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Ceramides nourish skin from without and within

Smooth, supple skin is a natural hallmark of youth—and one we pursue with great dedication. Some of this youthful magic can be attributed to compounds called ceramides, which naturally diminish with age. But if recent research is correct, topical and oral ceramides may be one of the keys to slowing the effects of time.

Here’s how the aging process works: the outer layer of skin—the stratum corneum—is made up of flattened, dead skin cells arranged in overlapping layers; these layers create a barrier that blocks toxins and germs, holds in moisture, and helps the deeper layers of skin retain their youthful suppleness. These layers are held in place by ceramides, fatty structures that “cement” the dead skin cells together, keeping them from flaking away and locking in water molecules. Ceramides also inhibit elastase, an enzyme that breaks down elastin.

Every 40 days or so, the dead cells on the outer layer of skin are replaced by fresh, living cells that rise to the surface from the deeper layers of skin. But as we age, cell turnover slows significantly. Likewise, when we’re young, the body manufactures plenty of ceramide molecules that nourish skin. However, as we age, the body’s production of ceramides slows, resulting in thinning of the skin’s outer layer, a subsequent lessening in moisture retention, increased wrinkling, and loss of flexibility and smoothness.

Here’s the good news: new studies are showing that supplemental ceramides can support skin structure, protect against moisture loss, and maintain smoothness and elasticity of skin.

Originally derived from animal sources, usually bovine, newer versions—called “phytoceramides” for “plant”—come from wheat, sweet potato, or rice. Generally, ceramides are available in two primary forms: topical and oral.

Topical Ceramides

Many creams, lotions and serums contain ceramides, from plant sources or in the form of pseudo-ceramides (often listed as “hydroxypropyl bispalmitamide MEA). These topical ceramides work by penetrating the top layer or two of skin; they’re generally considered less effective in reaching deeper layers of skin, but a few studies show they’re helpful in treating dryness. Some studies show topical ceramides can improve skin; in one study, ceramides increased skin hydration and elasticity, and significantly reduced dryness. In another study, a ceramide-based cream was effective in restoring moisture barrier function of skin and treating atopic eczema, a skin condition marked by itching and dryness. And another study found ceramide-containing cleaners and moisturizers significantly improved itching, dryness and other symptoms of topical dermatitis, a recurring inflammatory skin disorder.

Ceramide Supplements

While topical ceramides are helpful, oral ceramide supplements can reach the deeper layers of skin and nourish from within. You’ll find ceramides from wheat germ oil or other sources in capsules, alone or in combination with other skin-healing ingredients like collagen, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid. Several studies show taking ceramide supplements can increase ceramide concentrations in the skin, enhance moisture retention, and significantly reduce dryness and flaking. In one study, women who took wheat-based ceramides for three months showed a significant increase in skin hydration. The ceramides were significantly more effective than a placebo in relieving dryness.

In that three-month study, women with dry skin took either wheat ceramide oil or a placebo, and different measures were used to determine the supplement’s efficacy. In objective measures using a technique called corneometry, the supplement increased skin hydration by more than 35 percent, compared to less than 1 percent in the placebo group. In objective measures, in which the test subjects rated their skin’s changes, the supplement improved roughness, hydration, suppleness, itchiness, and overall state of the skin. Other studies also suggest phytoceramides improve brain function, boost immunity and may help treat brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

All in all, a combination of topical ceramide creams and oral ceramide supplements may be your best bet to nourishing skin from without and within. If you’re sensitive to gluten, look for alternatives to wheat-extract ceramides.


Ceramides are just one of several nutrients taking the beauty world by storm right now. An equally powerful alley in the fight against aging is collagen, specifically in supplement form. Collagen gets its name from “kólla,” the Greek word for glue, because it makes up connective tissue. Technically, it is a type of protein, making up about one-third of all proteins in the human body. It’s estimated that there are approximately 29 different types of collagen, but types I and III make up between 80 and 90 percent of the total, according to research. Like ceramides, collagen production slows with age, starting to decline as early as age 25. Fortunately supplements of type I and III collagen can help prevent and/or reverse signs of aging. For example, collagen hydrolysate has been shown to improved skin elasticity among women age 35 or older.

Editor's Pick:

NeoCell Super Collagen Powder image

NEOCELL Super Collagen Powder is a hydrolyzed form of type I and III collagen from bovine sources. We love that it’s tasteless, and while it can be mixed into any beverage, it’s best taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

Product Highlights:

Earth Science Ceramide_Lotion_16ozValue

EARTH SCIENCEMulti-Therapy Ceramide Healthy Skin Lotion is a great example of just how well topical ceramides soften and alleviate dry skin—for hours at a time, too. No greasy film either.

Genuine Health Derma Lipid

GENUINE HEALTHPerfect Skin - Dry Skin (formerly Derma Lipid) blends natural ceramides with skin-softening borage oil and squalane (from olive oil).

Reserveage Hydraprotect with Ceramides Combo

RESERVEAGE NUTRITIONCollagen Hydra Protect with Ceramides features a ceramide wheat complex, as well as collagen. “Very good product ... people have been asking me if I’ve had a face-lift,” read one online review of this product.

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