For many years, hairless and rhino mouse mutants have provided a useful and extensively exploited model for studying different aspects of skin physiology, including skin aging, pharmacokinetic evaluation of drug activity and cutaneous absorption, skin carcinogenesis, and skin toxicology. Interestingly, however, hairless and rhino mice have rarely been studied for their primary cellular defect - hairlessness - and thus, the hairless gene itself and its physiological functions have been largely overlooked for decades. The recent identification of the human homolog of the hairless gene on human Chromosome 8p12 confirmed the clinical significance of the phenomenon of "hairlessness" in humans, which was predicted on the basis of similarities between hairless mice and a congenital hair disorder characterized by atrichia with papules. Mutations in the hairless gene of mice provide instructive models for further studies of hr gene function, and may facilitate insights into the pathophysiology of different human disorders associated with the disruption of hr gene activity. We provide an overview of current data on the structure and expression patterns of the hr gene, and of mutations at the hairless locus in mice and humans, including the genetic basis of different alleles, the pathology of hairlessness, reproductive and immunological defects, and susceptibility to dioxin toxicity. On the basis of our current understanding of hairlessness, we speculate on the putative functions of the hr gene product in skin physiology, and particularly, in hair follicle biology.