What Are Ceramides? Derms Explain the Ingredient’s Benefits for Skin

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Constantly layering on moisturizer but still battling dry skin? Suffer from the occasional eczema flare-up, or maybe even psoriasis? Listen up. There’s one important, albeit not very sexy, skin-care term that doesn’t get its fair share of attention that you probably need more of: ceramides.

What are ceramides?

A component of the skin barrier, ceramides are lipids (aka fat molecules) that “help the skin retain moisture and allow [for] proper function,” New York City-based board-certifed dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., tells Allure. In other words, ceramides help keep your skin hydrated and feeling soft.

“Ceramides are a vital component of the skin,” explains Audrey Kunin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Kansas City, Missouri. “They are the body’s natural moisturizer, and the barrier that prevents dehydration.”

Why are ceramides so important?

In addition to keeping skin feeling smooth and looking supple, ceramides play another important role. As a part of the skin’s barrier layer, they help protect it from exposure to environmental aggressors like pollution and dry air, explains cosmetic chemist James Hammer.

On the flip side, when your skin doesn’t contain enough ceramides, it shows. “When the skin lacks ceramides, the barrier becomes compromised, resulting in dryness and irritation,” Dr. Shah explains. Indeed, recent research has linked low ceramide levels to skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis (the scientific name for eczema).

If you think about it, this makes total sense: One of the main functions of our skin is to protect us from the outside world. When it lacks the right ratio of ceramides, our skin barrier doesn’t perform optimally, and the health of our skin goes haywire.

Ceramide depletion can happen for a number of reasons

So, why and how does skin lose its ceramides? As with so many things in life, there are numerous factors that can contribute. For starters, much like hyaluronic acid, ceramides are produced naturally by the skin, but they become depleted over time as we age. Specifically, after age 20, the body produces fewer ceramides at a loss of one percent per year, explains Harold Lancer, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills.

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