A Guide to Ceramides

We get it, there's a lot to take in with the science of skincare.

The internet is oversaturated with skincare routines. One of the main goals of Software is to cut through the misinformation about skincare and to create products deeply rooted in science — products that will protect your skin with no irritants or harmful ingredients.

You may have come across the word ceramides in your skincare research; they've become a bit of a skincare buzzword along with hyaluronic acid. But, they're a buzzword for an excellent reason. Ceramides and hyaluronic acid are on TV ads and almost every skincare blog and website that spruiks hydrating skincare.

There's a reason for this: ceramides work. If you see ceramides on a product's ingredient list, it's a good sign that the product is going to be helpful in combatting dryness. But, it's important to understand what they do.

What are ceramides?

Ceramides play an essential role in both water-retention and barrier function in the stratum corneum, the outer layer of skin.

Ceramides are, basically, long-chain fatty acids (also known as 'lipids') that naturally occur in the skin. Ceramides are actually found in neural cell membranes and are instrumental for brain development, but they also make up roughly 50 per cent of the stratum corneum.

Ceramides help create a barrier to prevent permeability, locking moisture into your skin and preventing dryness and irritation.

Ceramides are part of a complex family of lipids called sphingolipids. Sphingolipids are involved in lots of cellular processes, including the production of ceramides in the skin's outer layer.

Sometimes on the back of some skincare products, you'll see ceramides will be listed as "sphingoside" or "phytosphingosine", so look out for these words when reading ingredients.

To complicate things a little more, ceramides are numbered, and combining different numbered ceramides will give slightly different outcomes for your skin. There are nine different types of ceramides produced by the skin.

Ceramide 1 is an essential fatty acid with a significant role in the epidermal lipid barrier and it makes up approximately 6.5 per cent of the total ceramide pool in the stratum corneum. Ceramide 1 may also be referred to as Ceramide EOS on a product’s ingredient label and is the most effective for replenishing your skin barrier.

We need ceramides to keep our skin happy and moisturised. The skin's barrier function in the outer layer of the skin is often attacked by external pressures such as sun damage, pollutants and chemicals that erode skin cells (i.e. makeup). When external factors are trying to dry out the skin, ceramides ensure that water loss doesn't happen too quickly.

There's also a growing body of evidence suggesting people prone to eczema or psoriasis are more likely to have fewer ceramides in their skin.

Ceramides are so effective for protecting skin cells against water loss, we credit them as one of the most effective anti-ageing products on the market. Ceramides are a skincare hero that help you reinforce your skin's barrier, giving you firmer, plumper skin with fewer visible signs of ageing.

Why use ceramide products if they are naturally occurring in the skin?

Synthetic ceramides (also known as pseudoceramides) are man-made and what you'll find in your skincare products. They are 100 per cent safe to use on a wide range of skin types, from oily to dry.

Even though synthetic ceramides are reported to be totally safe, always patch-test a new skincare product on your arm to make sure it's not going to irritate your sensitive facial skin.

Over time, the effectiveness of your skin's natural ceramides will reduce and can, eventually, become depleted. This is proportionate to how much environmental damage you've experienced, what weather conditions you've lived in or how much you've digested of certain chemicals (e.g. cigarettes and alcohol).

But don't feel too guilty, while living life to the fullest can weaken your skin cells and barrier function, everyone's ceramides erode by their 30s and 40s, regardless of how careful you may have been.

Synthetic ceramides were created to replicate your skin's natural ceramide production and to strengthen your skin barrier function. Anti-ageing is possible with correctly-packaged ceramides in order to restore and replenish your poor, dry skin.

Software's Ceramide Repair Balm was created for this very reason: to hydrate and moisturise skin, reduce redness and soothe irritated skin. Our balm is packed with ceramides as well as squalane, sodium hyaluronate and lanosterol esters to inject moisture, protect the skin from environmental stressors and restore natural skin emollience.

The Ceramid Repair balm calms irritated skin, reduces redness and injects hydration.

Do ceramides help cure acne?

Yes! Dry skin is a trigger for acne. This is because dry skin will cause a buildup of dead skin cells, eventually leading to clogged pores.

On top of this, dry skin makes your pores more likely to break open, allowing acne-causing bacteria deeper into your skin. Also, ceramides will not cause acne breakouts, so you can relax about that.

If you're exposed to cold weather, too much sun, wind or some chemicals in the environment, this will draw moisture out of the skin, leading to dryness. Your natural ceramides will take a beating in these situations, which is where synthetic ceramides play an important role in restoring your skin cells.

Ceramides are useful for any skin type as they are already a fundamental part of your skin's makeup. Good, consistent and level skin hydration is vital to having overall healthy skin.

But, your best weapon in fighting acne is a combined skincare routine. Not just any skincare routine, but one that is tailored to your specific needs.

Usually, an effective skincare routine will include a gentle cleanser, an acne treatment such as salicylic acid (our Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash is perfect for keeping acne at bay) and a ceramide-inclusive cream, like our Ceramide Repair Balm, that supports and restores the skin barrier.

Can you use ceramides with retinol?

You absolutely can use ceramides with retinol, and you should!

But, because no single ingredient can do everything to combat the visible signs of ageing, be sure your ceramide-enriched product also contains antioxidants and what we refer to as “skin-restoring” ingredients; for example, retinol, niacinamide, linoleic acid, and peptides.

Software's Retinol Complex Oil is restorative, lightweight and can rejuvenate and protect your skin against dark spots, dryness and loss of elasticity. This, combined with the Ceramide Repair Balm, is a winning formula for restoring skin cells.

Ceramides vs peptides: What's the difference?

We know ceramides play an important role in repairing your natural skin barrier, hydrating skin, improving the appearance of wrinkles and keeping your skin plump and firm. However, there are fairly significant differences between ceramides and peptides.

Where ceramides are made up of fatty acids, peptides are short strings of several amino acids. Each individual peptide can educate the skin to do something distinctive, like:

  • Even out skin tone
  • Resist the appearance of wrinkles
  • Maintain a smooth, healthy-looking surface
  • Restore proteins in the skin barrier.

Peptides are incredibly useful, however, they are not as hydrating as ceramides. Using them together will likely give you optimum results, but it will depend on your individual skincare needs and concerns.

If you have very dry skin, for example, an occlusive ceramide balm should be front and centre when it comes to your skincare routine.

Do any foods contain ceramides?

Yes! Soybeans, eggs, dairy, wheat germ, sweet potatoes and brown rice are good sources of ceramides.

A good diet, avoiding the sun and other harsh environmental damage and using the right combination of skincare products will make your skin glow and shine like it deserves to.

The addition of ceramides will be a revelation to your dry skin, replenishing the stratum corneum and promoting a healthy skin barrier.


Kolesnick RN, Krönke M. Regulation of ceramide production and apoptosis. Annu Rev Physiol. 1998;60:643-65. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.60.1.643. PMID: 9558480.

Coderch L, López O, de la Maza A, Parra JL. Ceramides and skin function. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(2):107-29. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200304020-00004. PMID: 12553851.

Lee, K., Kim, S., Kim, A., Suh, H. and Hong, K.-B. (2020), Sphingolipid identification and skin barrier recovery capacity of a milk sphingolipid-enriched fraction (MSEF) from buttermilk powder. Int J Cosmet Sci, 42: 270-276. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12612

Arana, L., Gangoiti, P., Ouro, A. et al. Ceramide and ceramide 1-phosphate in health and disease. Lipids Health Dis 9, 15 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-9-15

Cui, L., Jia, Y., Cheng, Z.-W., Gao, Y., Zhang, G.-L., Li, J.-Y. and He, C.-F. (2016), Advancements in the maintenance of skin barrier/skin lipid composition and the involvement of metabolic enzymes. J Cosmet Dermatol, 15: 549-558. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.12245

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