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Moisturizing cream impacts ceramides balance in skin

Research Article

A glycerol/petrolatum-based emollient cream improves ceramide balance and strengthens the skin barrier function.

About the author

Olga (Olya) Vvedenskaya
Sci. Communications Officer

Dr. Dr. Olya Vvedenskaya studied medicine, and further obtained her PhD in the field of molecular oncology. She loves to deliver scientific messages in a clear and accessible manner.


Evaluation of a novel skin emollient…

Jacques et al. | Skin Pharmacol Physiol (2023)

Large-scale human skin lipidomics by…

Sadowski et al. | Sci. Rep (2017)

Systematic screening for novel lipids by…

Papan et al. | Anal. Chem. (2014)

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A photo of a person applying a cream on their shoulder.


• Ceramide balance is negatively impacted in skin pathology
• The cream application leads to an increase in total ceramides
• A decrease in AdS and AS ceramides was detected upon cream administration

THE primary role of the skin is to create a versatile barrier separating the body from its surrounding external environment. This protective function is mainly attributed to the outermost layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum. Within the stratum corneum, there are specialized cells called corneocytes that are fully matured and rich in keratin, contributing to its physical and mechanical skin barrier properties. These corneocytes are intricately embedded within a structured lipid matrix, consisting of free fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides, which significantly contribute to the overall integrity of the skin barrier.

A graphical representation of ceramide subclasses. Green - subclasses of ceramides with esterified omega-hydroxy facid; blue - subclasses with non-hydroxy fatty acid; yellow - subclasses with alpha-hydroxy fatty acid.

In the assessment of skin permeability, the quantitative variations in lipid content emerge as a more significant factor than other elements like the thickness of the stratum corneum. Among the various lipid types present in the human stratum corneum, ceramides stand out as the most abundant, comprising about 50% of the total lipid content. Exact ratios of ceramide subclasses even in healthy skin depend on many factors, for example skin pigmentation. Researchers have observed that alterations in the distribution of ceramide chain length and the ceramide ratio are closely linked to changes in lipid organization, skin barrier functionality, and the occurrence of conditions such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and xerosis.

Changes in ceramide levels in stratum corneum in different pathologies. The image includes info about total ceramide levels, long-chain and short-chain ceramide levels, and ceramide subclasses in atopic dermatitis, aged and dry skin, acne, lamellar ichthyosis, and prosiasis.

Skin moisturizers offer a secure and efficient approach to enhancing the skin barrier. They introduce external lipids to the skin, thereby improving its barrier function. However, the effectiveness of moisturizers may vary depending on the specific lipid components and their proportions within the cream. Certain formulations, like emulsifiers, might potentially compromise the condition of the skin, while others can visibly improve the skin’s appearance and barrier function. In a study conducted by Jacques and colleagues the authors investigated the immediate barrier-repairing impact of petrolatum on delipidized stratum corneum. Furthermore, they assessed the effect of repeated topical application of a glycerol/petrolatum-based emollient cream on the ceramide subclass content of an stratum corneum model.

The moisturizer cream was directly analyzed to explore potential similarities between its lipid organization and that of the stratum corneum. Additionally, the study aimed to identify any traces of the cream in the profiles of treated stratum corneum samples. The findings revealed the presence of the cream in the stratum corneum, particularly in the outer layers. To quantify ceramide subclasses and their chain lengths in stratum corneum upon the moisturizer application, a lipidomic analysis using shotgun lipidomics was conducted on stratum corneum models. The stratum corneum model used in the study was created using reconstructed human epidermis primary normal human keratinocytes obtained from the abdominal dermolipectomy (the removal of the skin excess) of a healthy subject.

Total ceramide quantities in control and stratum corneum model treated with the moisturizer cream. Values are mean ± SEM; n = 18; **, p ≤ 0.01.

Total ceramide quantities in control and stratum corneum model treated with the moisturizer cream. Total ceramide content grows after treatment with the moisturizer cream. Values are mean ± SEM; n = 18; **, p ≤ 0.01.
Jacques et al., Skin Pharmacol Physiol (2023) 36 (3): 125–139, 10.1159/000529253

The moisturizer cream had a significant impact on the total ceramides content, showing a notable 38% increase after the emollient application compared to the control. It is noteworthy that conditions like atopic dermatitis are associated with lower ceramides levels, affecting both long-chain and short-chain ceramides. This suggests that the chain length of ceramides plays a crucial role in the lateral lipid organization and correlates with the severity of such skin pathologies.

Upon applying the moisturizer cream topically on the skin, there was an increase in EOdS, EOP, and EOS acyl-ceramides compared to the control. However, the quantities of EOP were lower than EOS. Reduced levels of EOS lead to a change in the structure of the epidermal barrier, resulting in increased moisture loss and skin permeability. Consequently, significant decreases in acyl-ceramides contribute to the compromised skin barrier observed in skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and ichthyoses.

Acyl-ceramide quantities in control and stratum corneum model treated with the moisturizer cream. Values are mean ± SEM; n = 18; **, p ≤ 0.01.

Acyl-ceramide quantities in control and stratum corneum model treated with the moisturizer cream. EodS, EOH, EOP, and EOS Values are mean ± SEM are shown; n = 18; **, p ≤ 0.01.
Jacques et al., Skin Pharmacol Physiol (2023) 36 (3): 125–139, 10.1159/000529253

The moisturizer cream application led to an increase in NP and NdS ceramides content in stratum corneum, while no significant effect was observed on NH. Moreover, the cream significantly elevated the NP/NS and AP/AS ratios in stratum corneum models after 7 days of treatment. These results demonstrate the cream’s effectiveness in promoting the synthesis of S and P ceramide forms, which can be beneficial in reducing the relative feedback mechanism seen in conditions like atopic dermatitis.

When the cream was applied to stratum corneum models, there was a significant decrease in ceramides with 34 carbon atoms, particularly alpha-hydroxylated ceramides like AdS and AS. These ceramides with 34 carbon atoms are reported to be more abundant in patients with atopic dermatitis compared to nonatopic volunteers. Additionally, non-hydroxylated ceramides, including NdS and NS, were also significantly reduced in stratum corneum model with applied cream compared to the control group.

Mol% content of AdS, AS, NdS, and NS ceramides, with 34 carbons in length in control and stratum corneum model treated with the cream. Values are a mean ± SEM; n = 18; **, p ≤ 0.01; ***, p ≤ 0.001.

Mol% content of AdS, AS, NdS, and NS ceramides, with 34 carbons in length in control and stratum corneum model treated with the cream. In particular, AdS-C34, AS-C34, NdS-C34, and NS-C34 abundances are shown, values are mean ± SEM; n = 18; **, p ≤ 0.01; ***, p ≤ 0.001.
Jacques et al., Skin Pharmacol Physiol (2023) 36 (3): 125–139, 10.1159/000529253

In this study, a comparison was made between the carbon chain length distribution of ceramide and acyl-ceramide classes in control and experiment stratum corneum models treated with the moisturizer cream topically. The ceramide subclasses showed a wide distribution of carbon chain lengths between 34 and 56 carbon atoms, while acyl-ceramides exhibited a narrower range between 63 and 78 carbon atoms due to the additional linoleic moiety attached to these ceramides. Short carbon chain length ceramides (C34–C44) were significantly higher in quantity in the control stratum corneum model compared to the cream-treated model. Conversely, long carbon chain length ceramides (C45–C56) were significantly more abundant in the cream-treated stratum corneum models than in the control model. The application of the cream also generally increased the carbon chain length of all acyl-ceramides (C63-C78), with a significant increase in six carbon chain length ceramides.

In conclusion, the studied moisturizer cream demonstrated improved ceramide content and strengthened the skin barrier function. The cream’s efficacy can be attributed to its semi occlusive effect, acting as an additional barrier. Importantly, the cream was shown to penetrate the stratum corneum without compromising its structure. The analyzed cream holds promise for treating individuals with impaired barrier function, such as those with atopic dermatitis and dry skin.

Lipotype Skin Lipidomics technology offers support to cosmetics researchers and dermatologists by enabling them to acquire skin lipid profiles and measuring lipidomics differences in various types of skin. These detailed results play an essential role in the development of innovative moisturizers and other skin care products.

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