Having healthy, supple skin is a goal for virtually everyone. Dry skin is often itchy, irritated and can sometimes leave blemishes as a result of excessive scratching or exposure to items that can inflame it. Likewise, excessive sun exposure or environmental factors can prematurely age people. So, finding ingredients that nourish, protect, and replenish essential moisture and nutrients is critical to safeguarding the body’s largest organ—the skin. 

Anyone who’s shopped for moisturizers, cleansers, or even serums has probably come across the terms ceramides and peptides. Both are essential building blocks for healthy skin. But unless you’re a dermatologist, aesthetician or skincare guru, you might not automatically know how these two ingredients work, differ from each other, and when to choose one over the other. 

What Are Ceramides?

Ceramides are lipids that are actually fatty acids and are naturally found in the skin. Their purpose is to protect the skin from dryness and infection. Ceramides are found in the skin cells and makeup 30% to 40% of the epidermis. 

These fatty acids are critical as they aid in reinforcing the natural skin barrier. This includes preventing toxins, pollution and other invaders from penetrating the skin. Specifically, there are two types of ceramides — natural and synthetic. 

Natural ceramides include the ones found in the skin and in other animals such as cows, along with plants like soy. Meanwhile, synthetic ceramides are the kinds people most frequently encounter in skincare products because they are less likely to be contaminated and are more stable. 

When a person routinely has low ceramide levels, they might experience atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, or dry skin. Ceramides offer the following benefits: 

  • Improve health of skin cells
  • Support barrier to prevent moisture loss
  • Prevent dryness and skin irritation
  • Protect skin against environmental damage
  • Protect skin against infectious germs and allergies
  • Keeps skin moist and supple to prevent premature aging

What Are Peptides?

While ceramides are fatty acids, peptides are proteins that can penetrate the skin and moisturize it. Similar to ceramides, they are naturally occurring in the skin. Normally this includes smoothing fine lines and wrinkles. Specifically, peptides are amino acids that when used as a skincare additive can support collagen and elastin production. Collagen is essential as it aids in building the skin, bones, and cartilage. However, collagen molecules are large and sometimes when applied topically are too big to effectively penetrate the skin.

There are a variety of peptides that target production of specific types of proteins that the body needs. Because of their smaller size, peptides are incredibly effective at penetrating the skin, unlike some skin care ingredients that rely on larger molecules that simply sit on the surface. 

Peptides can provide the following benefits for a good skincare routine: 

  • Reduce wrinkles and fine lines
  • Aid in protecting against UV damage
  • Assist in treating acne
  • Support wound healing

Are Ceramides and Peptides Interchangeable?

Ceramides and peptides usually target different goals.; because of this, they can often be used together. While the two skincare building blocks do support similar aims, they are not interchangeable. This means that each item is meant to achieve different ends. Ceramides are primarily used to hydrate and protect the skin’s natural barrier while aiding in reducing the effects of serious conditions like atopic dermatitis or allergic reactions. 

Meanwhile, peptides are often used to precisely correct or repair signs of aging like fine lines or wrinkles. Although collagen isn’t the only protein that peptides can support, it is one of the most popular types that’s included in skincare products. Note though, that collagen peptides are also a common ingredient for scar reduction and wound healing treatments. 

Another popular use for peptides is as an antimicrobial agent to support an acne-fighting routine. And while more research is needed to fully understand how it works, some peptides do offer protection against UV damage. 

How to Use Ceramides and Peptides

Both peptides and ceramides are common ingredients in skincare formulas. But understanding when one is better suited than the other — or if they should be used together — will help people create a skincare regimen that brings out the best in their skin. Alexis Pfropper, a licensed esthetician and the owner/founder of Asthetic Skincare reminds readers that “ceramides are great for strengthening the skin barrier, while peptides are beneficial for collagen production and anti-aging.”

When Ceramides Are Best

Pfropper adds that “if someone has dry or compromised skin, they might prioritize ceramides.” In this case, look for cholesterol and fatty acid ceramides. These types of ceramides most closely mimic the skin’s natural composition and give a person the best chance of restoring their skin health. 

Because ceramides are not an active ingredient like niacinamide or even vitamin C, there is no limit to how often a person can use them. As a result, there is no wrong frequency for use. Pfropper recommends using a ceramide-rich moisturizer or serum. Anyone can use a ceramide, but they are definitely a must-have for anyone battling skin irritation since they are one of the most effective ways to combat this type of skin damage.

When Peptides Are Best

Traditionally, peptides are a go-to solution for reversing the signs of aging or sun damage. They are most frequently found in serums and moisturizers. And since they are not considered active ingredients and are generally well tolerated by most people, peptides are often combined in formulas with active ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, or even niacinamide. 

Specifically, peptides found in serums and creams are often designed to target specific concerns like wrinkles or sagging. However, people using alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) should avoid mixing them with peptides since AHAs can reduce its effectiveness. 

Can Peptides and Ceramides Be Used Together?

Since neither peptides or ceramides are active ingredients, the two can be used simultaneously without creating problems. In many cases, using the two together is incredibly beneficial since boosting moisture can support anti-aging and cellular repair while cellular repair can help to restore the skin’s barrier and prevent moisture loss. However, even though both items are generally well tolerated Pfropper cautions that some people can be allergic and as a result, everyone is encouraged to perform a patch test before incorporating a ceramide- or peptide-based serum into their daily skincare routine.