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Int J Cosmet Sci. 2003 Apr;25(1-2):63-95. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-2494.2003.00174.x.

Trends in stratum corneum research and the management of dry skin conditions.

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AVR Consulting Ltd, Kingsmead, Northwich, Cheshire CW9 8FH, UK.


The structure, composition, formation and function of the stratum corneum have been the subject of intense research over the last few decades. As has become apparent, stratum corneum barrier function is not only dependent on one single component but also on its total architecture. Recent developments in understanding lipid composition have led to a new ceramide nomenclature system, a new proposal for a molecular model of the interactions between ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids, and the demonstration of the presence of crystalline orthorhombic and gel hexagonal lipid phases in the stratum corneum. Linoleate-containing ceramide one, now known as CER EOS, have been shown to be essential for the formation of the 13 nm long periodicity phase (LPP) observed by electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction studies, whereas long-chain fatty acids are important for the formation of the crystalline lipid phases essential for barrier function. The role of the corneocyte envelope, its constituent proteins and its transglutaminase-mediated maturation processes have been shown to be essential for good skin condition. Several proteases may have a role in corneodesmolysis, particularly serine and cathepsin-like enzymes. Novel filaggrin polymorphisms have been identified that may be involved in the expression of a dry skin phenotype. Disturbances in lipid packing states, reduction in ceramide levels (particularly the phytosphingosine-containing ceramides), reductions in the levels of long-chain fatty acids and loss of the LPP largely account for the perturbations in lipid structure that occur in dry skin. The reduced corneodesmolysis that occurs in this xerotic skin disorder is now well accepted and is caused by reductions in the levels and activities of stratum corneum proteases together with elevated levels of corneodesmosomal glycoproteins in the superficial layers of the stratum corneum. Additionally, increased levels of fragile corneocytes are associated with reduced transglutaminase activity and corneocyte envelope cross-linking events. However, in comparison with the advances in our understanding of the textural changes that occur in dry skin, the somatosensory changes are poorly understood and the itching associated with dry skin is still an under-researched area. The unique biosensor role of the stratum corneum essential for a competent natural moisturizing barrier may also have a role to play in the action of anti-ageing technologies by controlling the expression and secretion of epidermal cytokines and growth factors. Technologies to treat the surface textural skin problems, enhance the differentiation process, particularly lipid biosynthesis, and to control the somatosensory problems in dry skin have received much attention in the last decade. This paper will review the state of the art of stratum corneum biology and the trends in the management of dry skin.

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