Cuticle cells form the outer covering surrounding and protecting the cortex. The cuticle cells are thin, flat and overlap, and intercellular lipid lamellae are found in the gaps between the cell boundaries. The lipid lamellae are also found within the cortex in the cell boundaries between the long fribrous corticle cells. In addition, the outer surfaces of the cuticle cells are covered by a monolayer of covalently bound fatty acids, a major component of which is 18-methyleicosanoic acid. The fatty acids are thought to be attached through thio-ester linkages. Together these lipids are thought to be major determinants of the physical properties of the hair. The present study tested the hypothesis that both free and covalently bound lipids are progressively lost during normal environmental exposures. This progressive loss within the cuticle layers may, in part, lead to an increased susceptibility of the protein and lipid lamellae in the cortex to degradation. This degradation, in turn, would contribute to a progressive decrease in the tensile properties of the hair. Research grade hair was cut into five segments from the root to the distal end. Lipids from each segment were extracted and analyzed by thin-layer chromatography in conjunction with photodensitometry. The major free polar lipid classes in the hair included ceramides, glucosylceramides and cholesterol sulfate. The concentrations of all of the free polar lipids as well as the covalently bound fatty acids decreased in going from the root to the distal end of the hair. In addition, there was a significant reduction in tensile properties of the hair from the root to distal end. In conclusion, the progressive loss of endogenous free and covalently bound lipids from hair, which are probably related to normal weathering of the hair and grooming practices, may help contribute to a marked decrease in tensile properties to the hair.