Most epidermal functions can be considered as protective, or more specifically, as defensive in nature. Yet, the term "barrier function" is often used synonymously with only one such defensive function, though arguably its most important, i.e., permeability barrier homeostasis. Regardless of their relative importance, these protective cutaneous functions largely reside in the stratum corneum (SC). In this review, I first explore the ways in which the multiple defensive functions of the SC are linked and interrelated, either by their shared localization or by common biochemical processes; how they are co-regulated in response to specific stressors; and how alterations in one defensive function impact other protective functions. Then, the structural and biochemical basis for these defensive functions is reviewed, including metabolic responses and signaling mechanisms of barrier homeostasis. Finally, the clinical consequences and therapeutic implications of this integrated perspective are provided.