Did you know that the skincare products capable of effectively repairing your skin barrier have a unique, specific lipid composition? Let’s find out the features of that composition and what active ingredients can complement it based on your skin type.


Hi! In this post, our heroes are lipids, particularly those that are relevant for the fortification and repair of the cutaneous barrier in all healthy skin types – including those greasier skin variants –.

What comprises the skin barrier? What components are essential?

From a fundamental perspective, our skin – whose composition and structure allow our current earthy life – forms two different types of barriers. These boundaries defend our systems and organs from external aggressors (such as ultraviolet radiation or climate changes):

– a permeability barrier (basically a waterproof barrier which hinders excessive water loss throughout the skin, called trans-epidermal water loss);

– and an anti-microbial barrier (which protects us from infections).

The lipids in our epidermis come from two different sources.

In the first place, there are lipids whose synthesis takes place inside the keratinocytes – the predominant cells in the epidermis –. Those are an essential component of the structure of the uppermost skin layer (called the stratum corneum).

Secondly, there are those lipids which are produced by the sebaceous glands in the dermis and secreted to the skin’s surface.

The quality of the permeability barrier is dependent on the lipids produced inside the keratinocytes: ceramides (50%), cholesterol (27%), fatty acids (10%), and a small number of cholesterol derivatives. These comprise the intercellular cement in the stratum corneum.

And the quality of the anti-microbial barrier depends on fatty acids mainly derived from our sebum (such as palmitic acid, lauric acid, and sapienic acid) and the presence of some derivatives of ceramides on the skin surface (such as sphingosine and dihydro-sphingosine).

The rest of the components of our sebum (squalene, wax derivatives, etc.) lubricate the skin and therefore contribute to the formation of a better permeability barrier. Nonetheless, they are not an essential part of it (contrary to, for instance, the ceramides).

Illustration of the skin that highlights the essential lipid components of the permeability and anti-microbial barriers of the epidermis..
Illustration of the skin that highlights the essential lipid components of the permeability and anti-microbial barriers of the epidermis.

Which are those useful ingredient blends that truly fortify the cutaneous barrier upon cold weather conditions?

Topical formulations with only one or two of the three structural lipid components (ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids) do not enhance the cutaneous barrier’s quality 1.

However, blends which comprise quite similar amounts of each of those lipids do improve it 1. Why? Due to a significant impermeability increase (and a simultaneous reduction in trans-epidermal water loss).

Moreover, there is an even better skin barrier improvement if the quantity of one of those three bio lipids triples the amount of the other two 1.

Therefore, the presence of all three types of lipids in a topical skincare formulation is the minimal requirement to fortify the permeability barrier.

Ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids blends enhance the permeability barrier of our skin.
Ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids blends enhance the permeability barrier of our skin.

Can we analyze a skincare product as an example?

Of course! We are analyzing a product recommended for normal to dry skins by the manufacturer. However, this is a lightweight product that spreads well (a small amount goes a long way). And it does not leave any greasy residue. So it is also totally suitable for combination skin (with some oily skin areas) and oily skin.

The permeability barrier of all healthy skin types improves with similar lipid mixtures. That is why this moisturizer can work for every skin type. For instance, for those with oily skin, it might be great for everyday use or to occasionally fortify their skin and make it recover from temporary damage (such as skin dehydration upon the use of specific cleansers or acne medications).

The product is CeraVe’s Facial Moisturizing Lotion, whose ingredient list (or INCI) is as follows (see below). By the way, I have no professional relationship at all with the CeraVe brand.

Purified Water, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Niacinamide, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Phytosphingosine, Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Dimethicone, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Ceteareth-20, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Cholesterol, Xanthan Gum, Carbomer, Disodium EDTA, Dipotassium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate.

The ingredients are always in decreasing order of concentration in the INCI list (that is, the first is the most concentrated).

As we can see, this product contains the three types of biolipids we are looking for:

– triglycerides (Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides) are precursors of fatty acids (in this case two different ones: caprylic acid and capric acid);

– ceramides: Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1 [also Phytosphingosine which, like other sphingosines, is a precursor (or product) of ceramides];

– and Cholesterol.

Although the INCI list shown above does not display the concentration of ingredients, we could reason that the proportion of ceramides might be higher. There are four ceramide species toward the beginning of the list, and cholesterol is in the middle. Besides, there are two different fatty acids included in the same ingredient (Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides) at the top of the list. 

Additionally, it seems that the concentration of cholesterol is lower than that of free fatty acids. Thus, although this formula contains the three key lipid components, it doesn’t look like they comply with the 3:1:1 ratio of concentrations. In other words, the amount of one of them does not seem to be triple.

Therefore, based on the packaging info, we can infer one fact: the product contains significant amounts of the three essential types of lipids we are seeking. Nonetheless, they seem to be neither in the 3:1:1 nor the 1:1:1 most optimal proportions.

Thus, the formulation is somehow adequate (it doesn’t lack any of the lipid classes) but not optimal. In the case of this straightforward formulation with a reduced number of ingredients, this is still good news, though.

CeraVe's Facial Moisturizing Lotion contains significant amounts of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids.
CeraVe’s Facial Moisturizing Lotion contains significant amounts of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

Obviously, for any product, it’d be ideal if we could confirm that the quantity of one of the three biolipid classes triples the amount of each of the others. But at least now we know what to seek: 

– what’s great (the three biolipids are present, and not just one or two of them);

– what’s even better (they are present in a 1:1:1 ratio, roughly);

– what’s optimal (the proportion among them is 3:1:1).

Following these basics, what other ingredients should I look for if I have particularly dry, dehydrated, or greasy skin?

If your skin is dry, it’d require a higher number/concentration of emollients [such as fatty acids, oils, or butters (for instance, shea butter)] and occlusives [such as silicones (for example, dimethicone), certain waxes, or mineral oils]. Significant amounts of sebum components (such as squalane/squalene) will very possibly be helpful too.

Normal and especially greasier or oily skins require a lower number/concentration of emollients and occlusives (since these are more significantly present in their more abundant sebum). However, a significant amount of humectants (for instance, glycerin or hyaluronic acid) usually are a great option if you’re in any of these groups.

Regardless of your skin type, if the issue is that it lacks proper hydration, you may want to follow the recommendations for your skin type shown above as a reference. Then try and find products with (even) higher amounts of humectant ingredients. Besides, don’t forget to apply a product with occlusive ingredients (ideally a good moisturizer, definitely not just a serum) as a last (or only) step to retain that humidity!

And the eczema-prone or very sensitive skins?

In those cases, the skin barrier is often somehow permanently or intermittently compromised because of different reasons. Thus, I can dive into those in future posts if you’d like.

What are your favorite skincare products to deal with the rough (dry, windy, etc.) winter weather? Do you miss any type of product that you wish were there?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below! You can also ask me any doubt that you may have about the subject.

Hopefully you found this article enlightening, entertaining, and helpful.

If so, please subscribe to the blog for more outstanding health, skincare, beauty, and lifestyle tips!



1 Scientific Reference (J Invest Dermatol., 1996):

Optimization of physiological lipid mixtures for barrier repair. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8618046/




3 responses to “Power molecules that fortify your winter skin”

  1. […] The keratinocytes in the epidermis synthesize specific quantities of ceramides (50%), cholesterol (27%), and fatty acids (10%). Altogether, these components form the intercellular cement in the top layers of the skin. The quality of the cutaneous permeability barrier depends on them. You can learn the detail on that in my previous blog about improving the epidermal barrier (here). […]


  2. […] Even the more balanced skin can (and will) experience a disturbed skin barrier. The barrier refers to the physical, chemical, and microbial layers that form the cutaneous epithelium and protect us from environmental aggressors, infections, and excessive water loss. Regardless of your skin type, the cutaneous barrier can eventually be upset in the presence of specific environmental conditions or other factors. Take, for example, the winter when the weather is dry (you can read more about that on my previous post, Power Molecules That Fortify Your Winter Skin, here). […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: