Ceramides in Skin Care

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann



Time to read 7 min

Ceramides are a type of lipid found in the stratum corneum that make up the skin barrier alongside cholesterol and free fatty acids. There are many kinds of ceramides commonly found in a variety of barrier repair moisturizers, creams, serums, and more. They are most beneficial for sensitive, dry, mature, and combination skin types.

To find out if ceramides are right for your Baumann Skin Type, take our quiz and have a custom regimen made for you today!

How do ceramides work?

How do Ceramides Work?

The primary function of a ceramide is as a part of the skin barrier. Simply put, without them, your skin barrier would be constantly damaged and irritated.

The same is true for cholesterol and free fatty acids, without them, your skin barrier would also be damaged. 

For this to work properly, it must be added to the skin alongside cholesterol and fatty acids in an equal 1:1:1 ratio. (3)

Where do Ceramides Come From?

Ceramides are a lipid that is naturally synthesized by the body under normal circumstances. There are many types of them, and there are different enzymes involved in their genesis. The primary enzyme involved in ceramide synthesis is called palmitoyl transferase. (4).

When the skin barrier is damaged, these enzymes go into overdrive to create new lipids for barrier repair. (5)

If you have dry or sensitive skin, the natural processes of your body might not be enough to fix your skin barrier, which is why repair moisturizers containing an equal ratio of cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides is so important.

Ceramides used in skin care products are often harvested from microorganisms, plants, or produced synthetically in a lab. For this reason, (if you consider microorganisms animals) they are not always a vegan ingredient. Skin care product labels do not indicate whether ceramides are of vegan origin, so if this is a concern to you, try to only use pseudoceramides instead.


Ceramides are one of the three primary lipid components of the skin barrier. Without an equal ratio of ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol, the skin barrier is at risk of damage.

Ceramides are great at preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL), a loss of skin hydration usually related to an impaired barrier.

They are also great for soothing inflammation, another issue often caused by damaged skin barriers.

Aging skin types benefit from these lipids because mature skin has a lower concentration of fats due to a decrease in ceramide production as we age. 

Benefits of ceramides

Side effects

Applying ceramide products without properly maintaining a 1:1:1 ratio of fatty acids and cholesterol can result in an imbalance of skin barrier lipids. This imbalance can result in an unstable and fragile skin barrier, susceptible to further damage.

If you do not need moisturizing ingredients in your skin care, overusing them can result in a change to the microbiome of your skin. When skin is overly hydrated, there is a greater chance of bacteria growing on it.

When used properly, there are no notable risks associated with the use of ceramides in skin care. 

Are they safe?

They are safe to use in skin care products, and are one of the most important ingredients in skin care, and crucial for maintaining the skin barrier.

Because it is such a ubiquitous compound in skin care products, organizations like the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Board (CIR) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have published extensive safety reviews on ceramides and other essential lipids.

The only reason not to include them in your skin care routine is if your dermatologist has advised against it, or if your skin is neither dry nor sensitive. Even in cases where you do not need barrier repairing ingredients, using them is not considered unsafe. There is no toxicity or mutagenic property associated with ceramides.

Which skin types should use Ceramides?

These ingredients are best for dry, sensitive, and/or mature skin types who have skin barrier related concerns. 

If you have oily skin and a healthy skin barrier, you might not need these in your moisturizing products, but they are technically safe to use even if you don't need them. 

There are many types of ceramides, but the ones used in moisturizers are non-comedogenic, meaning they do not cause clogged pores on acne prone skin. 

Ceramides for inflammation

Ceramides for Skin Conditions


Ceramides are commonly used in products targeted towards inflammation because inflammation may be caused by a damaged skin barrier.

To restore the skin barrier, ceramides are often needed.

Studies have shown that inflamed skin shows a disruption of existing ceramides and subsequent lipid synthesis. (6)

The same study also found that patients with Atopic Dermatitis (eczema) demonstrate a much lower concentration of ceramides than healthy skin does.

If you are experiencing inflammation as a result of a damaged skin barrier, consider a barrier repair moisturizer loaded with ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids.

Dry Skin

Dry skin types are at a greater risk of developing barrier related inflammation than oily skin types. This is because the sebum of oily skin types is robust enough to keep allergens, irritants, and even microbes off of it.

It is well known that a healthy skin barrier, is good at keeping moisture in the skin by preventing evaporation (transepidermal water loss).

Dry skin types are particularly vulnerable to environmental disturbances like pollution or low humidity, so ceramides are crucial to their skin's protection. (7)

Ceramides for aging skin

Aging Skin

Aging/mature skin often demonstrates a lower concentration of the essential skin barrier lipids because aged skin creates fewer lipids naturally than young skin. (8) 

For this reason, it is important for dry, aging skin to use barrier repair products regularly to avoid inflammation and dryness.

Ceramides do not increase elastin or collagen, nor do they accelerate desquamation or bind free radicals; instead, ceramides simply help keep the skin barrier healthy which prevents problems commonly associated with aging skin such as dryness and inflammation.

Types of Ceramides in Skin Care

There are many different types of ceramides found in skincare products.

Ceramide 2

2-Oleamido-1,3-Octadecanediol, often referred to as Ceramide 2,contains an oleic fatty acid chain. Oleic acid is an unsaturated omega-9 fatty acid that offers excellent moisturizing and emollient benefits for the skin. Its unsaturated nature makes it effective at enhancing skin hydration and providing a smoother, softer texture to the skin.


Pseudoceramides are a classification of synthetic ingredients that fulfill the same functions as naturally occurring ceramides. (9)

In a sense, they are to ceramides what beta-sitosterol is to cholesterol; meaning it's a vegan, synthetic alternative.

Pseudoceramides are increasingly popular as treatment options for conditions like eczema and other dryness/inflammation based concerns because they are not animal derived.

Pseudoceramides work best when used in a 1:1:1 ratio with cholesterol/beta-sitosterol and free fatty acids.

Pseudoceramides are interesting because their synthetic nature allows for customization in the lab, meaning they can be tailored to exhibit very specific properties in products. (10)

If you need a barrier repair ingredient, but want to avoid potentially animal derived ingredients, consider pseudoceramides.

Ceramides for Environmental Damage

Protection Against Environmental Damage

The skin barrier does more than just keep moisture in our skin, it also protects us from harmful environmental phenomena like pollution, microbes, extreme humidity, or low humidity. (11)

When your skin barrier has the right ratio of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids, it is better equipped to protect you.

Pollution can cause all kinds of damage to the skin like the development of free radicals; it is crucial to skin health to prevent this.

If you live somewhere with low air quality, using antioxidants alongside your ceramide barrier repair moisturizers is a good idea.

Best Products

These are some of our favorite products containing ceramides in skin care:

Let us help you find the best skin care products. Once you take the quiz, you can shop using your Baumann Skin Type. Our advice will help you build a skin care routine for your skin type!

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

What contains ceramides?

Ceramides are found in cleansers, serums, and moisturizers. Ceramides are not worth the price in cleansers, because the contact time on the skin is not long enough. It is better to use serums and creams with ceramides.

Best References and Scientific Publications on Ceramides

  1. Baumann L. Antiaging Ingredients in Ch. 37 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Ch.  Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3.  Man MQ, Feingold KR, Elias PM. Exogenous lipids influence permeability barrier recovery in acetone-treated murine skin. Arch Dermatol. 1993;129(6):728-38.
  4. Bigby M, Corona R, Szklo M. Evidence-based dermatology. In: Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine7th ed. Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, Gilchrest BA, Paller AS, Leffell DJ, eds. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007, p. 13.
  5. Holleran WM, Feingold KR, Man MQ, Gao WN, Lee JM, Elias PM. Regulation of epidermal sphingolipid synthesis by permeability barrier function. J Lipid Res. 1991;32(7):1151-8.
  6. Kim D, Lee NR, Park SY, Jun M, Lee K, Kim S, et al. As in Atopic Dermatitis, Nonlesional Skin in Allergic Contact Dermatitis Displays Abnormalities in Barrier Function and Ceramide Content. J Invest Dermatol. 2017;137(3):748-750.
  7. Fartasch M, Bassukas ID, Diepgen TL. Disturbed extruding mechanism of lamellar bodies in dry non-eczematous skin of atopics. Br J Dermatol. 1992;127(3):221-7.
  8. Choi EH. Aging of the skin barrier. Clin Dermatol. 2019;37(4):336-345.
  9.  Ishida K, Takahashi A, Bito K, Draelos Z, Imokawa G. Treatment with Synthetic Pseudoceramide Improves Atopic Skin, Switching the Ceramide Profile to a Healthy Skin Phenotype. J Invest Dermatol. 2020;140(9):1762-1770.e8.
  10.  Park BD, Youm JK, Jeong SK, Choi EH, Ahn SK, Lee SH. The characterization of molecular organization of multilamellar emulsions containing pseudoceramide and type III synthetic ceramide. J Invest Dermatol. 2003;121(4):794-801.
  11. Sato J, Denda M, Chang S, Elias PM, Feingold KR. Abrupt decreases in environmental humidity induce abnormalities in permeability barrier homeostasis. J Invest Dermatol. 2002;119(4):900-4.