Epidermal keratinocytes are exposed to a low water concentration at the stratum corneum-stratum granulosum interface. When epithelial tissues are osmotically perturbed, cellular protection and cell volume regulation is mediated by accumulation of organic osmolytes such as taurine. Previous studies reported the presence of taurine in the epidermis of several animal species. Therefore, we analyzed human skin for the presence of the taurine transporter (TAUT) and studied the accumulation of taurine as one potential mechanism protecting epidermal keratinocytes from dehydration. According to our results, TAUT is expressed as a 69 kDa protein in human epidermis but not in the dermis. For the epidermis a gradient was evident with maximal levels of TAUT in the outermost granular keratinocyte layer and lower levels in the stratum spinosum. No TAUT was found in the basal layer or in the stratum corneum. Keratinocyte accumulation of taurine was induced by experimental induction of skin dryness via application of silica gel to human skin. Cultured human keratinocytes accumulated taurine in a concentration- and osmolarity-dependent manner. TAUT mRNA levels were increased after exposure of human keratinocytes to hyperosmotic culture medium, indicating osmosensitive TAUT mRNA expression as part of the adaptation of keratinocytes to hyperosmotic stress. Keratinocyte uptake of taurine was inhibited by beta-alanine but not by other osmolytes such as betaine, inositol, or sorbitol. Accumulation of taurine protected cultured human keratinocytes from both osmotically induced and ultraviolet-induced apoptosis. Our data indicate that taurine is an important epidermal osmolyte required to maintain keratinocyte hydration in a dry environment.