The chemistry, function and (patho)physiology of stratum corneum barrier ceramides

Int J Cosmet Sci. 2017 Aug;39(4):366-372. doi: 10.1111/ics.12399. Epub 2017 May 18.


Research on understanding of the chemistry, function and (patho)physiology of stratum corneum (SC) lipids and especially ceramides has evolved over the last two decades. This has been made successful through the application of separation techniques that have become increasingly more sophisticated, and it has become increasingly evident that our understanding of these molecules remains in its infancy. Thirteen classes of ceramides with over 300 and possibly up to 1000 distinct ceramide species have been identified suggesting an exquisitely subtle relationship between the types of ceramides and physical and chemical behaviour. Nevertheless, research has demonstrated the importance of the correct SC lipid lamellar architecture with conformationally-ordered lipid bilayers, the presence of long-chain ceramides, as either free or covalently bound lipids, greater quantities of phytosphingosine-containing ceramides and a high SC lipid/protein ratio is essential for optimal barrier function. These features are known to change in a variety of physiological and pathophysiological conditions. Clearly, there is more to be learned but as we further decipher the complexity of SC lipids and understand their individual roles in the SC, we will learn how to better treat the disorders of cornification.

Keywords: barrier; ceramides; lipid organization; stratum corneum; xerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Ceramides / chemistry
  • Ceramides / pharmacology*
  • Epidermis / drug effects*
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Molecular Structure
  • Skin Diseases / physiopathology


  • Ceramides
  • Lipids