Sunday, May 12, 2024

Ceramides in Hair Care

Ceramides are part of normal skin sebum. One of their jobs is to act as part of the upper layer of skin to keep skin cells together, forming a barrier between the outside world and your skin. In SKIN, ceramides have a critical function in preventing water loss from skin, and in reducing inflammation.

In HAIR, ceramides are distributed with skin oils (sebum), though it’s possible they are incorporated into hair as it grows. In your hair, ceramides have an excellent lubricating effect. As an individual “ingredient” of sebum - ceramides tend to be on the “solid at room temperature” side for oils - which is different than in your skin.

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Ceramide - generic molecular structure

HIT THE BRAKES! Let’s talk about the “skin-ification of hair care.” Where we begin projecting skin-care ingredients benefits on to hair-care. It makes sense, to a point. Scalp oils are meant for hair too. But - we may tend to be distracted by ingredient of the moment. The one that is new and may be great, but isn’t the only ingredient that does what it does. It’s just in the spotlight right now.

So whereas products with ceramides have been a huge benefit for folks with some skin conditions, and those are products we didn’t have 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the same game-changers when translated into hair-care. The functions of an ingredients like ceramide interact with and provide feedback to your skin that can change how it functions. Skin is alive and even the layer of dead cells has the ability to be “managed” by the living cells underneath.

Hair can’t do that. Which isn’t to say ceramides are useless for hair - quite the opposite! But it is meant to remind you that we’re attracted to new and shiny things that are getting lots of attention. Marketing uses your attraction to novelty to get you to buy.  So we’ll look at how this works, but do it with a grain of salt.

What can ceramides do for hair?

In African-Amercian hair, if ceramides (and the other oily substances that go with them) are removed, which can happen through chemical processing and shampooing, hair-breakage increases. Adding back a ceramide can reduce breakage, according to this study. Their ability to lubricate hair reduces both force and friction on hair, and their ability to stop porous hair losing water may provide this effect. 

Damaged hair (permed, bleached and relaxed), that was soaked in a 1% solution with ceramide-containing lipids retained moisture better and resisted breakage in this study - of oils extracted from wool. (It was 4% Cholesterol and 22% Ceramides for those who love the nerdy details).

Neither of these studies quite reproduced the normal way we apply products to our hair. But they do indicate there is a benefit to be had.

The kind of ceramide used in a hair product may not matter, considering hair can contain a multitude of different ceramides. It may be the structure of those oily substances we call “ceramide” that matters most in hair cosmetics. 

Cholesterol (I promised to bring cholesterol back into the conversation) - works along with ceramides, and in a similar way. They go together, functioning in similar ways to protect hair from breakage.

Other Ways To Approach Ceramides:

If you do not use those intense chemical processes you can prevent loss of ceramides and other very hydrophobic (water-repelling) oils from your hair. There’s a very easy way to do that - no extra steps required: Use a shampoo that contains a cationic polymer - one that performed well in testing was Polyquaternium-10. This ingredient is in many shampoos already as a detangler and conditioner. You can find a list of shampoos - with that ingredient indicated here. I promise - it's not hard at all to find a shampoo containing Polyquaternium-10.

This ingredient prevents the loss of ceramides and cholesterol from hair during shampooing because it is a cationic polymer that interferes with the way that detergents can remove ceramides, cholesterol, and other longer, complex oily molecules. 

The other component of oils - the shorter molecules or the ones nearer the surface can be protected from loss during washing by using milder surfactants - ones that don’t over-strip the skin (or hair) of oils nor penetrate the hair deeply.

Take Home Messages: 

Let’s take a really rational look at why you might consider ceramides in hair-care.

  • Damaged hair: Relaxed/straightened, Highlighted, Permed hair - may benefit from ceramides. Especially if your hair is already susceptible to breakage and you don't already have a product that works
  • Medicated shampoos, prefer clarifying shampoo: If you need to use medicated shampoos and they are drying to your hair, especially if you have Type 4 (kinky, textured) hair - ceramides might help prevent breakage from those stronger detergents. But so can ingredients like Amodimethicone, or check out products designed for Porous Hair, and "Bond-Building products" too.
  • Picky hair: Maybe (just maybe!) if your hair is hard to shop for - if it doesn’t do well with lots of ingredients that normally reduce breakage (coconut oil, sunflower oil, proteins) - ceramides might be an option. But product-options may limit you on the "picky hair" front.
Plant oils and ceramides: Ceramides can be derived from plant oils - and those can do a great job in cosmetics. But plant oils are not ceramides in the way we’re talking about them here.

Other strategies:

  • Use shampoos containing Polyquaternium-10 to prevent ceramide loss (and other oils too) from hair during shampooing.
  • Other ingredients that provide both lubrication and anti-breakage effects: Amodimethicone, Bis-Aminopropyl Dimethicone, Coconut oil.

  • Other ingredients that prevent hair breakage: Hydrolyzed proteins, Isopentyldiol, Hydroxypropylgluconamide, Hydroxypropylammonium Gluconate.

Price key:
$5 to $10 : $$
$10 to $20: $$$
$20-$30:  $$$$
(In which ceramide appears to be 0.5% or greater)

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