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Dr. Oz recently gave his three tips on how to “drop a decade from your skin” (see original article here) and made a very curious recommendation: phytoceramide capsules, plant-based ceramides. Less controversially, he also mentioned vitamin C serums (see our Five Best with Vitamin C) and power cleansing with brushes (like the Clarisonic or the Sirius Sonic). But what are phytoceramide capsules and why should Dr. Oz make them one of only three recommendations?
Phytoceramides are the plant-derived equivalent of ceramides, a lipid that keeps your skin hydrated and plump. Supplements with phytocermides are mostly obtained from wheat. Actually, ceramides are found naturally in many foods, especially wheat flour. Sphingolipids, which contain ceramides, are present in large amounts in dairy products, eggs and soybeans. So you can get ceramides from food and don’t really need to take supplements. But what if you did, would they be a good anti-ager?
This is unproven, as far as I can tell. I could find no independent research on phytoceramide capsules’ effects on skin. After many frustrating hours, I eventually found a study on phytoceramide capsules and the “perceived” improvement of dry skin – it was conducted by Hitex, a company that makes extracts from wheat and other plants. Throughout the web, there are various references to Japanese studies, but although they certainly demonstrate the importance of ceramides – deficiencies in ceramides lead to dry skin (source) – they did not refer to phytoceramide supplements.
So I’ll pass on the supplements for now as likely to be a waste of money. But what about ceramides more generally?
Ceramides are natural components of human skin. There are different ceramide types (conveniently numbered – i.e. ceramide 3) and six are commonly found in skin. All four layers of the epidermis contain ceramides, and they play an important role by creating a barrier which reduces infection and helps to retain the skin’s moisture. Reduction in the amount of ceramides may result in dry skin, dermatitis, or wrinkles.
For years, ceramides were thought of simply as a structural component to the lipid bilayer of all cell membranes, including the upper layer of skin. Interestingly though, recent studies reveal that they can also act as a signaling molecule that send messages to the rest of the body. The “signal” they perform is apostosis, programming a cell to die. This has made ceramide the subject of numerous studies on its role in treating cancer patients.
Now, what about ceramide creams? Well, thankfully, there is research on this. In a Japanese study, eight people's eyelids were treated with a ceramide gel for four weeks with the result that “water content of eyelid skin was significantly increased after treatment.” There’s also a French study, showing that topical ceramides with “other skin lipids” improved skin barrier repair. A ceramide gel was also shown to relieve dermatitis, while sphingolipids (which as mentioned above is made up of ceramide) from a lactic acid bacteria was applied topically and increased the skin’s resistance to aging (source).
So topical ceramide seems a good addition to our skincare regimen. Ceramide has been a mainstay of Elizabeth Arden products for years, but I wanted to do better than an overpriced department store brand. Searching through the Truth In Aging archives, I turned up a number of products that feature ceramide (as well as a host of other good anti-aging ingredients).
Mad Hippie Exfoliating Serum ($35 in the shop). This is a great little serum. It exfoliates with lactic and glycolic acids, brightens with a botanical complex called Gigawhite, has the peptide Matrixyl 3000 and ceramide-3. Read the full review.
Osmotics Anti-Radical Age Defense ($111 in the shop). This classic from Osmotics stands the test of time. It is great for wrinkles, broken veins and skin tone. As well as ceramide (a favorite Osmotics ingredient), this anti-aging treatment attacks free radicals that damage skin cells in three different ways, with carnosine and aldenine. Read the full review.
Skinfinite Platimum 1% Retinol ($63 in the shop). Yes, this has ceramide, but it also has a 1% retinol. It is one of the few retinol creams that get my vote. It doesn’t seem to irritate and there are good results within two months. Skin is hydrated with ceramide-2, shea butter and sodium hyaluronate, so unlike many retinols, Skinfinite Platinum is not drying. Read the full review.
Snowberry Rich Nourishing Day Cream ($96 in the shop) is a rich and heavy hitting day cream that is absolutely jam packed with antioxidants, peptides and, of course, ceramide-3. Actually, ceramide features in many of Snowberry’s organic and natural products including the Cellular Regeneration Night Cream ($104 in the shop), which gives the skin a healthy and moisturized glow. Read the full review of Snowberry Nourishing Rich Day Cream.
Skin Nutrition Cell CPR ($170 in the shop). This has got it all, including ceramide. Skin Nutrition's philosophy is that skin cells are complex things made up of phospholipids, proteins (enzymes, oligopeptides, amino acids, growth factors), oligosaccharides, oxygen, vitamins and minerals. And so, therefore, is Cell CPR with a whopping 70 or so ingredients. Cell CPR has been a favorite of mine for more than three years now. Read the full review.
Medik8 Pretox Eyelift ($70 in the shop). Medik8 Pretox is one of the few eye creams to promise that it will diminish dark circles and reduce puffy eyes that actually works. A great eye cream with ceramide 2. Read the full review.