Phytoceramides: A Botanical Facelift

In 1884 German physician L.T. W. Thudichen discovered the presence of ceramides in the human brain. Ceramides are key lipids (fat molecules) that are naturally found in the skin’s outer layer and act as a binding agent between skin cells. They also strengthen the skin’s natural barrier and lock in moisture so the skin remains hydrated, resilient and youthful-looking. However, by the time a person reaches his 60th birthday, the upper layer of the skin may have thinned by as much as 30%. This is due to the declining ceramide content in the skin resulting in sagging skin, fine lines and wrinkles. Ceramides can also be found in plants, these are called phytoceramides.

Harvest And Harness

In the past, ceramides extracted from the bovine brain were used in cosmetics. However, due to the risk of viral infections or conditions such as mad cow disease, cosmetics companies shifted to phytoceramides – ceramides derived from plant sources such as wheat, millet, brown rice, soybeans and sweet potato. Today, almost all commercially harvested ceramides on the market are derived from plant sources due to their lower cost and higher safety imperatives. Advancements in research and technology have also enabled scientists to map the complete biochemistry of each plant compound and harnessing it to produce effective and targeted anti-aging skincare cosmetics and oral supplements. Industry experts estimate the beauty care industry to be worth US$250 billion dollars annually!

The Wrinkle Warrior

So what is it about these phytoceramides that have earned them global renown and hailed by some as the “miracle pill” for healthier and younger–looking skin? Inter alia, they contain the same lipids that are found naturally in the human skin and work in a similar way. They penetrate each of the four skin layers, hydrate, retain moisture and plump up the skin. This inside-out hydration mechanism also nurtures a protective barrier against sun damage, dry skin and patches. Furthermore, phytoceramides stimulate collagen production which is important in increasing skin elasticity.

Phytoceramides: Alternative To Botox?

In 2004, the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved phytoceramides as a dietary supplement. Then, the Osaka City University conducted a clinical study that was hailed by some as the “Botox Alternative” research. 33 patients – 27 women and 6 men – with dry and rough skin took phytoceramide soft gel capsules daily over six weeks. The results showed that phytoceramides hydrated the skin from within, repaired wrinkles and aging skin on the entire body. As noted by top plastic surgeon Dr Leif Rodgers, “taking phytoceramides is like getting a facelift in a bottle.” Nip and tuck practitioners worldwide are understandably concerned given the potential loss of revenue with the botox industry estimated to be worth around US$1.3 billion.

To Pop Or Not To Pop?

Based on available published results from clinical trials, the general consensus seems to be that phytoceramide supplements are worth their daily pop. Increased skin hydration tops the benefits list followed by reduced skin dryness and redness. By locking in moisture from the inside out, phytoceramides stabilize the skin tissue and keep it soft and supple. The result: reduced wrinkles, rejuvenated skin and a more youthful-looking complexion. There is also early evidence of phytoceramides’ potential as a “new therapeutic agent” for the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

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