Pseudo-Ceramides Overview

Close up of skin outer layer.
Skin Problems Image Gallery Ceramides are lipids found in the outermost skin layer called the stratum corneum, which is composed of dead skin cells and serves as a physical barrier. See more pictures of skin problems.
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If you're looking for a skin care product to help diminish fine lines and wrinkles, fix cracked heels or restore the smooth, soft skin you had as a child, there's a variety of options to choose from -- and many use an ingredient that mimics a natural fat in your skin. These synthetic lipids are called "pseudo-ceramides" after the natural lipds -- ceramides -- found in the outermost skin layer. Pseudo-ceramides are created to act like your skin's natural moisture barrier and improve your skin.

Seemingly magical because of the way they're designed to reinvigorate your skin and hair, these synthetic lipids are probably in many of the cosmetics you use daily. If you search the ingredient list of your favorite eye cream, wrinkle-reducing facial lotion or lip gloss, you'll likely find a form of pseudo-ceramides [source: Journal of Dermatological Science]. They work because they mimic the moisture-retaining building blocks found in normal, healthy skin.


Lipids are naturally occurring fats in your skin that act as a barrier to outside elements [source: Elias]. Without ceramides in the uppermost layers of skin, the skin can dry out, causing itchy, flaky skin or even dermatitis. But ceramides in your body can do more than simply keep your skin healthy. Ceramides can also be found in your brain and spinal cord tissue, and diseases like cancer and diabetes are thought to occur when ceramides in the body aren't working properly [source: The Lipid Library].

Manufactured pseudo-ceramides can benefit all skin types and restore essential moisture we lose as we age. Keep reading to learn more about pseudo-ceramides and how they work with your skin.


Pseudo-ceramide Technology

If you have dry hair, flaky skin or brittle nails, your ceramides may need a little boost. Ceramides -- whether they occur naturally or are created in a lab -- work with the skin to reverse the signs of aging. Put simply, these tiny molecules of fat improve skin's elasticity and restore hair's softness by helping them retain moisture.

Think of your skin as a brick wall -- the bricks are held together with mortar just as lipids hold your layers of skin together. Lipids, such as ceramides, help your skin create a barrier between you and the environment. Just as the bricks can't stay together without mortar, your skin can't adequately protect your body without lipids.


As you age, your skin loses its elasticity and moisture, but ceramide-rich skin care products can repair and revive your skin by reinforcing its moisture barrier. Pseudo-ceramides are safe and nontoxic, and they work in a similar way to the ceramides your body produces [source: Journal of Dermatological Science]. But while pseudo-ceramides are similar to the naturally occurring ceramides in your skin, they're not exactly the same. Just like naturaul ceramides, these synthetic lipids retain water in the upper layers of skin and repair dry, chapped skin by replacing lost lipids -- but they don't disperse throughout the skin as natural ceramides do [source: World Intellectual Property Organization].

Keep reading to learn more about the uses of pseudo-ceramides.


Uses for Pseudo-ceramides

Products that contain manufactured ceramides can help with a variety of skin and hair problems. These intensive moisturizers can reduce fine lines and wrinkles, prevent dry skin and keep hair soft and healthy [source: WebMD]. Some pseudo-ceramide skin care products can even repair the stratum corneum [source: Loden].

You'll often find pseudo-ceramides listed as "hydroxypropyl bispalmitamide MEA" on the labels of hand creams, foot moisturizers and other skin care products. But moisturizing products may also simply list these synthetic lipids as ceramides 1, 2, 3, III, or 6-II. Ceramide 3 is one of the most common types of pseudo-ceramides used -- it can be found in facial lotions, foundations, sunscreens, hair conditioners and lip care products. Ceramides are also used in many aftershaves, anti-itch creams and rosacea ointments [source: Cosmetic Safety Database].


If you want to break the cycle of dry hair and skin, look for cosmetics that contain ceramides. To learn more about pseudo-ceramides, see the links on the following page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Choi, MJ. "Role of ceramides in barrier function of healthy and diseased skin." (Accessed 10/15/09)
  • Elias, Peter M., Williams, Mary L. K. "Structure and Function of the Stratum Corneum."American Academy of Dermatology. 2009. (Accessed 9/14/09)
  • The Lipid Library. "What is a Lipid." 10/10/08. (Accessed 9/15/09)
  • The Lipid Library. "Ceramides." 7/28/09. (Accessed 9/15/09)
  • Loden, Marie. "Role of Topical Emollients and Moisturizers in the Treatment of Dry Skin Barrier Disorders." American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2003. (Accessed 9/14/09)$=relatedreviews&logdbfrom=pubmed
  • Samora, Dulce. "How Your Skin Can Survive Summer." WebMD. 2006. (Accessed 9/14/09)
  • Uchida, Yoshikazu, Holleran, Walter M., Elias, Peter M. "On the Effects of Topical Synthetic Pseudoceramides: Comparison of Possible Karatinocyte Toxicities Provoked by the Pseudoceramides, PC104 and BIO391, and Natural Ceramides." July 2008. (Accessed 9/14/09)
  • U.S. Patent Office. "U.S. Patent 6099826: Use of ceramide for the treatment of nails." (Accessed 10/15/09)
  • World Intellectual Property Organization. "Synthetic Ceramides and Their Use in Cosmetic Compositions." 6/22/95. (Accessed 9/14/09)