Stratum corneum lipids play a predominant role in maintaining the water barrier of the skin. In order to understand the biological variation in the levels and composition of ceramides, ceramide 1 subtypes, cholesterol and fatty acids, stratum corneum lipids collected from tape strippings from three body sites (face, hand, leg) of female Caucasians of different age groups were analysed. In addition, we studied the influence of seasonal variation on the lipid composition of stratum corneum from the same body sites. The main lipid species were quantified using high-performance thin-layer chromatography and individual fatty acids using gas chromatography. Our findings demonstrated significantly decreased levels of all major lipid species, in particular ceramides, with increasing age. Similarly, the stratum corneum lipid levels of all the body sites examined were dramatically depleted in winter compared with spring and summer. The relative levels of ceramide 1 linoleate were also depleted in winter and in aged skin whereas ceramide 1 oleate levels increased. The other fatty acid levels remained fairly constant with both season and age, apart from lignoceric and heptadecanoic acid which showed a decrease in winter compared with summer. The decrease in the mass levels of intercellular lipids and the altered ratios of fatty acids esterified to ceramide 1, are likely to contribute to the increased susceptibility of aged skin to perturbation of barrier function and xerosis, particularly during the winter months.