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What Are Ceramides and Are They Good For Your Skin?

Ceramides are an essential component of healthy skin and hair. Read on to learn what ceramides are, their beauty benefits, and how to use them in your routine.

Your skin is composed of a vast, complex network of proteins, nutrients, and lipids. Together, these essential compounds do everything from regulating your body temperature to preventing dehydration and even help protect you from pathogens. In short, your body depends on your skin's natural moisture barrier functioning properly. And some of the most critical components of the skin barrier—and therefore, your body in general—are compounds known as ceramides.

In addition to their role in maintaining the health and appearance of your skin and strands, ceramides are popular ingredients in beauty formulations. Ahead, we’re doing a deep dive into what ceramides are and the benefits of ceramides for your hair and skin. We’ll also provide recommendations on the best Kiehl’s products with ceramides to add to your routine. Read on for your all-in-one guide to ceramides and your skincare and beauty routines.

What Are Ceramides?

Before we discuss the benefits of ceramides in skincare and beauty, it’s important that you have a solid understanding of what ceramides are. In basic terms, ceramides are a type of lipid, or fat, found throughout the skin’s natural moisture barrier and hair follicles. They’re mostly composed of water-repellent fatty acids and molecules called sphingosines. There are at least eight different types of ceramides in human skin, each with its own unique structure and function. For this guide, we’ll be discussing ceramides in general rather than going into the properties of each specific type.

Ceramides make up approximately half of the total lipid content in the skin barrier; the rest is a mix of free fatty acids and cholesterol. Together, these compounds fill the spaces between skin cells to form a protective barrier against environmental stressors, like pollution and UV exposure. Their main purpose is to help prevent water loss and keep the skin adequately hydrated. These protective and hydration-enhancing properties make ceramides a popular ingredient in skincare, particularly for those with dry or dehydrated skin.

Ceramides and other fats are also a primary component of human hair. These lipids exist primarily within the hair follicle, while sebum coats hair from the outside. However, both internal and external lipids have a similar function: To protect hair against water loss and subsequent damage (much in the way they do for skin). Surfactant shampoos can strip hair of ceramides and other lipids, leading to dry, brittle strands. Ceramides, therefore, are often added to haircare products to help strengthen and protect hair from potentially damaging elements. Ahead, we’ll break down five ways ceramides can help improve the appearance of your skin and hair. Keep reading to learn why ceramides deserve a spot in your beauty routine.

The Benefits of Ceramides For Skin

The primary purpose of ceramides in skincare is to help maintain the function of the skin barrier. This is vital for [healthy-looking skin], as barrier dysfunction is linked to several skin concerns, including dryness, sensitivity, and even premature aging. Read on for three ways topical ceramides can benefit your skin.

1. Ceramides Help Keep Skin Hydrated

As we mentioned above, ceramides in the skin are responsible for maintaining skin hydration and reducing water loss. Studies show that moisturizers with ceramides can help visibly improve skin dryness for up to 24 hours after application.I While useful for all skin types, moisturizers and face lotions containing ceramides are particularly useful for those with dry skin conditions like dermatitis or eczema. Research shows that ceramides can provide more intense and longer-lasting hydration than other popular emollients, including glycerin.I This makes ceramides beneficial ingredients for those with dry, dehydrated, or damaged skin.

Kiehl’s Tip: Discover more ways to improve the look and feel of dryness in our article 11 Dry Skin Treatments and Ingredients.

2. They Can Help Reduce Skin Sensitivity

Research shows that sensitive skin is strongly associated with skin barrier damage and dysfunction.II When the skin barrier is healthy, it can defend itself against potential irritants, like harsh skincare ingredients or dehydration. If it’s not working optimally, however, these stressors can damage the skin, leading to signs of irritation like redness or itching. Incorporating ceramides into your skincare routine can help keep your skin barrier strong enough to reduce the effects of these potential aggressors.

Skin Rescuer

You’ll find ceramides in our top-rated Skin Rescuer, a daily moisturizer for stressed and sensitive skin. This lightweight facial lotion is formulated with several different types of ceramides and helps hydrate skin. It also contains soothing chamomile, rose gallica extract, and mannose derived from birch and maple trees. The unique moisturizer instantly comforts irritated skin while providing all-day hydration for a fresh, radiant appearance. With regular use, it helps reduce the visible signs of skin stress, like redness, and strengthens the skin barrier to improve your body’s defenses against potentially damaging aggressors. We recommend applying this effective face cream to cleansed skin day and night for a balanced, healthy-looking appearance.

3. Ceramides May Help Improve Acne

Though ceramides are commonly found in skincare formulations for dry skin types, they’re also useful for those with oily or blemish-prone skin. Many topical acne ingredients, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, can dehydrate the skin and damage the skin barrier if used improperly. Moisturizers with ceramides help to restore skin’s natural balance—and, because ceramides are a natural component of your skin, they won’t clog your pores or aggravate breakouts. This makes them an ideal moisturizing ingredient for those with acne-prone skin that also exhibits signs of dehydration or irritation.

Kiehl’s Tip: Discover more of the best ingredients for acne-prone skin in our article The Best Ingredients For Treating Pimples.

The Benefits of Ceramides For Hair

The effects of ceramides on hair’s health and appearance are similar to their effects on skin. Namely, they help maintain structure and hydration, which helps minimize brittleness and prevent breakage—especially for those with dry hair types. Read on for more details on how ceramides can benefit your hair.

1. Ceramides Are Known To Help Strengthen Damaged, Brittle Strands

As key components of the internal hair follicle, ceramides help hair maintain its structure and integrity. In other words, ceramides are essential for strong, resilient hair. One study found that when added to haircare formulations, ceramides can bind to and reinforce strands, reducing breakage. They were also shown to help protect hair from damage caused by chemical processes.

2. They May Help Improve Hair’s Appearance

When hair is damaged, it may appear dry, coarse, or frizzy. It may also be more prone to tangles or have a dull, lackluster appearance. Ceramides can help repair and prevent damage to promote smoother, healthier-looking strands.

If you have brittle hair, we recommend lathering up with Damage Repairing & Rehydrating Shampoo. This shampoo for weak and damaged strands contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and moringa tree oil and helps smooth and fortify frizzy, dry hair. The creamy formula gently cleanses the hair while helping to repair damage for shiny, healthy-looking tresses.

A photo of Kiehl's Damage Repairing Shampoo and Conditioner.

For best results, replenish moisture after shampooing with a nourishing conditioner, such as Damage Repairing & Rehydrating Conditioner. This top-rated conditioner deeply hydrates hair and helps repair damage for smoother, shinier-looking strands. The fortifying formula instantly detangles hair, improving manageability and reducing breakage. Apply a generous amount to damp hair after shampooing and rinse out after two minutes for stronger, healthier-looking hair.

Kiehl’s Tip: Most people don’t need to shampoo every day. Learn how often you should lather up in our article How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?.

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