We have compared hydration forces, electrical dipole potentials, and structural parameters of dispersions of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) and dihexadecylphosphatidylcholine (DHPC) to evaluate the influence of fatty acid carbonyl groups on phospholipid bilayers. NMR and x-ray investigations performed over a wide range of water concentrations in the samples show, that in the liquid crystalline lamellar phase, the presence of carbonyl groups is not essential for lipid structure and hydration. Within experimental error, the two lipids have identical repulsive hydration forces between their bilayers. The higher transport rate of the negatively charged tetraphenylboron over the positively charged tetraphenylarsonium indicates that the dipole potential is positive inside the membranes of both lipids. However, the lack of fatty acid carbonyl groups in the ether lipid DHPC decreased the potential by (118 +/- 15) mV. By considering the sign of the potential and the orientation of carbonyl groups and headgroups, we conclude that the first layer of water molecules at the lipid water interface makes a major contribution to the dipole potential.