What are ceramides and what do they do for skin?

Ceramides explained: What do ceramides do and how do they help the skin?

28th August 2022 | Author: Katherine O'Shea

Confused about ceramides? They’re considered a key ingredient when trying to get rid of wrinkles and fine lines – here’s how they work and how they help your skin 

It’s all well and good listing fancy and confusing ingredients on the packaging of anti-ageing skincare products, yet if you don’t know what they mean, chances are you’re not going to know what to look for, and what to avoid.

One such ingredient is ceramides. Alongside the likes of amino acids and peptides, ceramides are common in all sorts of skincare products and they mimic or help trigger your body’s cell and skin renewal.

Each of these ingredients is found naturally in our bodies. However, as we age, their levels decrease and they start to lose their effectiveness. Using skincare that contains such ingredients helps to boost levels of these key anti-ageing properties and improve the overall appearance and youthfulness of our complexion.

Here’s everything you need to know about ceramides.

What are ceramides?

Ceramides are your skin’s natural fats. They’re also called lipids and they make up around 30-40% of your entire epidermis (the outer layer of your skin). They help to maintain your skin’s moisture and prevent germs from entering your body. They are essentially what holds your skin together in the way mortar does to bricks.

Ceramides then come in three forms.

  • Plant-based: These ceramides are extracted from plants. They hydrate your skin but don’t prompt it to produce more natural ceramides.
  • Animal-based: These ceramides are taken from animal and human skin. They moisturise the skin while also repairing the skin barrier, but they’re not suitable for vegans.
  • Synthetic: Synthetic ceramides, and particularly “bio-identical” ceramides, are now the most commonly used type of ceramides in skincare products. They bring all the benefits of animal-based ceramides but are developed in a lab. They’re also free from contaminants and are more stable than natural ceramides.



Vitamin C | Salicylic Acid | Hyaluronic Acid | Glycolic Acid | Retinol | Niacinamide | Lactic Acid | AHAs and BHAs | Skincare Ingredient Checker

What do ceramides do for the skin?

Like a lot of components that make up our skin, bones and hair, the levels of ceramides drop significantly as we get older. By the time you hit your thirties – which, let’s face it isn’t even that old! – chances are you’ve lost around 40% of your skin’s ceramides. By the time you’re 40, you’ll have lost 60% and this loss continues exponentially.

What are ceramides and what do they do for skin? Shutterstock/mamabella

Ceramides help protect your skin against pollution and sun exposure, while making it look plump and youthful

A loss of ceramides can result in skin redness, more wrinkles, dehydrated skin, rough skin and possibly irritation. That’s why it’s essential to top them up using both your diet and your skincare routine.

The ceramides found in skincare as so-called skin-identical ingredients, meaning they mimic the composition of your natural skin. Such products do two things.

  • They help to strengthen your skin’s barrier against pollutants
  • And they improve your skin’s hydration (which means fewer wrinkles)

Using a skincare product with ceramides will mean your skin is smoother, more even, softer and firmer, with less irritation.

They work even better if you combine them with other skin-identical ingredients like amino acids, glycerin, cholesterol, antioxidants, retinol, niacinamide, and peptides. A mix of any of these ingredients will help to improve your skin tone and texture even more so.

FURTHER READING: How old does your skin REALLY look? Olay Skin Advisor scans your face to reveal if you’re prematurely ageing

What to look for when buying ceramide skincare?

Ceramide skincare products work for all skin types, even sensitive ones. This is because they are essentially helping your own body to produce more of its own, natural ceramides. This means they’re also safe to use around your eyes.

When shopping for ceramide skincare, opt for those in opaque bottles and ideally with an airtight pump. That’s because the effectiveness of the ceramides drops if exposed to daylight, and the air.

Not all ceramide skincare will use the word “ceramide” on the packaging and you can, instead, look for ingredients including phytosphingosine and sphingosine. Ceramides may also be listed in ingredients as, ‘AP, EOP, NG, NP or NS.’

How to use ceramides?

Like with all skincare products you need to apply a ceramide skincare product to fresh new skin cells. That’s why it’s a great idea to use them afterward, or combine them with, skincare that contains alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxyl acids (BHAs).

These chemical exfoliants help get rid of old and dead skin cells which allow for the ceramides to penetrate more readily and effectively into your skin. You can read more in our guide: The truth about the acids lurking in your skincare.

The best ceramide skincare products

If you’re looking to add more ceramides to your skincare routine, these are our favourite products to (hopefully) suit most budgets.

♥︎ CeraVe Moisturising Lotion

£10 | Buy now

Cerave Moisturising LotionCeraVe

CeraVe is one of our favourite skincare brands of all time because its whole ethos is based around ceramides. It’s where the “Cera” in its name comes from.

In its Moisturising Lotion are three different ceramides are combined with CeraVe’s MVE technology to hydrate your skin and protect your skin’s natural barrier. It also contains hyaluronic acid to help your skin retain its natural moisture.

You can read more in our guide to the best CeraVe products for all your skincare concerns.

This is a lightweight moisturising lotion that is so gentle it can also be used on eczema-prone skin. It’s fragrance-free, non-irritating, and non-comedogenic, making it a really great product if you’re looking to boost your ceramides and improve the hydration of your skin.

Despite the bottle saying it’s for dry and very dry skin, balancing your skin’s barrier can also benefit oily skin too. So don’t let that put you off. Find out more in our science of oily skin guide. 

Buy now from Sephora UK

♥︎ Paula’s Choice Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser

£56 | Buy now

Paulas Choice CEramide Enriching moisturiserPaula's Choice

This ceramide-enriched night cream from Paula’s Choice is pricey but it includes five ceramides, as well as Vitamin C and retinol to fight the signs of ageing.

The ceramides hydrate your skin, while the retinol helps improves it firmness, and the Vitamin C works to improve the radiance of your skin.

This makes it great for all signs of ageing, including fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, pigmentation and dark circles. The combination of these ingredients also means your skin’s natural barrier is enhanced, too.

The moisturiser isn’t heavy or oily and is easy to apply. You can use it on your cheekbones and under your eyes, but we’d recommend avoiding your lips, lash lines, and eyelids because these areas are sensitive when using a retinol ingredient. For the same reason, start by using this product a maximum of three times a week, to begin with, to test how your skin reacts, before increasing to daily use.

Buy now from Paula's Choice

♥︎ Paula’s Choice Resist Anti-Ageing 5% AHA Exfoliant

£56 | Buy now

Paula's Choice Anti-Ageing Ceramide ExfoliantPaula's Choice

Another Paula’s Choice bestseller, but this one is a little cheaper and comes with the addition of AHAs. Called the Resist Anti-Ageing 5% AHA Exfoliant contains both ceramides and glycolic acid.

These ingredients work well together because the ceramides take care of boosting your skin’s natural barrier and the glycolic acid helps to remove dead skin cells.

This makes the surface of your skin look softer.

Just be aware, though, that using this product will mean your skin is more sensitive to sun exposure. So make sure you limit how sun exposure you get, and always use SPF.

Buy now from Paula's Choice

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