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J Lipid Res. 1983 Feb;24(2):120-30.

Human stratum corneum lipids: characterization and regional variations.


The lipids of mammalian stratum corneum are known to be important regulators of skin permeability. Since the human stratum corneum displays remarkable regional variations in skin permeability, we assessed the total lipid concentration, the distribution of all major lipid species, and the fatty acid composition in Bligh-Dyer extracts from four skin sites (abdomen, leg, face, and sole) that are known to display widely disparate permeability. Statistically significant differences in lipid weight were found at the four sites that were inversely proportional to their known permeability. In all four sites, among the polar lipids, the stratum corneum contained negligible phospholipids, but substantially more cholesterol sulfate (1-7%) than previously appreciated. As in the stratum corneum from other mammals, the bulk of the lipids consisted of neutral (60-80%) and sphingolipids (15-35%). Of the neutral lipids, free sterols (4- to 5-times greater than esterified sterols), free fatty acids, triglycerides, and highly nonpolar species (n-alkanes and squalene) predominated. n-Alkanes, which were present in greater quantities than previously appreciated, comprised a homologous series of odd- and even-chained compounds ranging from C19 to C34. The sphingolipids comprised over 80% ceramides vs. lesser quantities of glycosphingolipids. In all four sites, the sphingolipids were the major repository of long-chain, saturated fatty acids. The neutral lipid:sphingolipid ratio generally was proportional to the known permeability of each site: higher neutral lipids and lower sphingolipids generally were associated with superior barrier properties. These studies provide: 1) the first detailed, quantitative analysis of human stratum corneum lipids and 2) information about the variability in lipid composition at four skin sites with known differences in permeability. The latter results suggest that variations in neutral lipids, rather than sphingolipids, may underlie local variations in skin permeability.

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