Why You Should Add Ceramides to Your Skin-Care Routine

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 dermatologist Sejal Shah 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, a 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,” 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, a dermatologist based in Beverly Hills.

While we can’t keep our bodies from aging (as hard as we may try), there are a couple of other, not so inevitable, situations that can deplete our ceramides. Ceramide levels in the skin can also take a hit from seasonal changes (like cold, dry winter air) and an overuse of soaps or exfoliants, which can throw off skin’s pH balance.

“Basically anything that will strip your skin of oils can cause your ceramide levels to suffer,” Hammer says, including harsh detergents and exposure to solvents, like hand sanitizer.

Another factor that affects your ceramide levels and overall skin health is — you guessed it — what you eat. “Diet influences barrier production in skin,” Lancer explains. “Eat lots of leafy greens, lean protein, and up your oil intake [with] good oils like avocado and coconut.”

How to prevent the loss of ceramides

The other good news is that using the right skin-care products can help replenish ceramide levels, restore the skin barrier, and increase its moisture levels, Shah explains. Many moisturizers are formulated specifically with ceramides (hence the name CeraVe, for example). We like the Best of Beauty-winning First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream.

Using such products will not only help to restore moisture levels, resulting in smoother, softer skin, they can also serve as therapeutic for those with conditions like psoriasis and eczema, Lancer says. To get the most out of your moisturizers, Lancer recommends applying them right after you hop out of the shower, while your skin is still a bit damp, in order to really lock in hydration.

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