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Ceramide Analysis in Moisturizer Research

Research Article Skin biology is central to develop reliable moisturizers, but researching the impact of the skin’s molecular profile has been lacking.

About the author

Henri M Deda
Communications Officer

Henri Deda holds a degree in Molecular Bioengineering. He is spirited to discover what scientists are interested in and to provide concise answers.


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A close-up photo of a canister of moisturizer balm.


• Moisturizer research aims to maintain skin hydration
• The stratum corneum, the upmost skin layer, is essential to maintain skin hydration
• Lipidomics proved impact of ceramides on stratum corneum

THE figurative adjective “thin-skinned” is used to describe someone who is easily irritated – like a thin skin is vulnerable to impact from the environment. We are quick to identify a weakened outermost natural barrier. Rashes, dry skin, and irritations: besides their cosmetical burdens, such skin conditions are often a sign of unhealthy skin and demand for skincare products.

A graphic representation of the stratum corneum including corneocytes, corneocyte lipid envelope, intercellular matrix and stratum granulosum.

Moisturization has taken center stage in skin care research and product development for decades. New remedies for dry skin affecting skin microbiome have entered and left the shelves of drugstores. Still, dry facial skin remains a major concern for consumers. The challenge here is twofold.

The first problem revolves around research about the stratum corneum, the upmost layer of the skin. One of its primary functions is to serve as a barrier to maintain hydration and regulate trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Its functionality is linked to its composition and structure. Its layered meshwork of cells can be envisioned as a brick wall in which corneocytes are the bricks and an intercellular lipid matrix is the mortar. Among the most abundant components of the lipid matrix are ceramide lipids.


This helps to explain variances in facial skin care needs of differently pigmented skin types.

Dr. Rainer Voegeli, DSM Nutritional Products - Skin Biology
Dr. Rainer Voegeli
DSM Nutritional Products, Skin Biology

Most cosmetics studies analyze body skin, which is easier to sample and important for further skin care products. However, the molecular composition of skin varies based on sampling site and further parameters. Hence our general understanding of the stratum corneum, its corneocytes and lipid matrix cannot be applied to facial skin.

Secondly, moisturizer research has largely centered around single analytical parameters than global analyte composition. Instead of researching formulations which focus on one skin parameter, expanding analysis to cover many hundreds of parameters will help unveil the secrets of the facial skin and its biochemistry. Specifically, analysis of the stratum corneum lipid matrix is a promising research approach.

A table representing all 12 ceramide subclasses, their chemical structures, and which sphingoid bases and fatty acids they are built of.

Schematic of the 12 ceramide subclasses: Chemical structures of the 12 ceramide subclasses of human stratum corneum. Each ceramide molecule is composed of a sphingoid base and a fatty acid.
Mila Boncheva et al., International Journal of Cosmetic Science (2014), doi: 10.1111/ics.12162

The lipid matrix, the mortar between the corneocytes of the stratum corneum, and its ceramide lipid composition are essential to maintain hydration and regulate TEWL. An imbalanced ceramide composition undermines the objective of the stratum corneum and can cause irritations from dry to oily skin – like a crumbly and holey mortar undermines the strength of a brick wall and can cause it to collapse.

Skin lipidomics analysis of the stratum corneum ceramidome, the entirety of ceramides from any of the 12 ceramide subclasses, has been able to provide distinct findings for improved moisturizer development. Researchers of DSM analyzed Albino African facial skin, skin that shows inferior capacity to regulate and maintain TEWL and thereby skin hydration.

Scientific graph showing changes in the full ceramide lipid profile (ceramidome) of Albino African, Black African and Caucasian facial stratum corneum samples.

The ceramidome composition of facial skin from Albino Africans in comparison to Black Africans and Caucasians: Ceramide levels in Albino African facial skin are generally elevated with significant elevation of AH, AS and EOH ceramides when compared to facial skin from Black Africans and Caucasians. Relatively reduced are NP, AdS and AP ceramides.
Rainer Voegeli et al., IFSCC congress (2018), www.phylogene.com

The ceramide lipidomics analysis revealed that the overall content of ceramide lipids was elevated – a stark contrast to the increased TEWL, as ceramides are a main component of the water preserving lipid matrix between the corneocytes. However, certain ceramide subclasses including non-hydroxy-phytosphingosine (NP), alpha-hydroxy-dihydrosphingosine (AdS), and alpha-hydroxy-phytosphingosine (AP) were relatively reduced.

Additionally, the overall elevated ceramide levels pointed to reduced corneocyte maturation. The ceramides were not processed to be incorporated into the corneocyte lipid envelope, the layer of lipids between the corneocytes and the intercellular lipid matrix which consists of specific ceramides.

The molecular ceramide profile and its quantification disclosed an imbalanced ceramide composition and lipid matrix in the stratum corneum, as well as pointing at an increase of immature corneocytes. The ceramide lipid profile aberration contributes to an increased TEWL, an impaired barrier function and diminished skin hydration. These findings demonstrate the relevance of lipid biochemistry and lipidomics in moisturizer research.

Skin care research relies on understanding the composition and structure of the skin, particularly the stratum corneum, to develop moisturizers which reliably maintain TEWL and skin hydration. Ceramides are of particular interest, as the molecular ceramide profile influences the functionality of the stratum corneum.

Lipotype Skin Lipidomics technology supports cosmetics researchers and dermatologist to gather detailed ceramide analysis data. Such results help to develop new and personalized moisturizers, but can also reveal interactions of (existing) moisturizers with the skin to provide guidelines for better usage and efficacy.

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