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Ceramides: The New Skincare Breakthrough?

Reviewed by Marta May 7, 2013 32 Comments

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?

What Are Phytoceramides and Do They Really Work?

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.

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So I’ll pass on the supplements for now as likely to be a waste of money. But what about ceramides more generally?  

Are Ceramides Essential for Younger Skin?

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.

Will Topical Applications of Ceramides Be Successful?

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). 

Skin Care Products Containing Ceramides

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). 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) 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). 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 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.

See our Five Best with Ceramides, and check out our full list of products with ceramides

See all our Five Best recommendations, including Five Best for Sagging Skin and Five Best with Copper Peptides and Five Best Eye Serums

Read about Dr Oz's Anti-Aging Lotions To Fight Wrinkles and Dr Oz's Anti-Aging Pills for Younger Skin

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  • August 15, 2016

    by Nancy

    Ruthless billing practices. I no longer care if the product is good.

  • May 4, 2016

    by Sylvia

    Note that the paper represented in comments below as an "FDA Report" on the safety and efficacy of ceramide supplements is not, in fact, a report published by the FDA. It is a letter submitted to the FDA by a product manufacturer, and thus can be found in the FDA dockets. It merely cites previously published studies and materials. While it has a lot of background information implying that ceramide supplements should work, it has a few sentences about actual an actual study on human studies, and those statements claim success without citing actual data.

  • April 23, 2016

    by sharon park

    received this cream, box only---no information as to what it was. Did a survey for a company offering this free. No mention of a trial offer etc.etc. Reviewed ingreidents which started with water. out it went .along with 2nd bottle. No idea of how to reach company...Today i found charges and a tel.# Called, 1st rep. very nice but kept insisting I had to pay for it. Finally conceded to remove 2 months charges. I INSISTED all charges be removed. After speaking w/floor super, Ian, he stated all charges w/b removed.3 chgs. of $94.74 plus $99.69, I will closely follow up on my credit card. Ian, dismissed me when i had add. ????? Rude hung up on me. Gave me a confirmation #3368405 No one could tell me how I ordered this, they d/n have me on file by name or tel #... Be aware of this company... It may be good cream but their methods are dispictible

  • March 2, 2016

    by gillian

    I am not interested in whether this product works but in the business practices of the company. I signed up for what I thought was a 30 day trial. the box arrived with no packing slip so no phone number to cancel. I was billed for shipping 1/29/16. a few weeks later I had a phone call to ask how the cream was working and I asked them to cancel and not bill me.2/16/16 I was billed $94.74 on my visa card and have since called the number listed on my visa. cancelled the account but they are unable to refund my money and hung up on me, dismissing my request of a refund.
    Any body else have a problem like this

  • February 8, 2016

    by Emily Jones

    @Samantha. Yes it helps, i have tried it like 3 years ago and i’m still using it. remember that you can no expect any miracles when you are ageing, especially don’t trust any creams, serums etc. You need solve the problem from inside, not outside. This is one of a few things that helps and trust me I've tried millions of them because i need to look good/young for my job. And the brand you are talking about is great i’m using the same. It is expensive, but quality products are not cheap and this is your beauty and health we are talking about so don’t be cheap.

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