Stratum corneum lipid organization as observed by atomic force, confocal and two-photon excitation fluorescence microscopy.Int J Cosmet Sci. 2008 Dec; 30(6):391-411.IJ
Skin moisturization is largely a function of stratum corneum barrier capacity, which in turn is a function of the physical state and structural organization of the stratum corneum extracellular lipid matrix [J. Invest. Dermatol.18, 433 (1952); AIChE J. 21, 985 (1975); Acta Derm. Venereol.74, 1 (1994); J. Invest. Dermatol.117, 830 (2001)]. Three unsolved key questions with respect to this lipid matrix' structural organization [Acta Derm. Venereol.74, 1 (1994); J. Invest. Dermatol.117, 830 (2001); J. Invest. Dermatol.118, 897 (2002); J. Invest. Dermatol.118, 899 (2002)] are: i) whether the lipid matrix is constituted by a single-gel phase or by co-existing solid (crystalline or gel) domains, ii) whether a separate fluid (liquid crystalline) phase is present and iii) whether the local pH has a direct effect on the lipid matrix' phase behaviour. Using an array of complementary visual-related biophysical techniques (e.g. atomic force microscopy and confocal/two-photon excitation fluorescence microscopy), it was recently shown that reconstituted membranes composed of extracted decontaminated human stratum corneum lipids do not form a fluid phase, but exclusively a single-gel phase that segregates into co-existing microscopic domains below pH 6 [Biophys. J.93, 3142 (2007)]. It was further shown that the role of cholesterol is related to dispersion of ceramide-enriched domains. This effect is counteracted by the presence of free fatty acids, which mix with skin ceramides but not with cholesterol.