Ceramides for Skin: Benefits and How to Use

Ceremides for skin

Design by Tiana Crispino

Ask any skin expert about ceramides, and they’ll sing the praises of the ingredient and the products, like some of our favorite wrinkle-reducing eye creams, that contain it for maintaining healthy skin. They’ll probably also fill you in on the fact that ceramides exist in your body naturally and make up half of your lipid skin barrier—which is where the confusion lies for many of us. If our bodies already have ceramides, why we would need to add them into our skincare routines as well? We found out the answer to that question as well as several other inquiries we all have about the highly praised but not fully understood beauty ingredient, straight from the skin experts themselves.

Meet the Expert

  • Debra Jaliman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and an expert in both cosmetic and medical dermatology.
  • Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in NYC.

Keep scrolling to find out exactly what ceramides are, how they function, why you need them, and top product recommendations for replenishing your ceramide levels.


Type of ingredient: Moisturizer

Main benefits: Rebuild and restore the protective barrier of the skin to retain moisture, improve visible signs of aging, and block environmental damage.

Who should use it: In general, anyone with dry skin or anyone interested in anti-aging skincare.

How often can you use it: It’s safe for frequent use and is recommended to be applied twice daily. 

Works well with: Cholesterol and fatty acids. “There are three big classes of lipids: ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids,” Levin says. "There are certain ingredients that work better when they’re paired with ceramides, and that’s really that trifecta of your natural skin barrier. We always say 1:2:1 (one cholesterol, two ceramides, and one fatty acid), which is the ratio of these lipids for the natural skin barrier."

Don’t use with: Ceramides are safe to use in conjunction with most, if not all ingredients.

What Are Ceramides?

“Ceramides are known to be part of this complex family of fats or lipids called a sphingolipid,” Levin says. One of the best ways to understand how ceramides function is to imagine your stratum corneum (the outermost layer of your epidermis) to be made up of bricks and mortar. “The skin cells are essentially the brick, and the lipids or the fats are in between, and that’s what we call the mortar,” Levin explains. Similar to how a stack of bricks wouldn’t be as effective at protecting without the mortar sealing everything in place, neither are your skin cells without ceramides. “It’s incredibly important for the structure of your stratum corneum to remain intact because it serves as a barrier to protect the rest of your skin and keeps all that hydration in,” she says.

Ceramides are naturally derived from our skin but can also be made synthetically for use in skin care products to replenish what you’ve lost. According to Levin, you lose an increasing amount of ceramides in your 30s and 40s. In other words, adding ceramides into your skincare routine as you age is necessary for maintaining skin that looks and feels healthy. Levin says you’ll find them in liquid form and most often in moisturizers, but they’re also used in cleansers, toners, and serums with active ingredients like retinoids and glycolic acid, which are meant to allow for deeper penetration of the ceramides. They may be most effective in vacuumed packaging, like containers with pump dispensers, which prevents air from entering and keeps the formula stable.

Ceramides can appear on a product label under many different names (for example, ceramide AP, ceramide EOP, or ceramide NP), which understandably causes confusion when shopping for products. According to Jaliman, there are nine different ceramides found in the skin, and the difference is based on how long the carbon chains are. But although the structure of ceramides may differ, she says their function is pretty much the same and nothing to stress over.

Benefits of Ceramides for Skin

Ceramides play an incredibly crucial role in the barrier function of the skin.

  • Restores the skin barrier: A loss of ceramides, whether due to aging, the overuse of exfoliants and harsh soaps that strip the skin, or something else, causes a compromised stratum corneum—or the protective barrier of the skin—and allows bacteria to enter through tiny cracks and cause irritation. Replenishing those ceramides will keep the barrier healthy and functioning properly.
  • Locks in moisture: A healthy skin barrier seals the moisture in and prevents water loss from occurring, which causes dry skin.
  • Protects the skin: Ceramides work to protect the skin against environmental aggressors and pollution, according to Jaliman.
  • Makes skin more tolerable to active ingredients: Jaliman and Levin add that ceramides also work to protect from the chemicals that we put on our skin that tend to cause irritation.
  • Reduces visible signs of aging: As Levin explains it, the thinning and aging of the skin is not only due to the loss or breakdown of collagen and elastin (proteins in your dermis), but your skin barrier (your epidermis) is also incredibly important in protecting and maintaining the rest of the skin.
  • Helps with inflammatory skin conditions: When the skin’s stratum corneum is not working properly, then the skin can get dehydrated and lead to transient epidermal water loss (TEWL), according to Levin. This makes the skin dry, inflamed, and at risk for inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, acne, and psoriasis.
  • Softens and smoothes the skin: Common traits of a compromised skin barrier are dryness, flakiness, and fine lines from dehydration. Restoring lost lipids may increase hydration in the skin and improve the overall look and feel.

Side Effects of Ceramides

Ceramides have no known side effects. However, you can avoid allergic reactions and product sensitivities by testing a small amount on your skin first. 

How to Use It

As a moisturizer, ceramides may work best when applied immediately following a shower to lock in extra moisture, and Jaliman suggests using the product before bed as well. Both dermatologists recommend applying your ceramides twice daily, but during which step in your routine depends on your product of choice. Use your cleansers first, followed by toners and serums, and save the moisturizer for the final step at night or right before your SPF if it’s during the day.

The Best Products With Ceramides

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream $16.00

One of both Levin and Jaliman’s favorites, this oil- and fragrance-free face and body moisturizer promises to soothe dryness and itchiness and restore hydration in even the driest skin. “This moisturizer is great because it has three types of ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid,” Jaliman says. “All very good ingredients that will help with dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.”

Elta MD Barrier Renewal Complex
Elta MD Barrier Renewal Complex $53.00

This moisturizer is another favorite of both dermatologists (and many others, Levin adds) for its combination of cholesterol, hyaluronic acid, five different ceramides, and enzymes meant to help soften fine lines and wrinkles for an overall smoother, healthier complexion. It also comes packaged in an airtight bottle with a pump applicator to keep the formula protected from light, air, and outside contaminants.

Alastin Restorative Skin Complex
Alastin Restorative Skin Complex $199.00

Levin recommends this formula to her patients who are interested in anti-aging products. "I call it a smart moisturizer,” Levin says. “It has ceramides and a unique peptide, which are small protein molecules that signal the skin to do very specific things.” The blend of peptides, ceramides, and antioxidants in this formula promise to plump and protect the skin, even skin tone, and smooth texture from fine lines and wrinkles.

SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream
SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream $130.00

If you're someone who's tried retinol before and given it up because of the irritation it caused, you might want to try a formula like this one, which contains ceramides meant to prevent the irritation. “In terms of a ceramide with something active, I really like this one,” Levin says. “It’s a retinol, glycolic, peptide, and antioxidant all-in-one repair serum that has ceramides, which allows for tolerability alongside these active, effective ingredients.”

Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream
Aveeno Skin Relief Intense Moisture Repair Cream $9.00

For those with very dry skin, Jaliman recommends this drugstore formula for the body that contains ceramides and oat flour meant to hydrate and soothe the skin. And with the added benefit of being fragrance-free, it's also a safe choice for those with sensitive skin.

Dr. Jart Ceramidin Liquid
Dr. Jart Ceramidin Liquid $39.00

Jaliman is also a fan of this formula, which is full of five ceramides, panthenol, and sodium hyaluronate meant to make the skin plump, smooth, and supple. This liquid can be used as a lightweight moisturizer or worn as a toner and followed with a thicker moisturizer.

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 $130.00

According to the brand, the synthetic ceramides in this Byrdie editor-approved formula are bioidentical to the ceramides that naturally exist in your skin. The combination of these with cholesterol and fatty acids promises to greatly improve the condition of the skin barrier and the appearance of your skin.

  • Do ceramides help decrease wrinkles?

    Yes, ceramides do help decrease wrinkles. As you age, you lose ceramides in your skin, which can contribute to an increase in wrinkles. Using ceramides can help restore your moisture barrier and protect your skin.

  • Are ceramides okay for acne-prone skin?

    Ceramides will not cause your skin to break out and instead might protect your skin from breakouts. When your skin’s stratum corneum is intact, it can protect your skin from harmful, acne-causing bacteria.

  • What foods contain ceramides?

    Wheat germ extract has been proven to increase skin hydration. Healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes, eggs, and brown rice may increase your skin's ability to create ceramides.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Nikam VN, Monteiro RC, Dandakeri S, Bhat RM. Transepidermal water loss in psoriasis: A case-control studyIndian Dermatol Online J. 2019;10(3):267-271. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_180_18

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  4. Lueangarun S, Tragulplaingam P, Sugkraroek S, Tempark T. The 24-hr, 28-day, and 7-day post-moisturizing efficacy of ceramides 1, 3, 6-II containing moisturizing cream compared with hydrophilic cream on skin dryness and barrier disruption in senile xerosis treatmentDermatol Ther. 2019;32(6):e13090. doi:10.1111/dth.13090

  5. Lynde CW, Andriessen A, Barankin B, et al. Moisturizers and ceramide-containing moisturizers may offer concomitant therapy with benefitsJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):18-26.

  6. Guillou S, Ghabri S, Jannot C, Gaillard E, Lamour I, Boisnic S. The moisturizing effect of a wheat extract food supplement on women's skin: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trialInt J Cosmet Sci. 2011;33(2):138-143. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2010.00600.x

Your Guide to a Healthy Skin Barrier

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