Dry Skin

Ceramides: The Skin's Natural Barrier Protectant

Ceramides are a vital part of a healthy skin barrier

Credits: karolinamis at Flickr.com
Hannah Yan
Edited By:
Alexandra Vaughn , MD

Our skin acts as a barrier between the environment and our bodies. This barrier, known as the skin barrier, is important for protection, hydration, and regulation of fluid balance in the skin.[1] A compromised skin barrier could result in inflammatory skin conditions such as acne vulgaris and atopic dermatitis, or eczema. As such, proper skin barrier function is necessary for healthy skin.


What are Ceramides?

Ceramides are one of the waxy lipid molecules that are found in high amounts interspersed between the skin cells that make up our outermost layer of skin, called the stratum corneum. Along with ceramides, other important lipids making up the skin barrier include cholesterol and fatty acids. Interestingly, ceramides can also participate in signaling between cells to facilitate cell communication and skin barrier function, and their breakdown products may contribute to immune function within the skin.[2]


Ceramides and Skin Conditions

As mentioned earlier, various skin disorders including acne and eczema are associated with modifications to the skin barrier, which includes ceramide composition.[3,4] In one study, researchers found reduced proportions of ceramides, especially ceramides containing a fatty acid called linoleic acid, in patients with acne.[5] It is important to note, however, that differences in lipid composition of the skin can depend on body site, season, age, and ethnicity.


Treatments with Ceramides

With the current understanding of the role of ceramides in skin barrier function and skin health, treatments involve restoring skin ceramide levels are especially of interest. Many topical skin products, usually creams and lotions, are formulated with ceramides to increase skin hydration. This can be beneficial especially for acne patients since many treatments for acne can lead to irritation and dry skin.[6] Topical use of ceramides has also shown to be a possible treatment for psoriasis.[7] As a result, the application of topical ceramides may improve skin barrier function and be a valid option for helping with a variety of skin conditions.  

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  2. Uchida Y. Ceramide signaling in mammalian epidermis. Biochim Biophys Acta.2014;1841(3):453-462; PMID: 24055887 Link to research.
  3. Rocha MA, Bagatin E. Skin barrier and microbiome in acne. Arch Dermatol Res.2017;10.1007/s00403-017-1795-3PMID: 29147769 Link to research.
  4. Rerknimitr P, Otsuka A, Nakashima C, et al. The etiopathogenesis of atopic dermatitis: barrier disruption, immunological derangement, and pruritus. Inflamm Regen.2017;37:14; PMID: 29259713 Link to research.
  5. Wertz PW, Miethke MC, Long SA, et al. The composition of the ceramides from human stratum corneum and from comedones. J Invest Dermatol.1985;84(5):410-412; PMID: 3158712 Link to research.
  6. Lynde CW, Andriessen A, Barankin B, et al. Moisturizers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol.2014;7(3):18-26; PMID: 24688622 Link to research.
  7. Liu M, Li X, Chen XY, et al. Topical application of a linoleic acid-ceramide containing moisturizer exhibit therapeutic and preventive benefits for psoriasis vulgaris: a randomized controlled trial. Dermatol Ther.2015;28(6):373-382; PMID: 26286610 Link to research.