In order to further clarify the role of intercellular lipids in the water-retention properties of the stratum corneum, forearm skin of six healthy male volunteers was treated with 5% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) for 1, 10, and 30 min. All treatment periods induced chapping and scaling of the stratum corneum without any inflammatory reaction, accompanied by a significant decrease in its water-retention function. Electron-microscopic analysis of SDS-treated stratum corneum revealed selective depletion of the lipids from the intercellular spaces, accompanied by marked disruption of multiple lamellae structures. Lipid analysis also showed a considerable and selective loss of intercellular lipids such as cholesterol, cholesterol ester, free fatty acid, and sphingolipids. To evaluate the recovery potential for intercellular lipids, lipids which were separated as sebaceous-rich lipids (SLs) and stratum corneum lipids (SCLs) wer applied daily on SDS-treated forearm skin. Two daily applications of the SCLs which were emulsified at 10% concentration in W/O (water in oil) cream caused a significant increase in conductance, accompanied by a definite improvement in the level of scaling over no application or W/O emulsion base only, whereas SLs in the W/O emulsion base led to no significant recovery in either conductance value or scaling. When two daily topical applications of four chromatographically separated lipid fractions (cholesterol ester, free fatty acid, cholesterol, and sphingolipid) from the SCL were carried out at 1% concentration in the same system, the cholesterol ester and sphingolipid fractions were found to induce a significant increase in the conductance value over no application. In contrast, the free fatty acid and cholesterol fractions showed no significant increase in conductance value. Similarly, the scaling which occurred after SDS treatment had a tendency to decrease after the two daily applications with the fractions of cholesterol ester, sphingolipids, and free fatty acid as compared with that of the base emulsion. These findings strongly suggest that sphingolipids, possibly in combination with other neutral lipids, play an essential role in the establishment or maintenance of water-retention capacity in the stratum corneum.
Water retention Stratum corneum Dry skin Surfactant Intercellular lipids