Ceramides: Patching up Damaged Hair

Here is the much requested post that I keep forgetting to do! Ceramides are the new craze in hairdressing, so what exactly are they?

What are ceramides?

Ceramides are one of three* types of lipids (the 'sciencey' term for oil) found in the cuticle (J. Cosmet Sci., 56, 1-16, 2005). The IN is emphasised because the oil in the cuticle is different from the oil on the outer hair surface. The outer oil is sebum which is dfferent from the inner oil

Why is there an oil in the cuticle?

The cuticle is made up of multiple layers and the oil acts as a cement to keep the layers together. (See the diagram -click to enlarge it)

How do ceramides work in hair products?

The truth is ceramides are most useful in chemically damaged hair. This means relaxed or coloured hair. L'Oreal studied African American hair and in truth natural hair which is unprocessed doesn't really take up the product in the levels that relaxed hair does (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 24, 1-12, 2002)

The results

What they did:
1. Treat virgin, lye and no lye relaxed hair with ceramide
2. Wash the hair in ceramide free shampoo (i.e check how much ceramide binds and does not get washed off)

Hair type Initial amount after treatment with ceramide Post-Shampoo amount of ceramide (i.e what really sticks on)
Natural (untreated) 367 66 (18%)
Lye Relaxed Hair (sodium hydroxide)
610 (63%)
No-Lye Relaxed Hair (guanidine) 829 441 (53%)


Natural hair initially takes up very little of the artificially added ceramide and then drops off more than 80% of it showing that the ceramide is not well bound to the hair (i.e not required). Relaxed hair on the other hand benefits from ceramides and further results in the paper specifically show that for no-lye relaxed hair, there is an increase in breakage resistance (no they did not compare it to natural hair or lye relaxed hair)

Why does relaxed hair take up so much more?

Feel free to read the relaxing science post. Here I explain that relaxers dissolve hair oils both internal and external (go here).

Common questions
1. Shampoo dissolves oil too so can natural hair be affected by this? I guess the easiest comparison I can make is if you have a dirty oven, do you think an oven cleaner with sodium hydroxide would perform in the same way as shampoo. On the grand scale, shampoo has nothing on dishwashing liquid and both of those have nothing in comparison to sodium hydroxide. Yes washing hair even in plain water will affect it BUT and it is a huge BUT the damage rate is nowhere close to chemical treatment (i.e relaxing or bleaching).

2. Do ceramides occur naturally? Yes they do, wheat germ being a common source. The synthetic form of ceramide is highly concentrated and therefore useful for giving hair a high dose. It is also designed to mimic the naturally occuring ceramide in hair which is different from that found in skin and plant sources.

3. What is the best way to use ceramides? In a leave in product

4. Which is better ceramide or protein conditioners? They are different products. Ceramides are meant to replenish the internal cuticle oil, hydrolysed protein patches up the cuticle surface. 

*Incase you are wondering the other two oils are 18 methyl eicosanoic acid or 18 MEA and Cholesterol


  1. Really interesting - I think it may be worth a try for my coloured hair thanks JC (CHM)

  2. YES!

    Thanks you so much! I have a two leave-in products with ceramides. One with synthetic ceramides and one with natural ceramides. The are doing wonders for my hair! To be honest, this would explain why the one with synthetic ceramide works IMMEDIATELY! I didn't know that synthetic ceramides were more concentrated. Good to know!

  3. Yw CHM and Addy. Lol I know you are a ceramide fan Addy :)

  4. Addy, would you mind naming the products you use? Thanks.

  5. @Addy - can you tell us what these leave ins are?

    1. Silicon Mix Leave In has ceramides. I purchase mine off Amazon.

  6. Yay for the ceramides post!

    Did the paper say anything about the concentration of the synthetic ceramides that they applied to hair? I rarely see products with a significant amount if any at all. For example, the Skala G3 Conditioners that relaxed women talk about. As far as I can tell the most beneficial ingredient in those is centrimonium chloride. I don't see anything that says "ceramide" or "wheat germ" in the ingredients. I've also read people say that octadecanediol is a ceramide...but, I know that is false. Please enlighten us further Jc!

  7. Nix the last part of my comment about octadecanediol. I just re-read something that makes a lot more sense now. Thanks Jc!

  8. Oops! sorry, I shouldn't just said these products works for me and just walk off. lolz

    Right now, I moving to an all ceramide product regimen. The exception for me would be cuticle sealer, shampoo, and clairfyer/chelating products. I use Bronner brother braid spray (wheat germ herb, eucalyptus oil), Redken Extreme Anti-Snap leave-in (synthetic; 2-Oleamido-1,3-octadecanediol), and Matrix Biolage Ultra-Hydrating Balm (wheat germ oil).

    The Redken Leave-in is the one that works quickly. It's a light protein leave-in. I also pre-poo with rice bran oil. It's also a ceramide. But after hearing that synthetic is more concentrated, I'm going ahead and purchase synthetic ceramides.

    Thanks JC!

  9. Little One, you are right that they only add ceramide in small concentrations- as low as 0.1% to 0.5%. The L'oreal study used 0.1% and was clearly more than sufficient.

    The concentrated product from L'Oreal claims to be 10 times more concentrated than what you would find in hair (which is not much anyway lol). However that is the claim.

  10. (((Jc))) Thank you so much for that article. I learned a lot, but I have one more question. My hair is natural and now I don't know if it's beneficial to continue to use my wheat germ oil. Is it?


  11. Just wanted to say how interesting this is!

  12. Thanks Addy and JC too of course, extremely useful as always!

  13. Thanks for the comments. Lady Swag, there really isn't research that I could gind to say wheat germ oil is beneficial. It doesn't mean it isn't just means that I can't say that it is .......(sounds like a tongue twister lol). Basically if you like it, keep it.

  14. I have relaxed, colour treated hair and the Shielo Hydrate Conditioner is fantastic to use after both of those processes. Nice smell. I use it with each shampoo. Love this product!

  15. Hi. Do you think natural hair with heat damage will take up ceramides better than undamaged natural hair?

  16. I've been trying to find the cermaide content in oils and which oils are the highest in ceramides. I came across this list: http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/showthread.php?p=1237549
    The problem is that I can't find any supporting research to back up the claims in this list. Can you shed any light on this please?

  17. When it comes to products with ceramides in them, does it matter how far down the ingredients list it is?
    Also, you said ceramides are best in leave-in products, does that mean that they wash off completely in rinse out products?

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. hair salon london - i really hate aggressive commentary. Are you serious that I need to do some homework?

    In all seriousness this is a scientific blog, which cites scientific research. Washing hair actually removed a large amount of the ceramide - anywhere between 47-80% depending on the state of the hair (natural or relaxed).

    Clearly if hair is damaged and you want to retain the ceramide then you need to not wash it off (i.e use it in a leave in).

    Please do not visit my blog or comment on it if you cannot be polite.

  20. Hi JC,

    Please respond to this question.

    In posts about ceramides all over the net, people will give a list of products / natural oils that contain ceramides, but these lists are not verifiable. I don't know how these lists are created, or if people are just cutting and pasting lists they see elsewhere. The key question is: What CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS / INGREDIENT NAMES should one look for to verify that a product contains ceramides?


  21. Loreal's ceramide is listed as "2-Oleamido-1,3-Octadecanediol" on their ingredients lists.

  22. Nexxus products list their ceramides as "Ceramide 3". Ceramides will work for you regardless of where they are placed on the list of ingredients. The reason they are placed so low is because they can build up quickly. It's better to apply ceramics little by little instead of having them overpower a product. Ceramide build up could impede moisture from getting into the hair shaft.

  23. This is really good Information. Thanks for Sharing!

  24. Great post. Just discovered ceramides.

  25. how often should it be used to benefit the hair

  26. since the relaxed and color treated hair retained and attracted more of the ceramides, is it safe to say that damaged (specifically raised, chipped. or missing cuticles) hair benefits most from their use? I ask because the hair that was untreated may or may not have also been damaged. If it was damaged, untreated, and still had those results, my question would be invalid. But I am unsure... Untreated hair can break and be damaged just as bad as relaxed or color treated hair

  27. Good evening

    Can you kindly recommend some leave-in products with ceramides in them?



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