Have you ever tried a skincare product so good—so effective—you want to bathe in it? Well, your instincts aren’t totally off base. While we wouldn’t recommend filling your bathtub with Crème de la Mer (dreamy, but not super cost-effective), some of the best skincare ingredients can be equally as effective for your hair.
You probably know about ceramides from your daily moisturizer. In skincare, ceramides work to repair your natural skin barrier so it can retain moisture. They naturally make up over 50% of our skin’s composition, but as we age, they lose their effectiveness—hence a loss of elasticity, moisture, and smoothness. That’s why so many skincare products aim to restore them.
Ceramides are also naturally occuring in our hair—skin’s twin sister. So it stands to reason that the way we want to restore ceramides in our skin, we’d want to do the same for our hair. But do ceramides work the same way in haircare as they do in skincare? We turned to the experts to find out.
MEET THE EXPERT
- Robin Blum, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Central Park South Dermatology in New York City.
- Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology and Laser Group in New York City.
- Krupa Koestline is a cosmetic chemist and the founder of KKT Consultants.
What Are Ceramides?
Ceramides are fatty acids called lipids, which are naturally occurring in the cuticle (the outermost layer) of each hair shaft. These fat molecules act as a kind of laminating agent or protective film on your hair fibers. “Ceramides help to keep the hair cuticle closed,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan. “A raised cuticle can allow moisture to escape from the scalp and hair, leading to breakage. By keeping the cuticle closed, ceramides help to retain moisture and prevent any external damage.”
We talk about ceramides as plural because there are several types—ceramide II, ceramide III, ceramide IIIB, ceramide NP, ceramide AP—all of which differ in chain length and composition. But don’t get too lost in the weeds: The important thing for most people to remember is that they typically work together to form that protective film and give you stronger, healthier hair.
CERAMIDES FOR HAIR
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Strengthener and conditioner
MAIN BENEFITS: Strengthens hair, protects from damage, restores moisture and shine, improves hair texture
WHO SHOULD USE IT: All hair types can benefit, but dry, frizzy, or damaged hair will see the most noticeable results.
HOW OFTEN TO USE IT: Ceramides are safe for daily use.
WORKS WELL WITH: Ceramides work better when two or more types are combined.
DON’T USE WITH: Ceramides are safe to combine with most, if not all, ingredients.
Benefits of Ceramides for Hair
The benefits of ceramides for hair aren’t unlike the kind of perks you’d get from a skincare product with this all-star ingredient. When it comes to ceramides, it’s all about using that protective barrier. Once that’s in place, other benefits—like shine and healthy texture—will follow.
- Repairs damaged hair: “Over time, washing hair, chemical processing, heat styling, and UV damage can deplete naturally occurring ceramides in the hair,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Robin Blum. “Fewer ceramides means duller, coarser, drier, and frizzier hair.” By replenishing ceramides via hair mask or treatment, we can reseal the cuticle for softer, smoother hair.
- Protects hair and prevents further damage: “Ceramides are biomimetic molecules, which are naturally found in the protective lipid layer,” says cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline. “They form a protective film around the hair fiber, follicle, and scalp skin to protect and strengthen hair.”
- Retains moisture: One reason ceramides are so important in skincare is that they create a barrier to seal in moisture. Over time, you lose more and more of those naturally occurring molecules, and with them, your ability to stay supple and moisturized decreases. The same goes for hair: Ceramides in hair products will rebuild that layer so your hair won’t lose moisture and feel dry. Ceramide NP, in particular, is known for improving hydration.
- Strengthens hair: If you looked at damaged hair under a microscope, you would see the cuticle lifting and looking torn or ragged. Ceramide II in particular “is a proven hair strengthener and conditioner,” Koestline says. “It reinforces the hair structure, reduces hair scales lifting, and reestablishes or strongly reinforces cell cohesion within the hair,” she says, making strands more resilient to external damage from factors like heat styling or UV rays.
- Restores shine and improves texture: Because ceramides can reduce the lifting of hair scales, once you’ve repaired that layer, you should automatically notice smoother, softer texture and shine as the scales are, in a way, “glued” back down to the hair shaft.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that ceramides are a great conditioning agent for anyone, but those with damaged hair may benefit the most. “Hair that has been exposed to treatments such as coloring, bleaching, chemical treatments, or extreme heat… or those with dry, damaged, or frizzy hair should use products that are rich in ceramides to restore the moisture and prevent any further damage,” says Akhavan.
How to Use Ceramides for Hair
Ceramides are particularly easy to add into your haircare routine because they play nice with pretty much every other ingredient. So if you’re already in love with a keratin shampoo, not only will you be able to add ceramides on top of that, but they can even increase the benefits by helping to seal in the keratin.
The ingredient is also pretty common in a wide range of products. “Ceramides are sometimes added to shampoos or conditioners as a conditioning agent, but there are also ceramide hair masks and serums,” says Akhavan, adding that you can use products infused with these molecules as often as every day.
If you’re committed to avoiding synthetics but still want the benefits of ceramides, opt for the naturally occurring lipids. “Ceramides can be found in natural products like sunflower oil, hemp oil, safflower oil, and grapeseed oil,” says Blum.
The Best Hair Products with Ceramides
Akhavan recommends these potent single-dose capsules as an easy way to add ceramides into your routine. “This product contains ceramide NP, which is known for improving hydration, reducing frizz, and protecting hair from external damage like UV rays,” he says.
Koestline recommends this dual-purpose skin and hair serum because it’s rich in ceramides and plant nutrients like rosehip oil, hemp seed oil, and neem oil.
Koestline also likes this leave-in conditioning balm to help combat frizzy hair. “It’s lightweight, it works well to tame hair, and it’s silicone-free,” she says.
The name says it all: This mask helps to “bond” the cuticle, sealing in the good stuff and keeping out the bad. Olaplex has a proprietary bond-building technology, but it comes as no surprise that the formula includes several types of ceramides.
This OGX shampoo and conditioner duo is a great entry point if you’re thinking of experimenting with ceramides. Not only is it affordable, but it’s ideal for those who prefer low-maintenance haircare since you won’t have to add any extra steps to your routine. The fact that the formula includes keratin, too, is just a bonus.