Ceramide and cholesterol composition of the skin of patients with atopic dermatitis

Acta Derm Venereol. 1998 Jan;78(1):27-30. doi: 10.1080/00015559850135788.


Atopic dermatitis skin tends to be easily irritated and appears dry. These clinical peculiarities correspond to impaired barrier function and to increased transepidermal water loss (TEWL) values. A few studies suggest that a reduced amount of total ceramides (especially of ceramide 1) is responsible for functional abnormalities of the skin of atopic dermatitis patients. The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship between epidermal lipids and barrier impairment in the skin of patients with atopic dermatitis. The quantity of ceramides, cholesterol sulphate and free cholesterol of 47 patients with atopic dermatitis and 20 age- and sex-matched healthy subjects was assessed by cyanoacrylate stripping and thin layer chromatography. Capacitance and TEWL were recorded at the same site of the lipid sample. In patients with atopic dermatitis, the levels of ceramide 1 and 3 were significantly lower and values of cholesterol significantly higher with respect to healthy subjects. Moreover, the CER/CH ratio was significantly lower with respect to normal skin. Patients with active signs of eczema also had higher TEWL values and lower capacitance values. By contrast, patients with no active signs of atopic dermatitis had a normal barrier function and intermediate values of ceramides and cholesterols, when compared to patients with atopic dermatitis with active lesions and normal subjects. The quantity of ceramide 3 was significantly correlated with TEWL impairment. These findings suggest that a decrease in ceramides in the stratum corneum is involved in barrier impairment in atopic dermatitis skin. Our data confirm those of other authors and support the view that impaired metabolism of ceramides may be the cause of dry skin and impaired barrier function in atopic dermatitis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Ceramides / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cholesterol / analysis*
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Forearm
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Matched-Pair Analysis


  • Ceramides
  • Cholesterol