Ceramides are a family of waxy lipid molecules. A ceramide is composed of sphingosine and a fatty acid. Ceramides are found in high concentrations within the cell membrane of cells. They are one of the component lipids that make up sphingomyelin, one of the major lipids in the lipid bilayer.
The word ceramide comes from the Latin cera (wax) and amide.
Ceramide is a component of vernix caseosa, the waxy or cheese-like white substance found coating the skin of newborn human infants.
As a bioactive lipid, ceramide has been implicated in a variety of physiological functions including apoptosis, cell growth arrest, differentiation, cell senescence, cell migration and adhesion.
Roles for ceramide and its downstream metabolites have also been suggested in a number of pathological states including cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, microbial pathogenesis, obesity, and inflammation.
Ceramide is the main component of the stratum corneum of the epidermis layer of human skin. Together with cholesterol and saturated fatty acids, ceramide creates a water-impermeable, protective organ to prevent excessive water loss due to evaporation as well as a barrier against the entry of microorganisms.
Skin inhibits water movement and controls loss via its structure, which has a unique composition of 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 15% free fatty acids.
With aging there is a decline in ceramides and cholesterol in the stratum corneum of humans hence skin becomes more prone to dehydration and wrinkle formation.
Ceramide levels decline with age. That's one reason skin becomes drier as a person grows older.
Harsh cleansers can disrupt ceramides and lipids, leading to dry skin, and some medications like cholesterol-lowering drugs alter ceramide and lipid levels in the outer layer of the epidermis.
Diet plays a role too. Eating a diet that lacks essential fatty acids can disrupt skin's natural barrier against moisture loss. A certain amount of dietary fat is important for healthy skin.
Not surprisingly, people on very low fat diets often have dry, flaky skin due to loss of ceramides and other lipids that help skin retain water.
Skin ceramides make up 35-40% of the lipids in the extracellular "cement" that binds together protective cells in the outermost skin layer, the stratum corneum.
Loss of skin ceramides renders aging skin permeable to moisture, leaving skin dry, rough, and itchy; ceramide loss is also a major contributor to wrinkles.
Ceramides may be found as ingredients of some topical skin medications used to complement treatment for skin conditions such as eczema. They are also used in cosmetic products such as some soaps, shampoos, skin creams, and sunscreens. Ceramides may be useful for treating some skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis. People who have eczema have fewer ceramides in the outer layer of their skin compared to people with normal skin.
People with psoriasis also have deficiencies of some ceramides. Therefore, using products that contain ceramides may improve these conditions.
Ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids all play a role in maintaining skin's ability to retain moisture. That's why it's important to replenish cholesterol and fatty acids along with ceramides and to use appropriate amounts of each to maintain a ratio that resembles skin's natural, lipid barrier.
Ceramides are usually non-irritating to skin and actually soothe irritation and itching caused by dry skin.
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