What Ceramides Are
Ceramides are the primary component of the top layer of your skin (the stratum corneum), along with cholesterol and saturated fat. Like the other two, they are lipids (fats), and they are in large part responsible for the integrity of your skin’s barrier against microbes in the outside world.
(The barrier works in both directions, by the way: ceramides are responsible for retaining water in the skin, which contributes to its youthful appearance. The ceramide concentration in the skin declines dramatically with age, which is one reason why ceramides are included in many anti-aging products.)
Eczema: Potential Causes
In my experience the biggest underlying cause usually involves food sensitivities. More often than not, identifying and removing the food sensitivity(s) will get rid of some 80-90% of eczema in an individual patient. In some cases the cause may be environmental allergies or toxins, though, since the histamine response in the body is very similar in both cases. This histamine response is the reason why suppressive treatments like hydrocortisone and other steroids work well for eczema, temporarily—but they do not address the root issue.
Removing the offending agent doesn’t usually heal eczema completely, however. Part of this is because in eczema, the skin barrier gets compromised, allowing normally benign bacteria to overgrow and become infectious, in a process called dysbiosis. This can happen with bacteria (usually staph aureus) or fungi (candida albicans). The dysbiosis is usually secondary to the underlying cause, though.
Ceramides and the Skin Barrier
This is where ceramides come in. Because they are a crucial component in the skin’s barrier, or ability to keep microbes in their places, emollients with ceramides can assist with keeping your skin’s flora in check… while dealing with the internal reasons for the eczema at the same time.
The most readily available over-the-counter product containing ceramides that I know of is CeraVe. I don’t love some of its other ingredients, however (as it contains parabens, an endocrine disrupting chemical), and a long list of other chemicals as well. Especially concerning when you’re applying it to skin with an already disrupted barrier!) I did, however, find a generic CVS brand eczema cream that, while it does still contain a long list of unrecognizable chemicals, at least did not include the objectionable parabens.
If you know of a ceramide-containing cream that is otherwise chemical-free, please let me know!