Ceramides - where have I heard that before?
Ceramides are in lots of moisturisers and serums. Brands which feature ceramides in their skincare range include Elizabeth Arden, L'Oréal, Ultraceuticals and Innoxa.
What are ceramides?
Ceramides are a family of lipids (fatty molecules) which make up a significant proportion of cell membranes, the "skin" of cells. They are also the main ingredient (40-50%) in the goop or "mortar" between cellular "bricks" in the stratum corneum (the top layers of skin), which is important in keeping water and irritants in/out of the body, two of skin's most important functions.
As you've probably noticed by now, long zig-zags in chemical structures means fatty, oily stuff :)
What problems are linked to abnormal ceramide levels?
As you might expect, abnormal ceramide levels are often involved in conditions where the skin's ability to retain moisture decreases. Skin affected by dermatitis, psoriasis and just regular dryness have been found to contain less ceramides than healthy skin. Ceramide production also drops as skin ages, leading to dryer, more sensitive skin.
What can I do about it?
Ceramide-containing creams have been shown to be effective in treating eczema, and can be a great way of restoring skin integrity, which will help with roughness, elasticity and all the other markers of youthful skin. However, ceramides tend to be very expensive as they're almost wholly synthetic. So if you can't afford them, don't fret - there are lots of other ingredients which can boost your skin's natural ability to produce ceramides, as well as non skin-identical moisturisers to keep water in!
L Coderch, O López, A de la Maza, JL Parra, Ceramides and Skin Function. Am J Clin Dermatol 2003, 4, 107.
MJ Choi, H Maibach, Role of Ceramides in Barrier Function of Healthy and Diseased Skin. Am J Clin Dermatol 2005, 6, 215.
L Di Marzio, B Cinque, F Cupelli, C De Simone, MG Cifone, M Giuliani. Increase of skin-ceramide levels in aged subjects following a short-term topical application of bacterial sphingomyelinase from Streptococcus thermophilus. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol, 2008, 21, 137.