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J Invest Dermatol. 2003 May;120(5):750-8.

Water distribution and related morphology in human stratum corneum at different hydration levels.

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Leiden/Amsterdam Center for Drug Research, Gorlaeus Laboratories, Leiden University, The Netherlands.


This study focused on the water distribution in human stratum corneum and on the swelling of the corneocytes. For this purpose stratum corneum was hydrated to various levels and used either for Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy or for cryo-scanning electron microscopy. The images were analyzed with respect to water localization and cell shape. The Fourier transform infrared spectra were measured to study the water-lipid interactions. The results show that water only slightly changes the lipid transitions in the stratum corneum even at a hydration level of 300% wt/wt compared to stratum corneum and that water is inhomogeneously distributed in the stratum corneum. No gradual increase in water level was observed in depth. At 57%-87% wt/wt water content the hydration level in the central part of stratum corneum is higher than in the superficial and deeper cell layers. Water domains are mainly present within the corneocytes and not in the intercellular regions. At a very high hydration level (300% wt/wt), the corneocytes are strongly swollen except for the deepest cell layers adjacent to the viable epidermis. The corneocytes in these layers are not swollen. At 300% wt/wt hydration level water domains are also present in intercellular regions. Between 17% wt/wt and 300% wt/wt the cell thickness increases linearly with the hydration level suggesting that swelling of cells mainly occurs in the direction perpendicular to the skin surface. At an increased hydration level, the corneocyte envelope more efficiently surrounds the cell content compensating for the increased cell volume. The changes in stratum corneum morphology with increasing water level have also been observed in dermatomed skin.

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