The paper has three main aims. First, to trace--through the pages of Sociology of Health and Illness--the changing ways in which lay understandings of health and illness have been represented during the 1979-2002 period. Second, to say something about the limits of lay knowledge (and particularly lay expertise) in matters of health and medicine. Third, to call for a re-assessment of what lay people can offer to a democratised and customer-sensitive system of health care and to attempt to draw a boundary around the domain of expertise. In following through on those aims, the author calls upon data derived from three current projects. These latter concern the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in people with Down's syndrome; the development of an outcome measure for people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury; and a study of why older people might reject annual influenza vaccinations.