A ceramide is a lipid molecule composed of the amino acid sphingosine and a fatty acid. Ceramides exist in great concentrations in the plasma membrane of a cell and act as signaling molecules for a number of cellular functions. Ceramide may also have a role in certain pathological states, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, and inflammation.
All cells are covered with a semi-permeable membrane composed of a lipid bi-layer, two rows of lipid molecules (Ceramides naturally exist within the hair fiber, sandwiched in a region between the cuticle and cortex called the cell membrane complex (CMC)). Each lipid molecule has a hydrophilic protein head that faces the outside of the membrane and a tail composed of fatty acid. The cell membrane is designed to selectively allow molecules into or out of the cell and aids in a number of cellular functions. In a ceramide, the head is sphingosine.
There are three major pathways of ceramide generation. The sphingomyelinase pathway uses an enzyme to breakdown sphingomyelin in the cell membrane and release ceramide. The de novo pathway creates ceramide from less complex molecules. Ceramide generation can also occur through breakdown of complex sphingolipids that are ultimately broken down into sphingosine, which is then reused by reacylation to form ceramide. This latter pathway is termed the Salvage pathway.
Think of ceramides as hair glue. Without them, our cuticle layers would simply fall off and unhinge themselves, rather than gently weather and erode, from the constant damage they endure. They perform a “barrier function” and help reduce the hair’s overall porosity. Ceramides bind to the hair fiber in damaged, vulnerable areas to help prevent natural moisture and protein loss that occurs when we manipulate our hair. Natural ceramides keep the hair fiber tight, and cuticles flat so that the hair shines and has low porosity. In a word, they create a protective barrier around your hair to hold in moisture and protein, while simultaneously guarding your hair against the “bad things.”
Ceramides can be found in many hair products, and product manufacturers claim that ceramide technology improves hair health. It is noted that the amount of ceramides that each company uses in their products varies and even still, the total amount that they use might not be enough to really rebuild your hair. This is why taking care of one’s hair and maintaining the moisture and protein balance is important. These ceramide products are to be used to keep one’s hair healthy versus trying to repair badly damaged hair. The only thing that fixes that is scissors and time.
However, Miracles do not come in bottles, one should stay proactive cleanses his/her hair when needed, condition it often, protect his/her ends, keep your hair trimmed and enjoy healthy hair!