In response to acute disruption of the permeability barrier of aged mammals there is a diminished capacity for barrier recovery, analogous to other aged organs when stressed. Acute barrier disruption increases levels of epidermal cytokines, and cytokines are known regulators of keratinocyte mitogenesis, as well as lipid synthesis in extracutaneous tissues. Underlying the sluggish barrier recovery in aged skin are diminished mRNA and protein levels for the interleukin-1 cytokine family, and its receptors. To further elucidate the role of the interleukin-1 family of cytokines in the barrier repair response, cytokine production was stimulated in aged murine skin with topical imiquimod application. Imiquimod accelerated barrier recovery after acute insults to aged and young skin. These functional results correlated temporally with increased interleukin-1 alpha production in the epidermis following topical imiquimod administration to murine skin. Furthermore, intracutaneous injections of interleukin-1 alpha accelerated barrier recovery in aged mice. Finally, we showed that interleukin-1 alpha added to cultured human keratinocytes stimulates epidermal lipid synthesis. These studies provide further evidence for the role of reduced interleukin-1 alpha signaling in the decline of permeability barrier function in aged skin, and point to the potential use of cytokine augmentation in barrier dysfunction of the aged.