Barrier characteristics of different human skin types investigated with X-ray diffraction, lipid analysis, and electron microscopy imaging.J Invest Dermatol. 2000 Apr; 114(4):654-60.JI
The stratum corneum requires ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids to provide the cutaneous permeability barrier. The lipids are organized in intercellular membranes exhibiting short- and long-periodicity lamellar phases. In recent years, the phase behavior of barrier lipid mixtures has been studied in vitro. The relationship of human stratum corneum lipid composition to membrane organization in vivo, however, has not been clearly established. Furthermore, the special function of the different ceramide species in the stratum corneum is largely unknown. We examined lipid organization and composition of stratum corneum sheets from different subtypes of healthy human skin (normal, dry, and aged skin). Lipid organization was investigated using X-ray diffraction and demonstrated that the 4.4 nm peak attributed to the long periodicity phase was frequently missing for skin with a low Cer(EOS)/Cer(total) ratio, indicating an important part for Cer(EOS), which contains omega-hydroxy fatty acid (O) ester-linked to linoleic acid (E) and amide-linked to sphingosine (S). A deficiency in the 4. 4 nm peak was predominantly observed in young dry skin. In one case of aged skin, however, and less often in young normal skin this peak was also missing. Furthermore, the ceramide composition of samples without the 4.4 nm peak showed a deficiency of Cer(EOH), which contains 6-hydroxy-4-sphingenine (H), and an increase in Cer(NS) and Cer(AS), which contain nonhydroxy (N) or alpha-hydroxy fatty acids (A). In addition, a 3.4 nm peak attributed to crystalline cholesterol occurred in most cases of aged and dry skin, but was not observed in young normal skin. Our results do not indicate a definite pattern of correlation between lipid organization and types of human skin. They demonstrate, however, that Cer(EOS) and Cer(EOH) are key elements for the molecular organization of the long periodicity lamellar phase in the human stratum corneum.