The skin is the primary barrier from the outside environment, protecting the host from injury, infectious pathogens, water loss and solar ultraviolet radiation. In this role, it is supported by a highly organized system comprising elements of innate and adaptive immunity, responsive to inflammatory stimuli. The cutaneous immune system is regulated by mediators such as cytokines and bioactive lipids that can initiate rapid immune responses with controlled inflammation, followed by efficient resolution. However, when immune responses are inadequate or mounted against non-infectious agents, these mediators contribute to skin pathologies involving unresolved or chronic inflammation. Skin is characterized by active lipid metabolism and fatty acids play crucial roles both in terms of structural integrity and functionality, in particular when transformed to bioactive mediators. Eicosanoids, endocannabinoids and sphingolipids are such key bioactive lipids, intimately involved in skin biology, inflammation and immunity. We discuss their origins, role and influence over various cells of the epidermis, dermis and cutaneous immune system and examine their function in examples of inflammatory skin conditions. We focus on psoriasis, atopic and contact dermatitis, acne vulgaris, wound healing and photodermatology that demonstrate dysregulation of bioactive lipid metabolism and examine ways of using this insight to inform novel therapeutics.
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