Ceramides: Decoded

You may have noticed ceramides cropping up in more and more skincare products lately. But do you know what these ingredients are or how they work? (We didn’t.) Here’s a crash course in these antiaging miracle agents.

What are ceramides?

Ceramides are lipids (aka fat molecules) that occur naturally in your skin. They act as a binding agent between skin cells, keeping the outer layer hydrated, resilient, and youthful-looking. “They’re kind of like the glue between bricks,” explains Debra Jaliman, MD, dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. Ceramides also strengthen skin's natural barrier, sealing in moisture and keeping out harmful microbes. There are nine types of ceramides in the top layer of your skin alone—and your skin needs all of them to stay healthy.

Where can you find ceramides?

Our ceramide stores diminish as we age, according to Sena Kang, Managing Director of Dr. Jart+, which uses ceramides in several of its products. Overwashing can also strip skin of these essential molecules. Symptoms of a ceramide drought include irritation, sensitivity, or just plain dryness. But creating synthetic ceramides in labs has become more sophisticated and affordable in recent years, says Dr. Jaliman. Many skincare companies are using them in their products, and they’re even popping up in cosmetics: Ceramide AP, a synthetic variety, is used in Pür Minerals 4-in-1 Mineral Tinted Moisturizer.

Who can benefit from ceramides?

Anyone with dry, sensitive, or irritated skin—basically almost everyone, at some point. If you have eczema or are using retinoid products, you’re a perfect candidate for a ceramide-infused cream. And in this case, there’s no danger of too much of a good thing—we layer Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid under Dr.Jart+ Ceramidin Cream for extra hydration . If you want a premoisturizer ceramide boost, try Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Gold Ultra Restorative Capsules. Ceramides even work on hair—Kérastase Fiber Architecte- Prime uses them to smooth and seal the hair cuticle. The best time to treat your skin with healing c’s? Right after showering, when your birthday suit is still damp, says Dr. Jaliman. This will help seal in the water that’s sitting on your skin’s surface.

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