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What you need to know about ceramides in skin care

by Selina Mithen |



Ceramides are an ingredient that have been touted as a miracle ingredient, the one ingredient that will slow skin aging, so lets deep dive into this ingredient and discover why ceramides are so good for your skin.

What are ceramides?

Ceramides form part of the lipid bi-layers in the upper layers of the skin (stratum corneum -SC). In simple terms these lipid layers (lamellar sheets) develop as the skin cells (keratinocytes) move towards the surface of the skin undergoing changes as they move closer to the surface.

One of the major events that happens as the skin cells migrate up is that they expel the contents from lipid containing vesicles (lamellar bodies) in between the skin cells as they become flattened and compacted on their journey upwards. These lamellar structures then form part of the skin barrier and control moisture and water loss within the skin.


Diagram reference (9)

Ceramides are part of a combination of lipids that form the skin barrier along with cells of the stratum corneum (corneocytes). Ceramides are the dominant lipid in the skin barrier where their concentration is around 50% of skin lipid content, followed by approximately 25% cholesterol and 25% free fatty acids, however this ratio can vary depending on age and genetics.

Ceramides have been found to offer the most protective role in skin barrier function. The number of ceramide classes within the skin is an evolving area of discovery, where now there are nine identified ceramide subtypes.


What is the function of ceramides in the skin?

Ceramides main function is to form part of the skin barrier, and as the dominant lipid in the skin barrier they prevent water loss (T.E.W.L) and maintain skin hydration.

Ceramides protect the skin by limiting the penetration of microbes and foreign substances such as allergens.

Ceramides also act as cellular messengers that can influence cell growth, differentiation, and cell death. 

Diagram reference (5) 

Does everyone need ceramides in their skincare?

From the time we reach maturity ceramide levels in the skin are slowly declining as we get older, so replenishing skin ceramides is a great way to mitigate a weakening skin barrier and premature ageing.

Are Ceramides anti-ageing?

The role of ceramides in maintaining a healthy skin barrier as well as supporting healthy physiological processes within the skin demonstrates their value as anti-ageing ingredients.

As the ceramide content in our skin also declines with age, it can greatly affect the health and appearance of the skin. Ceramides can reduce the appearance of wrinkles by making the skin more supple and improving hydration.

Apart from ageing skin ceramide levels can be low due to genetic predisposition, breakdown of skin barrier due to topical, environmental (such as cold weather), and internal reasons such as stress and poor diet.

Factors in ceramide deficiency or depletion:

  • Skin that is chronically dry or dehydrated
  • High skin pH (acidic skin pH is needed for ceramide synthesis) as skin ages it tends to shift towards a higher (more alkaline) pH which compromises skin functioning.
  • During wintertime when all skin types experience diminished ceramide levels
  • Individuals whose diet is deficient in essential fatty acids.
  • Atopic / allergy prone or sensitive skin types definitely will see improvement with a ceramide based moisturiser. (Eczema prone skin has been proven to be deficient in ceramides).
  • Acne prone skin has been shown to be deficient in ceramides which alters barrier integrity, and increases the severity of acne.

    Can ceramides be absorbed through the skin?

    Ceramides are rather large structures, and it can be difficult to get these ingredients to the level of the skin where they are needed, so expert product formulation is highly important.

    Efficacy of ceramides comes down to product pH, molecular size, and form of ceramides (phyto-ceramides, synthetic etc), the concentration of ceramides or percentage in the formula.

    “Bio-identical” Phytoceramides (plant-based ceramide-like structures) have been demonstrated to diffuse into skin better than their synthetic counterparts.

    The Omega 3 and 6 phytoceramides in the Genus Skincare Range are developed with cutting edge innovative green chemistry that enable:

    • Stabilization and oxidative resistance of ceramide structure
    • Formation of a biomimetic ceramide structure to reinforce or restore the barrier lipid components, for better skin restructuring and protection.
    • Vectorization of unsaturated fatty acids optimizes biological properties and grafting of ceramides within the skin.

    Researchers have found that there is a correlation to the degree of dry skin and the penetration of ceramides where greater adhesion is achieved in dry skin types, or lipid deficient skins.

    Other skin identical lipids will also support absorption such as squalane, sterols and linoleic acid. The emulsifiers and delivery system will make a big difference; phospholipids or liposomes will enhance skin penetration and assimilation of ceramides. The inclusion of natural moisturising factors in product formulation will also improve ceramide absorption.

    Phospholipid based emulsifiers make the ideal delivery system for ceramides as their structure binds to and carries ceramides beyond the skin surface (stratum corneum) through to the upper epidermal layers where they are most needed.

    Several studies have shown that phospholipid emulsifiers can increase the deposition and efficacy of active ingredients. Their ability to protect and carry actives to their proper destination allows formulators to efficiently use actives at lower levels.

    Red arrows represent the relative depth of penetration into the stratum corneum, of lipid and associated cosmetic compounds like ceramides with phospholipid emulsifiers. 

    Diagram reference (9)


    On the subject of air free delivery verses open jar, this should not be a factor in efficacy if the product is formulated correctly, with adequate antioxidants and stabilising agents.


    What can topical ceramides do for the skin?

    • ceramides promote epidermal self-renewal
    • increase of the cohesion corneocytes (improving skin defence) and reinforcing skin barrier
    • stimulation of the natural synthesis of ceramides
    • increasing skin moisture levels
    • inhibits wrinkle formation and reduces wrinkle depth

    How to increase ceramides in the skin?

    • There are other synergistic ingredients that can stimulate the skin’s own production of ceramides such as Niacinamide, Linoleic acid, and Probiotic Lysates.
    • Maintaining a lower skin pH will increase ceramide production.
    • Natural moisturising factors such as Sodium PCA, and lactic acid also will enhance ceramide production. 


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    8. Zhang Q, Flach C, Mendelsohn R, Mao G, Pappas A, Mack MC, Walters RM, Southall MD. Topically applied ceramide accumulates in skin glyphs. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:329-337://

    9. Van Hoogevest P., Fahr A. (2019) Phospholipids in Cosmetic Carriers. In: Cornier J., Keck C., Van de Voorde M. (eds) Nanocosmetics. Springer, Cham.

    10.  N. Jonca, Ceramides metabolism and impaired epidermal barrier in cutaneous diseases and skin aging. EDP Sciences, 2019 






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