Ceramides can be found in many hair products, and product manufacturers claim that ceramide technology improves hair health. But what are ceramides? How can ceramides benefit your hair?
What are Ceramides?
Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids (or fatty materials) found in the hair fiber or naturally in the skin. According to Butler and Poucher, ceramides molecules that “bind the cuticle cells to the cortex and
Ceramides naturally exist within the hair fiber, sandwiched in a region between the cuticle and cortex called the cell membrane complex (CMC). Here along with the proteins in the CMC, they regulate the flow of materials in and out of the cortex. Because they essentially bind the cuticle cells to the cortical cells, ceramides help keep our hair from falling apart! Ceramides are also believed to play a role in the hair’s transition from “live cells” within the follicle and beneath the skin’s surface, to the dead, keratinized hair shafts that we see.
Think of ceramides as hair glue. Without them, our cuticle layers would simply fall off and unhinge themselves, rather than gently weather and erode, from the constant damage they endure. Damaged hair has typically exhausted its natural supply of ceramides, and is often brittle, dry, and difficult to manage as a result. Many hair products contain synthetic, lab-created ceramides to help replace the ceramides naturally lost from the hair during regular washing, styling, and chemical treating. Ceramides are needed as a part of any basic moisture and protein conditioning plan to restore the hair’s health.
What Do Ceramides Do?
Ceramides perform a “barrier function” and help reduce the hair’s overall porosity. Ceramides bind to the hair fiber in damaged, vulnerable areas to help prevent natural moisture and protein loss that occurs when we manipulate our hair. Natural ceramides keep the hair fiber tight, and cuticles flat so that the hair shines and has low porosity.
Heat users will find that ceramide-rich products greatly improve the condition and appearance of heat-abused hair. Those who dabble in hair color will also find that their colors deposit more evenly when the hair has been conditioned with ceramide-rich products prior to the service. Ceramides have also been shown to protect the hair against ultraviolet radiation from outside sun exposure. While ceramides do offer a protective effect in these situations, exposure to heat, hair coloring, and the sun do reduce the hair’s ceramide stores. Therefore regular conditioning is needed to replace reduced ceramide levels in the hair.
Can Ceramides Replace Proteins In My Regimen?
Because synthetic ceramides and proteins seem to serve similar functions by binding to the hair cuticle in weak places, many often ask me if ceramides can replace the need for protein in a healthy hair regimen. Quick answer, no. Since synthetic ceramides fill up weak areas and reduce porosity while keeping the hair fiber soft and supple, ceramides do seem like the perfect answer to the whole “protein hardening/overload” problem. They also support even color deposition for those who are color-treated, and give heat abusers a buffer-much like well proteinated hair does, but don’t toss out your protein just yet! Protein serves a very important role in hair care, and so far there aren’t any direct suitable replacements for its rebuilding, porosity controlling, strengthening effects. Our hair is made up of protein and it is only logical to repair the hair with substances that are chemically similar.
While ceramides can improve the appearance of hair and help protect the hair temporarily against damage, ceramides cannot provide the infrastructure reinforcement that proteins can. Ceramides can help your hair hold on to its protein and moisture for longer periods of time so that the need for regular conditioning sessions is somewhat reduced, but they cannot replace moisture or protein in a regimen.
An example of how ceramides help maintain the hair’s protein structure is in their ability to fight the effects of UV radiation from the sun. The sun naturally denatures the hair’s proteins, and basically destroys them when the hair is exposed. This sun exposure and protein obliteration causes the porous, red puffy summer hair many of us had as children. Because ceramides can protect against sun damage, proteins are shielded from direct interaction with the sun– temporarily. Now obviously, ceramides cannot protect the hair forever and prolonged periods of sun will ultimately break through any ceramide barrier given time-however, the protective effect is there.
Where Can I Find Ceramide-rich Hair Products?
When your hair’s natural ceramide content is low, it should be replaced by the synthetic ceramides found in shampoos and conditioners. These synthetic ceramides replicate our hair’s natural ceramides and can deposit along the hair’s cuticle to protect it from sun damage and moisture and protein loss. Interested in what ceramides can do for you? Try the following popular ceramide rich hair product lines: L’anza, Redken, Biolage, Nexxus, Mizani, Aubrey Organics. There are many other lines that contain ceramides, so be on the lookout.
Do note that ceramides can and often do build up on the hair shaft, so regular clarifying may be needed between conditionings. The build up associated with ceramides may also be linked to other ingredients in the product formula (i.e. oils, silicones). These ingredients tend to work hand in hand with ceramides more often than not, so whether it is actually the silicones, oils or ceramides causing the build up is ultimately of little consequence. The buildup will need to be clarified regardless of the instigating ingredient to prevent moisture problems down the road.
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Loreal Research. Ceramide R: From the Adventure to the Products. Loreal.com.
MASUKAWA, NARITA, IMOKAWA. Characterization of the lipid composition at the proximal root regions of human hair.
Poucher, W. & Butler, H. Poucher’s perfumes, cosmetics and soaps.
VAN DER HEYDEN L.Development and prospective problems of shampoo and rinse. Ceramides for hair protection and conditioning.