Characterization of low-temperature (i.e., < 65 °C) lipid transitions in human stratum corneum

Carol L. Gay, Richard H. Guy, Guia M. Golden, Vivien H.W. Mak, Michael L. Francoeur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aims to characterize human stratum corneum (SC), focusing on those lipid transitions that occur at or below physiologically relevant temperatures. In the past, a lipid transition near 35 °C had been thought to be variable and a consequence of superficial sebaceous lipid contamination. However, analysis here indicates that it is widely present, and cannot be attributed to sebum production. We demonstrate that this transition represents a solid-to-fluid phase change for a discrete subset of SC lipids. The reversibility of this transition upon reheating, and its absence in extracted lipid samples imply that these lipids are not uniformly present throughout the SC, but would appear to be differentially distributed in response to terminal differentiation. Further, such an arrangement could involve a close association with other nonlipid (e.g., protein) components. Evidence for a new transition at ~55 °C is presented that suggests the loss of crystalline orthorhombic lattice structure. The existence of orthorhombic structure at physiologic temperature is reasoned to involve ceramides and/or free fatty acids. Localization of these lipids at the level of the corneocyte envelope supports a comprehensive picture of water transport across the SC, whereby diffusion occurs primarily via the intercellular lipids. This view, coupled with the hydration-induced changes in lipid disorder observed here provides additional insight into the mechanism by which skin occlusion increases permeability. Summarily, these results i) emphasize the inherent danger of over-interpreting experiments with isolated SC lipids, ii) emphasize the potential advantage(s) of employing several biophysical techniques to study SC structure, and iii) indicate that a full characterization of lipid phase behavior is requisite to our eventual understanding of SC structure and permeability function, particularly those phase transitions that occur near or at normal skin temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-239
Number of pages7
JournalJournal Of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 1994

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported ill part by a grallt (HD-2301 0) from the U.S. Notiot/af fustilutes oj Health.


  • lateral-packing
  • phase-segregation
  • sebum
  • spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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