pH-regulated mechanisms account for pigment-type differences in epidermal barrier function

J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Jul;129(7):1719-29. doi: 10.1038/jid.2008.442. Epub 2009 Jan 29.


To determine whether pigment type determines differences in epidermal function, we studied stratum corneum (SC) pH, permeability barrier homeostasis, and SC integrity in three geographically disparate populations with pigment type I-II versus IV-V skin (Fitzpatrick I-VI scale). Type IV-V subjects showed: (i) lower surface pH (approximately 0.5 U); (ii) enhanced SC integrity (transepidermal water loss change with sequential tape strippings); and (iii) more rapid barrier recovery than type I-II subjects. Enhanced barrier function could be ascribed to increased epidermal lipid content, increased lamellar body production, and reduced acidity, leading to enhanced lipid processing. Compromised SC integrity in type I-II subjects could be ascribed to increased serine protease activity, resulting in accelerated desmoglein-1 (DSG-1)/corneodesmosome degradation. In contrast, DSG-1-positive CDs persisted in type IV-V subjects, but due to enhanced cathepsin-D activity, SC thickness did not increase. Adjustment of pH of type I-II SC to type IV-V levels improved epidermal function. Finally, dendrites from type IV-V melanocytes were more acidic than those from type I-II subjects, and they transfer more melanosomes to the SC, suggesting that melanosome secretion could contribute to the more acidic pH of type IV-V skin. These studies show marked pigment-type differences in epidermal structure and function that are pH driven.

MeSH terms

  • Acids / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Male
  • Melanocytes / metabolism
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Permeability
  • Serine Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology*
  • Water / metabolism*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Acids
  • Water
  • Serine Endopeptidases