Are Ceramides The Key To Healthy Skin?
The answer is, “yes”. Here’s why…
“It’s typical, isn’t it? We’ve been working hard every single day to keep women’s skin soft and healthy and no one pays any attention to us. Then, along come stem cells, peptides, and all those fancy new ingredients and they instantly get all the attention. We don’t even know how (or if!) they work yet! So unfair!”
That’s what poor ceramides must think. For way too long, Elizabeth Arden was the only one who paid any attention to them. Now, they’re slowly finding their way into more and more creams and lotions. Make sure you get one of them. Here’s why:
What are ceramides?
Ceramides are unsung skincare heroes. They are an oily wax (the name derives from the Latin word cera, which means wax) that makes up, together with other substances, the glue that holds skin cells together. Like all good things, they deplete with age. It’s part of the reason why our skin becomes thinner, drier, and wrinklier as we get older.
There are nine types of ceramides. They’re all conveniently numbered (ex ceramide 1, ceramide 2, etc) to make our lives easier. Six of them are naturally found in our skin. The types used in cosmetics are usually synthetically made in a lab.
Then there are phytoceramides. They are derived from plants.
Why are ceramides so good for the skin?
Ceramides waterproof skin. The barrier they create has two functions:
Ceramides don’t just prevent dry and broken skin. They can also help fix it. When the barrier that keeps skin healthy breaks down in places, allowing moisture to evaporate and irritants to attack skin, ceramides fill in the gaps, nursing our skin back to health.
Ceramides and your Skin
Ceramides are the primary component of the top layer of the epidermis known as the stratum corneum (Latin for ‘horny layer’). Ceramides combine with cholesterol and saturated fatty acids to form this layer that helps prevent water loss. Hydrated skin is happy skin. It is important to drink plenty of fluids (minimum 64 ounces/day) as well as keep healthy levels of these components of the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is:
- 50% ceramides
- 25% cholesterol
- 15% free fatty acids
- 15-20 cell layers thick (average)
Additionally, the stratum corneum serves as a strong barrier against the entry of microorganisms. With age there is a steady decline in the ceramide and cholesterol present in the stratum corneum. This makes the skin more prone to dryness and the penetration of different environmental irritants including bacteria. The stratum corneum is of different thickness depending on the area of the body it covers. It is thicker on the hands, feet, knees or elbows.
Ceramides in skin care products typically come from plants or are synthetic. Both forms have been studied and neither has been proven to work significantly better than the other. Of the nine identified, nearly every type can be found in different skin care products. They typically are present in moisturizers but may also be in serums or lotions.
Names for Ceramides seen in skin care:
- Ceramide AP
- Ceramide EOP
- Ceramide NG
- Ceramide NP
- Ceramide NS
Moisture is very important to your skin. Ceramides are an important ingredient to consider in your skin care regime to keep this very top layer of your skin both protecting your skin while holding in precious moisture.
Ceramides can also help with eczema, according to Dr. Lauren Deville, a naturapathic doctor in Tucson, AZ.
Ceramides, Eczema, and Your Skin
What Ceramides Are
Ceramides are the primary component of the top layer of your skin (the stratum corneum), along with cholesterol and saturated fat. Like the other two, they are lipids (fats), and they are in large part responsible for the integrity of your skin’s barrier against microbes in the outside world.
(The barrier works in both directions, by the way: ceramides are responsible for retaining water in the skin, which contributes to its youthful appearance. The ceramide concentration in the skin declines dramatically with age, which is one reason why ceramides are included in many anti-aging products.)
Eczema: Potential Causes
In my experience the biggest underlying cause usually involves food sensitivities. More often than not, identifying and removing the food sensitivity(s) will get rid of some 80-90% of eczema in an individual patient. In some cases the cause may be environmental allergies or toxins, though, since the histamine response in the body is very similar in both cases. This histamine response is the reason why suppressive treatments like hydrocortisone and other steroids work well for eczema, temporarily—but they do not address the root issue.
Removing the offending agent doesn’t usually heal eczema completely, however. Part of this is because in eczema, the skin barrier gets compromised, allowing normally benign bacteria to overgrow and become infectious, in a process called dysbiosis. This can happen with bacteria (usually staph aureus) or fungi (candida albicans). The dysbiosis is usually secondary to the underlying cause, though.
Ceramides and the Skin Barrier
This is where ceramides come in. Because they are a crucial component in the skin’s barrier, or ability to keep microbes in their places, emollients with ceramides can assist with keeping your skin’s flora in check… while dealing with the internal reasons for the eczema at the same time.
Ceramides play an important part in keeping the skin hydrated. And hydrated skin is youthful-looking skin. Since the skin is our largest organ, striving for young-looking skin may be one of the best anti-aging secrets of all.