This protective skincare ingredient is the key to happier, healthier skin

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They’re lauded as a skincare hero, promising to tackle everything from dullness and dehydration to dryness and sensitivity. Here, the experts explain why ceramides could be the ingredient your complexion has been craving.

Fats. They’re probably not at the top of your ‘must-have’ list when it comes to scouring the skincare aisles. But according to skin experts, they’re one of the true powerhouse ingredients for boosting our complexion. If dryness, roughness, redness, dehydration or irritation count as any of your skin bugbears, you’re likely to benefit from ceramides (a form of lipids or ‘fat molecules’). 

In fact, Paula Begoun, ingredient buff and founder of Paula’s Choice, says that on some levels, these are even more important than other buzzy ingredients like retinol, niacinamide and peptides.

Remember our skin has a protective layer – a barrier on the surface that keeps moisture in and nasties like irritants, pollution and other environmental aggressors out? If skin cells are the bricks, ceramides are the mortar that holds them together.

“Ceramides are already found naturally within our skin,” leading celebrity facialist Michaella Bolder tells Stylist. “They play a super-important role in keeping its structure strong and healthy by bonding the cells together on the surface forming a solid protective layer. That layer holds onto hydration and protects against damage giving the skin its plump, hydrated, balanced appearance.”

If we’re already born with our own stash of ceramides, you might be wondering why we really need skincare spiked with them. 

“Our natural ceramide reserves can become depleted with age,” adds Bolder. “That barrier also takes a beating from things like sun damage, hot water or harsh soaps. Considering ceramides make up over 50% of our skin’s composition, you can imagine how important it is to keep those levels up.

“Topping them up with ceramide creams, serums, oils or cleansers is important for healthy, happy skin,” adds Bolder.

Scroll down for everything you need to know about the unsung hero ingredient as we reveal the best ceramide products with approval from Bolder and other experts… 

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What are ceramides?

Ceramides are naturally part of our body, found at the highest concentrations in the uppermost layer of our skin (the stratum corneum). They are an essential part of our protective barrier so boosting them will result in a more hydrated, supple, plumper complexion that’s less susceptible to irritation.

Some research has found we can boost our ceramide reserves with oral supplementation. In one Japanese study, 200mg of orally ingested ceramides, derived from wheat, completely restored hydration in 95% of participants suffering from dry, flaky, itchy skin, according to Gill Sinclair, co-founder of Victoria Health. In others, there was a marked smoothing of wrinkles.

In addition to wheat germ, ceramides are also found in foods such as sweet potatoes, soy, brown rice, corn, eggs and dairy.

And in skincare? Elizabeth Arden pioneered the use of ceramides in topical skin products in the early 1990s but today they can be found in all kinds of high-tech formulations to suit every budget and skin type.

They work especially well as a final step in your skincare routine (just before sunscreen if you’re using them during the day) or applied right after a shower to really lock in moisture.

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How to increase ceramides in skin

You might be questioning whether applying a skincare product containing ceramides can actually replenish reduced levels but several studies have proven this to be true.

“Ceramides can be applied everyday and work particularly well when blended in formulas with other nourishing ingredients such as glycerin, cholesterol and fatty acids,” comments Bolder. 

There are nine different types of ceramides so you’ll usually find the word ‘ceramide’ followed by a number on the INCI (ingredient) list. But it’s also worth looking out for ‘phytosphingosine’ and ‘sphingolipids’ on the label. According to Begoun, these can “nudge skin into actually producing more ceramides.”

Who and what is ceramide good for?

“Skin needing replenishment will benefit most from ceramides. That includes those with eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, dryness or those suffering from a compromised protective barrier as a result of sun damage or over-use of active ingredients like glycolic acid,” explains Bolder.

But oily-prone faces can also enjoy ceramides’ super-powers. In fact, acne sufferers (particularly those on treatments like Roaccutane) have been shown to be lacking them. 

“Ceramides are naturally already found within skin so they’re great for everyone including those with combination or oily complexions. Just choose a formula based on your skin type,” advises Bolder. If you’re breakout-prone, steer clear of rich pore-clogging creams, instead opting for oil-free serums or lightweight lotions.

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What do ceramide capsules do?

Like vitamin C and retinol, ceramides can lose their effectiveness if they’re exposed to light and air. Begoun advises avoiding formulas housed in jars or tubs. Instead, she recommends looking for products in tubes or opaque bottles with pumps or airtight dispensers.

Another smart way of packaging ceramides is in capsules. These are teeny one-dose ‘pods’ that can be squeezed to release the product. While they’ve previously been made from plastic, they tend to use biodegradable materials now so there’s no need to worry about waste.

What does ceramide do for hair?

Ceramides aren’t just found naturally in our skin – the same fatty material resides in our hair’s cuticle (the thin outermost layer) too. They have a similar function here, locking nutrients in and strengthening our strands leaving them smooth, shiny and less vulnerable to damage.

Anytime we undergo a chemical process (like colouring or chemical straightening) or use excessive heat, we’re chipping away at our hair’s ceramide levels.

On the label, look out for ‘2-oleamido-1’ or ‘3-octadecanediol’ that indicate a hair product boasts ceramides. Natural oils like wheat germ oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil and hemp seed oil are also brimming with them.

Best ceramide products for skin and hair

  • Best ceramide capsules: Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum

    Best ceramide capsules: Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum

    Elizabeth Arden was the first to formulate skincare with ceramides and the extensive range now includes everything from sculpting rollerball gels to cleansers, sunscreens, eye creams and even ceramide make-up. (Check out Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Lift and Firm Foundation, £33, that plumps as it covers).

    These capsules are the most iconic of them all – and for good reason. “The potent triple-powered serum is jam-packed with ceramides to enhance skin’s barrier repair function, increase moisture levels and minimise the appearance of ageing,” explains Bolder.

    Simply squeeze out the contents of one of the biodegradable capsules twice a day.

    Shop Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum at Boots, £70 for 60 capsules


  • Best ceramide cleanser: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

    Best ceramide cleanser: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

    Bolder rates the whole CeraVe line – another skincare powerhouse brand with ceramides at its heart.

    From the makers of La Roche-Posay, SkinCeuticals and Vichy, the entire range is seriously affordable but it’s this genius cleanser that’s soared to the top of beauty’s cult list.

    Pumping back just as much as it takes away, it gently removes make-up and grime without stripping the skin. Using hyaluronic acid and those all-important ceramides, it leaves skin hydrated, soothed and more resilient making it a particularly smart pick if you’re prone to sensitivity.

    Shop CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser at lookfantastic, £9.50


  • Best soothing ceramide moisturiser: Pixi Rose Ceramide Cream

    Best soothing ceramide moisturiser: Pixi Rose Ceramide Cream

    You probably associate Pixi skincare with the powerful glycolic acid-packed Glow Tonic, £18. But the brand boasts a whole treasure trove of gentle, soothing products, too.

    This divine cream is one of them and a favourite of Stylist’s junior writer Lauren Geall. Infused with calming ceramides, rose oil (that lends the delicate floral scent) and probiotics (to protect and balance), it immediately quells irritation and flaky patches while nourishing deep down.

    The ultra-rich texture’s best if you’re dry, not oily, but it doesn’t feel too occlusive or greasy. Use it daily or for emergency relief during particularly dry periods.

    Shop Pixi Rose Ceramide Cream at Boots, £24


  • Best ceramide and retinol product: Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser

    Best ceramide and retinol product: Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser

    Paula’s Choice founder Paula Begoun often formulates her products with ceramides but this turbo-action night cream is a standout for Bolder.

    It uses five ceramides as well as vitamin C and 0.1% retinol to tackle a multitude of different skin concerns.

    While the retinol gets to work on wrinkles, the vitamin C brightens uneven skin tone while the ceramides replenish the skin’s barrier.

    The result is firmer, smoother, more luminous skin that’s not left feeling compromised or irritated. Consider it an easy, effective way to introduce some hard-working active ingredients into your routine.

    Shop Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser at Cult Beauty, £55


  • Best ceramide moisturiser for sensitive or acne-prone skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Multi-Compensating Soothing Moisturiser

    Best ceramide moisturiser for sensitive or acne-prone skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Multi-Compensating Soothing Moisturiser

    La Roche-Posay is one of our go-tos when it comes to treating sensitive or acne-prone complexions.

    This one-of-a-kind formula (another approved by Bolder) caters for both at once, targeting those that have been left sensitive, fragile or inflamed following acne treatments.

    Our skin’s protective outer barrier can often become depleted from over-use of spot-blitzing ingredients or exfoliation. This lightweight lotion makes use of ceramides to re-build it, and niacinamide to soothe, without blocking pores or leaving skin shiny.

    Use it as your moisturiser twice a day.

    Shop La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Multi-Compensating Soothing Moisturiser at Boots, £12.75


  • Best ceramide and hyaluronic acid serum: Beauty Pie Triple Acid & Lipopeptide Serum

    Best ceramide and hyaluronic acid serum: Beauty Pie Triple Hyaluronic Acid & Lipopeptide Serum

    This daily serum boasts a whole host of proven, effective ingredients including ceramides, hydrating hyaluronic acid, plumping polysaccharides and firming peptides.

    In short? It’s a magic elixir for plumper, juicier, more glowing skin. If you’re oily or simply dehydrated, use it alone as a thirst-quencher. For dry skins, it works brilliantly layered under moisturiser to deliver a souped-up hydration hit.

    As with all Beauty Pie products, it’s incredible value. Pay £10 a month to become a member and you’ll get it for the factory price without a mark-up.

    Shop Beauty Pie Triple Hyaluronic Acid & Peptide Serum at Beauty Pie, £16.96 if you’re a member or £60 for non-members


  • Best ceramide body cream for eczema: Bioderma Atoderm Intensive Baume Ultra-Soothing Balm

    Best ceramide body cream for eczema: Bioderma Atoderm Intensive Baume Ultra-Soothing Balm

    This super repair balm can be used on both the face and body although we’d lean to reserving it for the latter. Like a first aid kit for irritated skin, it instantly soothes discomfort while reducing the urge to scratch thanks to special anti-itching technology.

    It doesn’t just offer immediate benefits, though. Ceramides help to re-construct that protective barrier so skin’s more resilient and less sensitised over time.

    It’s unscented so ideal for those cold winter months when highly-fragranced body lotions can leave skin tender. Slather it on at night just before slipping on your PJs.

    Shop Bioderma Atoderm Intensive Baume Ultra-Soothing Balm at Boots, £14.50


  • Best ceramide lip treatment: Holika Holika Good Cera Super Ceramide Lip Oil Stick

    Best ceramide lip treatment: Holika Holika Good Cera Super Ceramide Lip Oil Stick

    Ceramides work wonderfully on chapped lips – softening, smoothing and easing any soreness.

    From a best-selling South Korean skincare brand, this rich ointment-like lip treatment works a treat and is free from petroleum oil and mineral oil (as all good lip balms really should be).

    The rest of the brand’s ceramide-packed ‘Good Cera’ collection is worth checking out, too. There’s a ceramide mist that can be used for a midday boost as well as toners, richer creams and cleansers.

    Shop Holika Holika Good Cera Super Ceramide Lip Oil Stick at lookfantastic, £9,95


  • Best ceramide hair treatment: Kérastase Resistance Serum Extentioniste Scalp and Hair Serum

    Best ceramide hair treatment: Kérastase Resistance Serum Extentioniste Scalp and Hair Serum

    Ceramides can also work wonders in haircare. In the same way they help to re-build our skin’s barrier, they can strengthen our locks, too.

    This plush leave-in serum works on both the scalp and strands, using ceramides to help prevent breakage while restoring natural moisture on the skin surface. Over time, your hair will look and feel healthier and in turn, reach longer lengths.

    Just pop three pipettes-full over your scalp, up to twice a week, using your fingertips to massage it in with circular motions. 

    Shop Kérastase Resistance Serum Extentioniste Scalp and Hair Serum at FeelUnique, £35.90


  • Best natural ceramide hair oil: Palmer’s Natural Fusions Ceramide Monoi Hair Food Oil

    Best natural ceramide hair oil: Palmer’s Natural Fusions Ceramide Monoi Hair Food Oil

    This uses a botanical cocktail of oils that are naturally souped-up with ceramides. We’re talking canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower seed oil and grape seed oil amongst a whole host of others.

    The result is a luxe intensive blend that boosts shine, strengthens and nourishes. Hair’s left silkier and more resilient without feeling like it’s surrounded in a weighty coating.

    It’s designed to be worked through the scalp and hair once a week at first – be sparing, you only need a little. Then increase your number of applications with each week.

    Shop Palmer’s Natural Fusions Ceramide Monoi Hair Food Oil at Feelunique, £7.99


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