Moisturizers are used in the treatment of dry skin, both clinically and in cosmetic products. In the present study the influence of different moisturizers on the normal skin barrier properties was evaluated by measuring transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and skin capacitance. In addition, the skin reactivity to a topically applied surfactant, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), following the use of the moisturizers was examined. The skin reaction was assessed visually and by measuring TEWL and superficial blood flow. Treatment with two urea-containing moisturizers for 10 and 20 days decreased TEWL. The irritant reactions after exposure to SLS were also significantly decreased after prior treatment for 20 days with the urea-containing moisturizers. In a double-blind vehicle-controlled part of the study, urea was found to decrease the skin susceptibility to SLS after only three applications. However, this decrease in skin reactivity was not preceded by a reduction in TEWL. Skin capacitance increased after three applications of urea-containing moisturizers and was still increased after 10 days, but not after 20 days of this treatment. Treatment for 20 days with two moisturizers without urea did not influence either TEWL or the susceptibility to irritation from SLS, but it increased the skin capacitance significantly. The mechanism underlying these changes is not known. The lower degree of SLS-induced irritation in the skin treated previously with urea-containing moisturizers may be of clinical relevance in reducing contact dermatitis from irritant stimuli.