Please help a dummy understand formulating with ceramides.

Okay, so I have been reading that one should formulate ceramides in a specific ratio along with cholesterol and free fatty acids. 

50% ceramide, 25% cholesterol, 15% free fatty acids. 

What I am not understanding when I read the ratio, is do they mean these percentages in terms of the ENTIRE volume of the formula, or do they mean these percentages as per the amount of a “complex” — for example: “I will use 5% of a ceramide “complex” in the total volume of the product, meaning the percentages of each ingredient in the complex are totalled by dividing up the 5%”. ? 

It seems to me that 50% volume of ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 15% free fatty acids in, let’s say, a 2 oz (56.69 gram) product would be an outrageous amount, so I am guessing the percentages are actually made up from how much of the “ceramide complex” you want in the end product, and *not* made up of the total volume of the product. Right?

Yes, I know I am extremely dumb for not understanding this and having to ask!! I apologize in advance. 

Also, when they say “free fatty acids” does that mean just adding any carrier oil with essential fatty acids, or does it mean adding something like Sunflower or Olive Oil Unsaponifiables?

Finally, would it be wrong to put this “complex” in a base of pomegranate seed oil? Would that, in effect, completely screw up the “ratio”? 

I am sorry if this is all so stupid. I am really trying hard to understand all of this information as an amateur formulator who is desperate to be able to make my own product due to skin sensitivites that make it seemingly impossible to use the array of professionally formulated products that are already available. I hope you can be patient with me.

Thank you in advance for your help. 


  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    You would use 5% of a Ceramide Complex, the composition of that complex being Ceramides (50%), Cholesterol (25%), FFA (15%).  Easier to just purchase:  (This is SK Influx from Evonik repackaged by MC in small quantities).

    Note:  Ceramides/Ceramide Complexes are generally water-soluble, not oil soluble.

    Free Fatty Acids ... kind of a generic catchall term for components of certain oils ... there are specific ingredients that are either high is FFA or the FFA/Esssential Fatty Acids have been extracted.  Here's something you might consider:

    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    Provides Formulation Development and Lab-Scale Contract Manufacturing Services.  See website for details

  • There is a ceramide complex with exactly the same ingredients sold by lotioncrafter:
    It is cheaper than makincosmetics and they give more details on how to use it (temperature, phase etc.)
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @MJL ; - 

    "Finally, would it be wrong to put this “complex” in a base of pomegranate seed oil? Would that, in effect, completely screw up the “ratio”? "

    In my view, the ratio is marketing BS so there is nothing to "screw up." Put your complex in whatever base that it will go in. Since it's hardly proven that topical ceramides are going to have any beneficial effect, you're unlikely to notice. This ratio is only some theoretical thing that marketers of ceramides have put together. It is not based on settled science.

    "I am sorry if this is all so stupid. I am really trying hard to understand all of this information as an amateur formulator who is desperate to be able to make my own product due to skin sensitivities that make it seemingly impossible to use the array of professionally formulated products that are already available. I hope you can be patient with me."

    It might surprise you to learn but there is a ton of misinformation, dubious claims, and sketchy science that gets tossed around by cosmetic marketers, raw material sellers, and formulators too. Ceramides are a great example. 

    Sure, ceramides have been identified as important components of the skin and specifically the outer layer, stratum corneum. But there is scant evidence that applying a ceramide containing lotion will have any more beneficial effect than just applying a good, petrolatum-based moisturizer. And there certainly hasn't been an exhaustive study figuring out exactly what the correct ratio of ceramides to cholesterol to free fatty acids. 

    There is so much eagerness to create the next greatest skin product that often findings from a small, unrepeated, bad study get trumpeted by biased parties to convince consumers and formulators alike that an ingredient will have amazing effects. It's almost always untrue.  Ceramides are just another in a long line of potentially, but unproven, great ingredients.

    Note:  if someone wants to make a science-based defense of the use of ceramides, I'd love to see it. I scanned through published evidence in Google scholar and saw nothing I would consider convincing.
  • Thank you so much @MarkBroussard for the helpful information and ingredient suggestions! I appreciate it! 

    Thank you @ngarayeva001 also suggestion the complex. 

    I wasn’t sure I could use it because it contains carbomer, which gives me acne. Although I know it’s a quite a minute amount in the complex, so it may not affect me. It’s definitely something I will keep in the back of my mind as I am deciding on my formula.
  • MJLMJL Member
    edited September 2018
    @Perry Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I have often been conflicted about the things I am adding to my creations, not sure as to whether or not they can actually have an effect. 

    On the the other hand, I have read hundreds of anecdotes on places like Reddit’s “SkincareAddiction” forum on the positive benefits people have seen after using products with ceramides. Although I certainly know that anecdotes do not prove anything! But the chatter about it makes me want to give it a shot. However, I’m definitely going to continue more research before I go ahead and buy a bunch of expensive ingredients.
  • ngarayeva001ngarayeva001 Member
    edited September 2018
    @MJL, I was a skincare junkie before I started formulating. I tried so many different products that it’s actually hard to believe now. So I have some experience with commercial products with ‘claim’ ingredients. I respect the professionals of this forum a lot and very grateful for their input. But  there is a couple of ingredients that are not proven to work by science but they do for me. Maybe it’s a placebo effect although I really try to stay sceptical. Ceramides is one of them for me. Frankly I shove them everywhere where the formula allows 😂 Feel a bit guilty and try to be scientific :smiley:
  • @MJL maybe you order a small bottle from the lotioncrafter and add at a high concentration in your formula, use it for a month and see how you feel about it? Btw, they have very short shelf life, so it makes sense to order the smallest bottle. They can be heated up to 80 C, but keep in mind they destroy viscosity. I recently read that they should be added to the water phase not the cool down phase (which I always did). Have not tried yet.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    edited September 2018
    @MJL - If you really want to find out what is true, it's always helpful to remain skeptical. And it's helpful to be aware of your own confirmation bias. Hundreds of anecdotes from SkinCareAddiction may feel compelling but they don't tell you much. People are much more motivated to write positive (or negative) experiences than the vastly more common experience "I don't know." 

    @ngarayeva001 has been convinced through personal experiences which may or may not be real. This doesn't provide you much evidence since an individual experience is almost never predictive of some general rule.

    Ultimately, I think further reading research won't be of much benefit to you unless you understand the implications of papers like this one

    I know a bit about biochemistry and I have a hard time figuring out what a paper like that means as far the benefit to applying ceramides to your skin. This type of research is not easy to do or understand!  Their conclusion is telling of what's known in this type of research.  "Hence, topical skin lipid supplementation may provide opportunities for controlling ceramide deficiency and improving skin condition."

    Certainly not a ringing endorsement.

    However, I don't want to come off as saying that you're wasting your time trying ceramides or even researching them more. By all means, try them. Read the science. They might work for you or at least might feel like they are working for you which is probably just as good.
  • @Perry I totally agree that individual experience is not a proof (I admit that I am biased in this case). However, I think that sometimes it is worth trying. At least to know how to formulate with ceramides. Thank you very much for this paper and the knowledge that you share.
  • @Perry , I couldn't get an access to the full article to understand their methods. Have you heard about this study?
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @ngarayeva001 - Interesting paper.  Here is a link to the full thing.

    But this is a good example of what is wrong with this type of research. The researchers are trying to answer the question, what effects (if any) do topically applied ceramides have on skin? But consumers really want to know, what should I apply to my skin that will make it look & feel the best?  This research doesn't answer the main question consumers are interested in.

    There are also some obvious problems with this research though.

    First, the control emulsion is not a skin moisturizer. The research might conclude that ceramides improve skin barrier repair but this doesn't say anything about how that compares to a standard moisturizer that uses petrolatum. This is really what a product user would want to know. 

    Second, they used 12 subjects. You can't make any general conclusions from a 12 subject study.

    Third, this was done on women aged 22 - 24 who's skin is not representative of consumers who would be using ceramides in skin care.

    Fourth, the results are not dramatic. 

    And I'll also add that having done research like this I know how difficult it is to get consistent measurements of TEWL so I remain highly skeptical of small studies that aren't repeated.

    All this is to say is that this type of research is complicated & it's difficult to understand what it means in the long run. If ceramides are an incredible anti-aging ingredient, this research certainly doesn't show that.

  • @Perry thank you very much for the full study! I agree the sample size is tiny.  
  • @Perry Thanks for the study.

    I generally agree with your observations It has a small sample size, sadly I feel this has come to be the standard in cosmetics.

    In academic publishing, such minor differences might make or break the possibility for a second article. So if you want to answer "does ceramides work to reduce TEWL", it could be construed as less significant to answer if it works better than a standard lotion.

    a little bias: I find V. Rogiers to be competent, she is also a member of the SCCS.
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @Sibech - ah, I didn't mean to suggest the researchers weren't competent. I'm certain they diligently followed their protocols & for what they were trying to prove, they showed some directional differences. 

  • @Perry I didn’t see any suggestion of incompetence at all, just mentioning my personal bias.

    While I see this article as “okay they work better than water carbomer” it is likely to be a “one feather turning to five hens” situation in mass media through the standard exaggeration pathway and after a few cycles it would be cited in a magazine as: clinical study proves: Ceramides are the best moisturizing factors!
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • MJLMJL Member
    edited September 2018
    Thanks again @Perry for your thoughtful observations and for the information you have provided. I appreciate what you have given me to think about! 

    Thank you also @ngarayeva001 and @Sibech for adding to the discussion as well. 
  • the importance of  the 50% ceramide, 25% cholesterol, 15% free fatty acids ratio in the skin was studied a lot by Peter Elias. He publishes many papers dealing with the lipid structure of the skin, and the possibility to regenere SC barrier function using topical product with this composition. He also actively participates to the development of the Epiceram medical device based on this composition that seems to have good results for AD management.  

  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @jeremien - do you have any links to papers he might have published on the subject? 

    I did a Google Scholar search of published research and didn't find anything related to demonstrating that topical application of ceramides was a superior treatment to petrolatum.,14&as_vis=1
  • first and foremost you are not a "dummy" for trying to learn and understand a topic you may not have a lot of experience in.  At least you are trying to seek information to help your cause.  There are lots of people that try to pass themselves off as experts because they know how to "google" some on the internet and think that is the gospel.  At least here on this site you will get honest and factual opinions and a pathway to move forward with enlightenment.    There are people that trying to make folks feel stupid for asking a question.  If didn't ask the "stupid" question then you won't have the knowledge and you will still be stuck or enlightened. 
  • @Perry ; after a quick shearch i find this two papers. the second one reports the results from a clinical investigation with Epiceram

    You are right that they never compare with petrolatum.

    In my opinion petrolatum (or lanolin) is purely occlusive. The main target of petrolatum is to reduce TEWL and, consequently, increase stratum corneum hydration. Two inconveniences of this mechanism can be the excessive reduction of skin-breathing capability, or the quick return to a water loss condition once the occlusive mixture is removed. Indeed, an excessive increase in stratum corneum hydration afforded by the application of occlusive substances does not lead to the well-being and protection of the skin. On the contrary, intense dermatitis can occur simply due to prolonged water exposure.

    I guess that regeneration  of the lipidic composition/structure of the SC strategies, can help to long-lasting hydration of the skin.  

    In the last decade's science help us to understand better the composition/structure of the skin, and in particular the importance of the lipidic structure of the SC, and a bio-mimetic approach should be effective. 

    Saying that, ceramides are complex molecules complicated (and very expensive) to synthesized, and there still a lot of ceramides molecules to be discovered. Fow now, i only know Evonik product with an affordable price to be used in cosmetic, quite limited choice, and not sure that are the ones present in the human skin. 

  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    Here are the main ceramide components of Evonik's SK Influx:

    Ceramide 3; Ceramide 6 II; Ceramide 1; Phytosphingosine 

    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    Provides Formulation Development and Lab-Scale Contract Manufacturing Services.  See website for details

  • Thank you @Chemist5000 for your kind words. :) 
  • @jeremien Thank you for sharing those articles!
  • DoreenDoreen Member
    edited September 2018
    Don't know if it's already mentioned, but the ceramide complex SK Influx by Evonik that was mentioned by @MarkBroussard can have influence on the viscosity of an O/W emulsion (can drop considerably). In W/O emulsions, don't use more than 3%, something to do with phase inversion.
    Add it to the water phase. It's incompatible with cationics and don't keep it stored in the fridge.

    I've used it a few times in moisturizers and toners and this is what I remember about it, I hope it's helpful to you if you consider purchasing it! Good luck! :)
  • @Doreen I mentioned it above but it's worth repeating. Ceramides kill the viscosity when added to the ready emulsion. They tolerate up to 80C, so should be added to the water phase.
    What's the deal with the fridge though? Suppliers send it wrapped in ice and say that ceramides should be stored in the fridge.
  • @ngarayeva001
    Evonik recommended it not to store it below 10C. 
  • @ngarayeva001
    I have just looked up the storage recommendations of Evonik on UL Prospector, this is what it says:

    • The product is stable for 1 year when stored at 10 - 15°C.
    • Kept at room temperature the product is stable for half a year.
    • The product should not be stored at temperatures lower than 10°C.  
  • ngarayeva001ngarayeva001 Member
    edited September 2018
    @Doreen, I just checked Evonik complex. It has a bit different LOI than the one I was talking about. I bought an identical complex (the only difference is the country of origin) from the lotioncrafter and from makingcosmetics. They both send it wrapped in ice (that obviously melted by the time I received it) and labelled it "to be stored for 6 months under refrigeration". 

    Ceramide NP (and) Ceramide AP (and) Ceramide EOP (and) Phytosphingosine (and) Cholesterol (and) Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate (and) Carbomer (and) Xanthan Gum.

    Good to know. I thought all ceramides should be refrigerated.

  • @ngarayeva001
    The LOI you list is the same as the SK Influx.
    I have attached the Evonik data sheet, hopefully it's helpful. :)
  • You are right. They are the same. I wonder why makingcosmetics and lotioncrafter recommend to store ceramides in the fridge then..
  • MJLMJL Member
    edited September 2018
    Thanks @Doreen and @ngarayeva001 for the info!

    Frustratingly, I don’t think I’ll be able to use the SK Influx as I’ve been patch tested at the dermatologist for different skin sensitivities (a major issue I have) and reacted badly to carbomer (which is part of the ingredients of SK Influx).

    I realize it’s a very small amount of carbomer in the total product, and even smaller when you’re adding a minimal percentage such as 3% to a formula, but I’m not sure I feel comfortable putting it on my face given the reaction my skin experienced (bright red stinging + acne). Yikes!
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