What to Know About Ceramides for Skin

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on February 29, 2024
3 min read

Your skin contains fatty acids known as ceramides. They protect the skin and prevent it from dryness and infection. Many creams and moisturizers contain ceramides. Applying ceramide moisturizers can help restore your skin’s natural ceramide levels and improve its health. 

Ceramides are fats or lipids that are found in skin cells. They make up 30% to 40% of your outer skin layer, or epidermis. 

Ceramides are important for retaining your skin’s moisture and preventing the entry of germs into your body. If your skin's ceramide content decreases (which often happens with age), it can become dehydrated. You may develop skin problems like dryness and irritation. 

Ceramides play a role in your skin’s barrier function, which serves as your body’s first line of defense to external pollution and toxins. They also promote brain development and maintain cell function. 

They're often present in skin care products like ceramide moisturizers, creams, serums, and toners — all of which can help keep your skin healthy by improving its ceramide levels.

There are natural and synthetic ceramides. Natural ceramides are found in the outer layers of your skin, as well as in animals like cows and plants like soy. 

Synthetic ceramides (also known as pseudoceramides) are man-made. Because they're free from contaminants and more stable than natural ceramides, synthetic ceramides are more commonly used in skin care products.

Ceramides are made up of a substance called sphingosine. Sphingosine is a chain of carbon atoms with an amino acid attached to it. It has different forms that bind to other fatty acids to form ceramides. 

Based on the form of sphingosine and the fatty acid that binds it, there are 12 types of ceramides, named ceramide 1 to 12. You’re likely to see the following ceramides listed on labels of your skin care products:

  • Ceramide 1, also called ceramide EOS
  • Ceramide 2, also called ceramide NS or NG
  • Ceramide 3, also called ceramide NP
  • Ceramide 6-II, also called ceramide AP
  • Ceramide 9, also called ceramide EOP
  • Phytosphingosine
  • Sphingosine

Ceramides offer many benefits for the skin. They can:

  • Improve the health of your skin cells
  • Help create a barrier to prevent moisture from leaving your skin
  • Prevent dryness and irritation by locking moisture into your skin
  • Protect your skin from environmental damage
  • Protect your skin from allergy and infection-causing germs like bacteria and fungi
  • Promote anti-aging by keeping your skin moist and supple

If the ceramide levels of your skin decrease, you may develop the following skin disorders:

  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema, which makes your skin red and itchy 
  • Ichthyosis, which makes your skin appear dry and rough like fish scales
  • Dry skin, which can occur due to environmental changes or other health conditions

Your skin is naturally made up of ceramides. But ceramide levels decrease over time, making your skin dry. Studies have shown that dryness occurs due to decreased levels of ceramides 1 to 6 in your skin.

You can hydrate and repair your skin's health using ceramide moisturizers, toners, and serums. These products supplement your skin’s natural ceramide production. The added ceramide locks in the moisture and prevents it from escaping, making your skin soft, smooth, and healthy. 

Applying products with ceramide is beneficial for your skin, but it's important to choose the right product depending on your skin type. For example, if you have very dry skin, using a cream with only ceramides may not work for you. To heal dry facial skin, look out for skin care products with ceramides 1, 3, and 6-II, or those containing sphingosine or phytosphingosine. 

Research has shown that skin care products with anti-inflammatory and penetration-enhancing agents can improve the absorption of ceramides in your skin, relieve skin conditions, and restore healthy skin. 

Before using ceramide skin care products, talk to a dermatologist to learn about which ones will suit your skin.