Phytoceramides, Explained: The Secret To Moisturized, Glowing Skin

mbg Associate Health Editor By Darcy McDonough, M.S.
mbg Associate Health Editor
Darcy McDonough is the associate health editor at mbg. She has a master’s degree in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Expert review by Mario Roxas, N.D.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Mario Roxas, N.D. received his doctorate in naturopathic medicine from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, Oregon.

Image by Leandro Crespi / Stocksy

If you're the kind of person who stirs collagen into your morning coffee and spends their Saturday nights doing gua sha facial massages, you're going to want to know about phytoceramides. In fact, you're probably already using phytoceramides without even realizing it. Present in many popular face creams and serums, phytoceramides are a plant-derived fat molecule that mimics the skin's natural barrier functions to smooth and moisturize.

Touting benefits like restoring skin integrity and supporting smoother-looking skin, phytoceramides are the real deal.* That's because they work with your skin, providing the material needed to smooth microcracks and seal in moisture.

Looking for a youthful glow? Let's dive into how ceramides can help and the science behind adding phytoceramides to your beauty and supplement routine. 

How exactly do ceramides work in the skin?

First, what exactly are ceramides? A quick science lesson: Ceramides are polar lipids, key lipids that are naturally present in our skin cells. They make up the barrier between the outside environment and our body, locking in moisture and protecting our skin from damage.

If you think of the skin barrier as "bricks and mortar," ceramides are part of the mortar holding it all together—50%, in fact. They play a huge role in keeping your skin moisturized, glowing, and youthful. That is, of course, until they don't. If you want to get to the root of wrinkles and dry skin, look to the loss of ceramides.

As we age, we naturally stop producing as many ceramides, compromising the skin barrier—and it shows. Without the glue to hold our skin together environmental toxins can get in and moisture can get out: yikes. Dry skin, irritation, and wrinkles can all be blamed on declining ceramides. Plus, many other skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema have been linked to low ceramide levels. 

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OK, so how do I get more ceramides?

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This is where phytoceramides come in. Phytoceramides are ceramides derived from plants. They have a similar lipid structure to the ceramides found in our skin and may help replenish ceramide stores.*

While you can use ceramides topically, most of the science points to snagging your phytoceramides from supplements for optimal benefits. This way, you can provide a more continuous stream of ceramides, naturally supporting stores from the inside out.

Additionally, wheat, rice, and eggs are all dietary sources of ceramides and their precursor, sphingolipids, but ceramides are poorly absorbed in digestion.

No matter which way you get 'em, adding ceramide to your routine can help support your skin.

What are the benefits of phytoceramides?

If you're looking for smooth, glowing skin (who isn't?), phytoceramides are a must. It may sound too good to be true, but there is actually a ton of science behind these plant-derived skin savers. 

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1. It's hydrating.

Our skin's natural ceramides are all about keeping moisture in. Their primary role in skin barrier function is to guard against water loss. So, it's no wonder cosmetic companies have started pumping phytoceramides into their hydrating formulas. Adding phytoceramides to your skin care routine does seem to have promising skin-quenching benefits.* In one small study, women who applied phytoceramides to their legs for three weeks saw improved skin hydration. 

However, popping a phytoceramide supplement seems to be the way to go when it comes to really maximizing moisturizing benefits. In one study, participants with clinically dry skin who took a phytoceramide-rich wheat extract oil for three months saw up to a 35% improvement in skin hydration.

And you might not even have to wait that long for results; in a study of Ceramosides™, a specific brand of phytoceramides, participants saw improved skin hydration after just 15 days.

Whether you're looking to combat already scaly skin or guard against winter dryness, consider adding phytoceramides to your skin care arsenal

2. It may fight signs of aging.*

Fighting wrinkles is all about being proactive and maintaining skin integrity. As board-certified dermatologist Kiera Barr, M.D., explains, "Ninety percent of visible aging is due to sun exposure, with air pollution, smoking, and stress being close seconds." And when it comes to managing all those skin stressors, it all comes down to your skin barrier. 

Ceramides are the first line of defense against harmful environmental toxins, protecting your skin from damage. Supporting your ceramides with phytoceramide supplements can help that barrier stay strong, warding off wrinkles and other signs of aging.* The anti-aging powers of phytoceramides, and specifically the brand Ceramosides™, have been borne out in studies, showing improved skin smoothness and elasticity in just weeks.  

Of course, phytoceramides are not a magical fountain of youth, and wrinkles are a natural part of aging. But keeping your skin healthy and hydrated can certainly give you a youthful glow. 

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3. It may help clear up blemishes.

Hormones aren't the only thing to blame for your breakouts—it could be due to falling ceramide levels. It turns out some people who suffer from acne have low ceramide levels that could be contributing to the issue. So, blemishes may just be another sign of skin barrier damage. Researchers believe that a weak skin barrier, coupled with other triggers (think poor diet and stress), could bring on a breakout. 

Interestingly, a common side effect of acne treatment is dry skin, meaning it could be a vicious cycle of acne care products depleting ceramide levels, leading to damaged skin and then more breakouts. More research is needed, but dermatologists hope phytoceramide supplementation in combination with other treatments could help end the cycle.

How much should I take?

While there are no specific recommended doses for how much phytoceramides you should be getting, most of the research has been done using 11 to 70 mg.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.

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