supplementation and a topical skin-care regimen as well. Her pick: NeoCell Ceramides Skin Hydrator ($18), which she says has a unique blend of ceramides, vitamin C, coconut water and hyaluronic acid to “make for a perfect skin hydrator at any age.”



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