Structure of water, proteins, and lipids in intact human skin, hair, and nail

J Invest Dermatol. 1998 Apr;110(4):393-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.1998.00146.x.


Raman spectroscopy is a nondestructive analytical method for determining the structure and conformation of molecular compounds. It does not require sample preparation or pretreatment. Recently, near-infrared Fourier transform Raman spectroscopy has emerged as being specially suited for investigations of biologic material. In this study, we obtained near-infrared Fourier transform Raman spectra of intact human skin, hair, nail, and stratum corneum. We disclosed major spectral differences in conformational behavior of lipids and proteins between normal skin, hair, and nail. The amide I and III band location indicated that the majority of proteins in all samples have the same secondary alpha-helix structure. Positions of (S-S) stretching bands of proteins revealed a higher stability of the disulfide bonds in the hair and the nail. Analysis of vibrations of protein -CH groups showed that in the hair and the nail the proteins are apparently highly folded, interacting with the surroundings only to a small degree. The position of lipid specific peaks in spectra of hair, nail, and stratum corneum suggested a highly ordered, lamellar crystalline lipid structure. A greater lipid fluidity was found in whole skin. Assessment of the structure of water clusters revealed that mainly bound water is present in the human skin, stratum corneum, and nail. In conclusion, structural changes of water, proteins, and lipids in intact skin and skin appendages may be analyzed by Raman spectroscopy. This technique may be used in the future in a noninvasive analysis of structural changes in molecular compounds in the skin, hair, and nail associated with different dermatologic diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Disulfides / chemistry
  • Epidermis / chemistry
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Lipids / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nails / chemistry*
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Skin / chemistry*
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Disulfides
  • Lipids
  • Water