Inter and intra individual differences in human stratum corneum lipid content related to physical parameters of skin barrier function

Norlén, L.; Nicander, I.; Lundh-Rozell, B.; Ollmar, S.; Forslind, B.


For a full understanding of the properties of the human skin barrier, physical macroscopic parameters of barrier function must be correlated to the structural organization of the barrier on a molecular level. This study was undertaken to relate differences in the relative composition of the three main lipid classes of human stratum corneum, i.e., free fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides, to differences in transepidermal water loss, stratum corneum electrical impedance, and corneometer value. A new high performance liquid chromoatography/light scattering detection-based analysis method recently developed was used for collection of quantitative lipid data in conjunction with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry/flame ionization detection measurements on the free fatty acid fraction. After subtraction of contaminating lipid fractions we have estimated the molar ratio of the human skin barrier lipid composition to be, respectively, 15% cholesterol esters, 16% saturated long chain free fatty acids, 32% cholesterol, and 37% ceramides. The inter-individual difference in the relative amount of free fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides, respectively, can be >100% in the individual case. It was found that the relative amount of ceramides to cholesterol is larger in the wrist area, paralleled by a higher transepidermal water loss and corneometer value as well as different skin electrical impedance values as compared with the upper forearm area. We conclude that the site-dependent differences in the stratum corneum lipid composition are small compared with the large inter-individual variation. Interestingly, in the individual case, no correlation was registered between relative ceramide content and barrier properties.