A ceramide is a type of complex lipid which occurs naturally in the body and is a small component of the cuticle of the hair. It is composed of a sphinganine molecule attached to a long chain fatty acid by an amide bond and is chemically abbreviated as (i.e. C18-dhCer). Just as a refresher on the anatomy of the hair, the cuticle is the thin outermost layer of the hair that serves to protect the hair shaft and provide strength. The cuticle is made up of a number of dead cells which overlap each other and resembles the shingles on a roof. Understanding the anatomy and purpose of the hair cuticle will help in understanding the role of ceramides play and how they benefit the hair. In addition to ceramides being part of the hair cuticle, it is also a key lipid found in the skin and have been shown to have tremendous benefits for the skin such as repair and wrinkle prevention.
Role of ceramides:
- Hold the scales of the hair cuticle together, which in healthy hair results in smooth and lustrous hair. In damaged hair, the ceramides are missing and results in dull, coarse and dry hair.
Benefits of Ceramides:
- Application of natural ceramides to damaged hair improves the scale of the hair cuticle and restores the natural properties of the hair.
- Application of products containing ceramides (synthetic) results in decreased breakage to relaxed hair (as shown in hair treated with guanidine hydroxide, aka no lye relaxer)
- Ceramides are most beneficial to relaxed hair according to a study done by L’oreal.
- Application of synthetic ceramides (which is more concentrated than natural ceramides) to damaged hair produces immediate improvement in the strength and appearance of the hair.
- Reduces the friction coefficient of hair. By reducing the friction coefficient, ceramides reduce hair damage caused by abrasion and daily weathering.
Other Facts Regarding Ceramides:
- A study on hair damage was attributed to the loss of ceramides and other intrinisic lipids of the hair (study examined hair that was damaged specifically by hair bleach).
- Ceramides are only deposited in small amounts into the cuticle layer of hair, yet they are effective in improving the hair’s condition.
- In skin, ceramides have shown to decrease water loss; however I did not find any studies that showed that indicated it had the same effect in hair but that does not mean that it doesn’t help with moisture retention in hair either.
- Hemp seed oil
- Wheat germ oil
- Rice Bran Oil
* I know all of the above oils definitely contain ceramides from my own research. However, other bloggers have provided much more extensive lists of not only oils but other hair products that contain ceramides. One of those products is Aubrey Organics White Camellia conditioner, for which I can personally attest is an amazing conditioner.
* Although I prefer all natural products, synthetic ceramides are actually shown to be more concentrated than the ceramides that occur naturally (such as in oils). In this sense, non-natural products may actually be more beneficial. L’oreal, for example, has a complete line of products called Elvive Damaged care which contains a high amount of very concentrated ceramides.
Additional Reads on Ceramides: I strongly encourage you to check out each of these blog posts, as they are exceptionally well written and provide sources for their information should you want to do additional research for your own knowledge. It looks as though all of the authors (including myself) used many of the same resources but each of us provides a different perspective on ceramides.
- L’Oreal Hair-Science: Ceramide R
- “Skin Res Technol”; Application of internal wool lipids to hair; Méndez S, Barba C, Lanzilotta AR, Kelly R, Parra JL, Coderch L; June 2008
- Bernard,B. A. et. Al. (2002). Ceramide binding to African-American hair fibre correlates with resistance to hair breakage. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Vol 24 (1).
- Masukawa, Y. et al. (2004). Damage to Human Hair Caused by Repeated Bleaching Combined with Daily Weathering during Daily Life Activities. Exogenous Dermatology, Vol 3 (6): 273-281.
- Braida D, Dubief C, Lang G, Hallegot P. (1994). Ceramide a new approach to hair protection and conditioning. Cosmet Toiletries, Vol 109(12): 49-57