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Ceramides 101: The Building Blocks of Your Natural Moisture Barrier

The deeply nourishing ingredient boosts skin’s hydration and helps it function.

We often talk about what we want from skincare in terms of what we can see: even tone, a healthy glow, poreless skin. But the secret to the filter-less vibe comes from supporting the health of skin on the microscopic level we can’t see.

Nearly a third of skin is made up of tiny molecules called ceramides. What are they? How do they work? And how do you get their benefits? We’ve got the skinny on all the skin science.

What are ceramides?

TLDR: ceramides are lipids that help the skin keep its structure and let in the things we want, like hydration and nourishment. They keep the moisture in and all the yucky stuff (pollution, grime, bad vibes) out. The science behind that gets a little more complicated.

If you put your skin under the microscope, you’d see layers of skin cells held together by lipids like ceramides. The ceramides in our skin helps sort what stays out and what gets absorbed. It’s a complex system but the components look almost like a brick wall.

In strong, healthy-looking skin, that brick wall of cells and ceramides is tight and tidy. But as we age, the wall takes on wear and tear as our production of ceramides slows. Fewer ceramides means dryness, rougher texture, fine lines and wrinkles. All the stuff that dims our glow.

How do ceramides work?

Luckily that brick wall is a living one that responds to renovations, and using skin care with ceramides is more than just a coat of paint. Ceramides work to improve the structure and function of the skin’s natural barrier.

Ceramides support skin’s structure

The structure of our skin relies on those layers of skin cells and ceramides. Skincare with ceramides is proven to heal some of skin’s structural boo boos like dryness, peeling, flakiness and wrinkle formation.

In a study, participants using a ceramide rich cream saw a big improvement in their skin’s ability to keep the good stuff (like moisture) in and keep the bad stuff out. Their skin looked and felt more hydrated and healthy. These effects were noted after just 24 hours. After 28 days, participants also started showing a decrease in wrinkle and texture. That sounds like some serious structural improvement!

To stick with the metaphor, ceramides work by tidying up parts of the barrier that have deteriorated and brings your skin some lasting curb appeal.

Ceramides improve skin function

The ceramides found naturally in your skin is how your face stays hydrated. Directly replacing the ones we lose over the years with the right products can give our skin the assist it needs to stay that way.

In the same ceramide cream study, researchers checked on participants’ skin again seven days after they stopped hydrating with ceramides. The treated skin stayed way more hydrated and healthy than the untreated skin. Because it boosts the functioning of the skin, the plumping, firming, protective effects of ceramides have some serious staying power.

We rarely skip our routine, but we love knowing that our skincare ingredients are doing the work even when we miss a day.

The benefits of ceramides for every skin type

We talk a lot about different products for different skin types. But because ceramides are an essential part of skin’s structure, adding ceramides to your routine helps strengthen the barrier and reduce the effects of dehydration no matter your skin’s style.

Mature skin on ceramides stays moisturized for longer, meaning skin stays plump and wrinkles have less of a chance to make a deep indent.

Acne-prone skin often has a diminished water barrier function and has a hard time keeping hydration in. Though acne can feel anything but dry, when our skin is injured or erupting it needs the deep nourishment that ceramides deliver.

Dry skin is dry in part because it lacks the hydro-holding ceramides that keep skin quality high. Adding ceramides to a dry skin routine is a well documented no-brainer.

Combination skin functions a little different from section to section, but because ceramides work to support the skin’s natural function wherever it falls on the dry-to-oily scale, combo-skin cuties can use ceramides all over with abandon. Trust us, your skin will know what to do.

Oily skin can be a sign your skin is trying to compensate for a lack of hydration. Though it may feel counterintuitive, leaning on non-greasy, richly moisturizing ceramides can replenish hydration and give your skin the go ahead to chill out on the oil production.

Ceramides, the cheat to rebuilding your natural moisture barrier

As the largest organ of our bodies, our skin is a pretty amazing thing. The complex system of the natural moisture barrier deserves its own deep dive, but the cheat code to making sure all runs smoothly is using ceramides.

There’s a ceramide version of just about every product under the sun, but we love getting our daily dose of ceramides from the moisturizer step in our routine. The good thing about ceramides is that, because they’re gentle and skin-mirroring, it’s hard to overdo it. So feel free to layer and add without worrying about bad interactions.

Next Up: Sunscreen 101: Everything You Need to Know