Ceramides Vs. Peptides: What's The Difference Between The Skincare Ingredients?

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Trips to your nearby beauty supply for some new skincare products can be the most wonderful retail therapy experience, but can also be the most confusing process. With the multitude of products available, it can feel like new options are being released daily, with ingredients and formulations you probably have not heard of. Whether it's kojic acid or retinol's now-viral alternative, bakuchiol, there's always something new for you to explore. We understand that these ingredients and their differences can get confusing and overwhelming, so we're here to explain, starting with two unique ingredients you've probably seen on the back of your moisturizers or serums — ceramides and peptides.


If you're anything like us and prioritize moisturizing your skin and keeping it healthy, chances are you've come across a product with the word ceramides or peptides written on it. While these two ingredients are different in their chemistry and use, it's easy to conflate their benefits or need clarification on what they do to your skin and how they work. So if you ever wondered what the difference was between these skin-loving ingredients, this is ceramides and peptides 101.

What are ceramides and how do they work?

To understand ceramides, we need to discuss your skin barrier and what it does. Your skin barrier, also known as your moisture barrier, is the outer layer of your skin that protects you from pathogens and environmental stressors like pollution and UV light (per Glo Skin Beauty). The barrier does this via a brick-and-mortar pattern, where the bricks are tightly-bound skin cells called corneocytes, and the mortar is made of lipids or fats. Ceramides make up a significant portion of that mortar.


According to Beauty Lab International, your body produces ceramides. However, as you age, your ceramide production reduces, causing your barrier to weaken. But aging isn't the only culprit here. Exposure to harsh chemicals, over-exfoliating, and sunbathing without sunscreen can also damage your barrier, effectively weakening it. Basically, a lack of ceramides equals a weak or damaged barrier. And a damaged or weak barrier can manifest as wrinkles, fine lines, dryness, irritation, redness, or hyperpigmentation.

Replenishing your skin with ceramides in your skincare strengthens your barrier, improving its function. In addition to being barrier-strengthening, anti-aging, and adding plumpness to the skin, ceramides are also intensely hydrating, which is why you'll mostly find them in moisturizers, lip balms, and body butters (per Paula's Choice).


What are peptides and how do they work?

Peptides, also known as polypeptides, are described by CeraVe as small chains of amino acids linked by peptide bonds. As chains of amino acids that can mix and match in several ways, there are a few different types of peptides, including carrier peptides, signal peptides, and neurotransmitter peptides. As Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson explains, peptides help the skin mainly by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, both essential proteins that make up the skin's structure (via Dermstore).


As ceramide production decreases as you age, so do your collagen levels. According to Healthline, peptides are the building blocks of proteins and can penetrate the skin's layers, stimulating collagen production. An increase in collagen production will improve skin elasticity and reduce visible skin aging signs, making peptides an anti-aging bestseller (per CeraVe). Peptides also attract moisture to the skin, enhancing and strengthening your moisture barrier (per Versed). Overall, peptides are a fantastic ingredient for healthy skin.

What's the difference?

While ceramides and peptides have similar target areas on the skin, they do have differences. For one, ceramides are lipids produced by the skin to act as mortar between skin cells. Peptides, on the other hand, are chains of amino acids found on the skin barrier, but are more responsible for encouraging collagen and elastin production (per Grove Collaborative).


There's also a difference between their target concerns. Paula's Choice notes that ceramides are excellent at hydrating skin, improving skin elasticity, and strengthening the moisture barrier. Peptides, however, are not as hydrating as ceramides and are more specific to skin concerns like wrinkles and fine lines because they stimulate collagen production.

You might ask, can I have ceramides and peptides in the same routine? That's a resounding yes. The Skincare Culture confirms that ceramides and peptides make an excellent combo. The former improves your barrier function, while the latter takes care of damage caused by environmental stressors. Whether you use either or both, they're great additions to your routine. 


There are a lot of options to choose from, so here are our top product picks. For ceramide-only babes, the Glow Recipe Avocado Ceramide Recovery Serum retails for $44 and is a great option. And if you like peptides already, you'll love the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Firming Collagen Cream with a rating of 4.5 stars on Sephora. For a potent mix of both, we recommend the CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream.