The acidic pH of the outer surface of the mammalian skin plays several important roles in the epidermal barrier function. The 2 endogenous pathways that are currently known to elicit this acidic pH are the generation of free fatty acids from phospholipids and the exchange of protons for sodium ions by non-energy-dependent sodium-proton exchangers. In this study, we propose a third endogenous pathway, i.e. epidermal ceramidase activity, generating free fatty acids from ceramides. By topical application of N-oleylethanolamine, a well-known ceramidase inhibitor, we could demonstrate a significant increase in the stratum corneum pH and a corresponding decrease in the epidermal free fatty acid content. Moreover, we could show that the resulting change in the apparent skin pH also provoked a delay in early barrier recovery and an increased epidermal desquamation, corresponding to earlier observations made for the already known endogenous mechanisms.
(c) 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel