Structural and functional differences in barrier properties of African American, Caucasian and East Asian skin



      Differences in structural and functional skin characteristics have been linked with ethnical background. But racial differences in skin have not been thoroughly investigated by objective methods and the data are often contradictory.


      This study was undertaken to compare skin barrier-related parameters of the stratum corneum on African American, Caucasian and East Asian skin by objective measurements.


      Baseline values of trans epidermal water loss were collected on the face. Consecutive stratum corneum D-squame® tape strippings were collected on the panelist's ventral forearm and face to evaluate skin barrier strength and cohesion. Stratum corneum ceramides, maturation, measured as the transglutaminase-mediated cross-linking of stratum corneum proteins, and stratum corneum trypsin like enzyme activity were measured on the D-squame® tape strippings.


      East Asian and to some extent Caucasian skin was characterized by low maturation and relatively weak skin barrier. African American skin was characterized by low ceramide levels and high protein cohesion in the uppermost layers of the stratum corneum. These data can be interpreted in terms of the high prevalence of xerosis in black skin and increased skin sensitivity in East Asian skin.


      These results demonstrate that skin properties at the level of the stratum corneum vary considerably among these ethnic groups. This contributes to an improved understanding of physiological differences between these study populations.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment


        • Stepanova E.V.
        • Strube M.J.
        Making of a face: role of facial physiognomy, skin tone, and color presentation mode in evaluations of racial typicality.
        J Soc Psychol. 2009; 149: 66-81
        • Sturm R.A.
        Molecular genetics of human pigmentation diversity.
        Hum Mol Genet. 2009; 18: R9-17
        • Wilson D.
        • Berardesca E.
        • Maibach H.I.
        In vitro transepidermal water loss: differences between black and white skin.
        Br J Dermatol. 1988; 199: 647-652
        • Berardesca E.
        • Rigal J.
        • Leveque J.L.
        In vivo biophysical characterization of skin physiological differences in races.
        Dermatologica. 1991; 182: 89-93
        • Sugino K.
        • Imokawa G.
        • Maibach H.I.
        Ethnic difference of stratum corneum lipid in relation to stratum corneum function.
        J Invest Dermatol. 1993; 100: 587
        • Diridollou S.
        • de Rigal J.
        • Querleux B.
        • Leroy F.
        • Holloway Barbosa V.
        Comparative study of the hydration of the stratum corneum between four ethnic groups: influence of age.
        Int J Dermatol. 2007; 46: 11-14
        • Fotoh C.
        • Elkhyat A.
        • Mac S.
        • Sainthillier J.M.
        • Humbert P.
        Cutaneous differences between Black, African or Caribbean mixed-race and Caucasian women: biometrological approach of the hydrolipidic film.
        Skin Res Technol. 2008; 14: 327-335
        • Rawlings A.V.
        Ethnic skin types: are there differences in skin structure and function?.
        Int J Cosmet Science. 2006; 28: 79-93
        • Wesley N.O.
        • Maibach H.I.
        Racial (ethnic) differences in skin properties: the objective data.
        Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003; 4: 843-860
        • Gunathilake R.
        • Schurer N.Y.
        • Shoo B.A.
        • Celli A.
        • Hachem J.P.
        • Crumrine D.
        • et al.
        pH-regulated mechanisms account for pigment-type differences in epidermal barrier function.
        J Invest Dermatol. 2009; 129: 1719-1729
        • Berardesca E.
        • Maibach H.
        Racial differences in skin pathophysiology.
        J Am Acad Dermatol. 1996; 34: 667-672
        • Kligman A.M.
        • Sadiq I.
        • Zhen Y.
        • Crosby M.
        Experimental studies on the nature of sensitive skin.
        Skin Res Technol. 2006; 12: 217-222
        • Farage M.A.
        Perceptions of sensitive skin: changes in perceived severity and associations with environmental causes.
        Contact Dermatitis. 2008; 59: 226-232
        • Kompaore F.
        • Marty J.P.
        • Dupont C.
        In vivo evaluation of the stratum corneum barrier function in blacks, Caucasians and Asians with two noninvasive methods.
        Skin Pharmacol. 1993; 6: 200-207
        • Wang H.
        • Papoiu A.
        • Coghill R.
        • Patel T.
        • Yosipovitch G.
        African Americans display a significant lack of hyperalgesia and neurogenic inflammation in response to topical capsaicin.
        J Invest Dermatol. 2009; 129: S52
      1. OMB directive dd. 30.10.1997;

        • Muizzuddin N.
        • Marenus K.
        • Maes D.
        Factors defining sensitive skin and its treatment.
        Am J Cont Derm. 1998; 9: 170-175
        • Marenus K.
        • Maes D.
        • Muizzuddin N.
        • Stoudemeyer T.
        • Kligman A.
        Testing skin care and cosmetic products at high resolution to establish comfort.
        J.S.C.C. 1998; 48: 63-65
        • Feingold K.R.
        The role of epidermal lipids in cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis.
        J Lipid Res. 2007; 48: 2531-2546
        • Bouwstra J.A.
        • Ponenc M.
        The skin barrier in healthy and diseased state.
        Biochim Biophys Acta. 2006; 12: 2080-2095
        • Harding C.R.
        • Long S.
        • Richardson J.
        • Rogers J.
        • Zhang Z.
        • Bush A.
        • et al.
        The cornified cell envelope: an important marker for stratum corneum maturation in healthy and dry skin.
        Int J Cosmet Sci. 2003; 25: 1-11
        • Egelrud T.
        • Lundström A.
        A chymotrypsin-like proteinase that may be involved in desquamation in plantar stratum corneum.
        Arch Dermatol Res. 1991; 283: 108-112
        • Declercq L.
        • Van Overloop L.
        • Hellemans L.
        • Corstjens H.
        • Maes D.
        Detection of cis-urocanic acid in stratum corneum as a biological marker for UV exposure in human volunteer studies.
        in: “Gordon research conference on barrier function of mammalian skin”, Newport, RI, USA2007
        • Grubauer G.
        • Elias P.M.
        • Feingold K.R.
        Transepidermal water loss: the signal for recovery of barrier structure and function.
        J Lipid Res. 1989; 30: 323-333
        • Elias P.M.
        Epidermal lipids, barrier function, and desquamation.
        J Invest Dermatol. 1983; 80: 044s-049s
        • Meguro S.
        • Arai Y.
        • Masukawa Y.
        • Uie K.
        • Tokimitsu I.
        Relationship between covalently bound ceramides and transepidermal water loss.
        Arch Dermatol Res. 2000; 292: 463-468
        • Watkinson A.
        • Harding C.
        • Moore A.
        • Coan P.
        Water modulation of stratum corneum chymotryptic enzyme activity and desquamation.
        Arch Dermatol Res. 2001; 293: 470-476
        • Caubet C.
        • Jonca N.
        • Brattsand M.
        • Guerrin M.
        • Bernard D.
        • Schmidt Ret al.
        Degradation of corneodesmosome proteins by two serine proteases of the kallikrein family, SCTE/KLK5/hK5 and SCCE/KLK7/hK7.
        J Invest Dermatol. 2004; 122: 1235-1244
        • Akutsu N.
        • Ooguri M.
        • Onodera T.
        • Kobayashi Y.
        • Katsuyama M.
        • Kunizawa N.
        • et al.
        Functional characteristics of the skin surface of children approaching puberty: age and seasonal influences.
        Acta Derm Venereol. 2009; 89: 21-27
        • Muizzuddin N.
        • Marenus K.D.
        • Schnittger S.F.
        • Sullivan M.
        • Maes D.H.
        Effect of systemic hormonal cyclicity on skin.
        J Cosmet Sci. 2005; 56: 311-321
        • Garg A.
        • Chren M.
        • Sands L.
        • Matsui M.
        • Marenus K.
        • Feingold K.
        • et al.
        Psychological stress perturbs epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis: implications for the pathogenesis of stress-associated skin disorders.
        Arch Dermatol. 2001; 137: 53-59
        • Halkier-Sørensen L.
        • Menon G.K.
        • Elias P.M.
        • Thestrup-Pedersen K.
        • Feingold K.R.
        Cutaneous barrier function after cold exposure in hairless mice: a model to demonstrate how cold interferes with barrier homeostasis among workers in the fish-processing industry.
        Br J Dermatol. 1995; 132: 391-401
        • Steinert P.M.
        • Marekov L.N.
        Initiation of assembly of the cell envelope barrier structure of stratified squamous epithelia.
        Mol Biol Cell. 1999; 10: 4247-4261
        • Hirao T.
        • Denda M.
        • Takahashi M.
        Identification of immature cornified envelopes in the barrier-impaired epidermis by characterization of their hydrophobicity and antigenicities of the components.
        Exp Dermatol. 2001; 10: 35-44
        • Maes D.
        • Van Overloop L.
        • Corstjens H.
        • Declercq L.
        The maturation index: the ultimate differentiation marker.
        in: Proceedings of the 25th IFSCC congress. 2008
        • Richards G.M.
        • Oresajo C.O.
        • Halder R.M.
        Structure and function of ethnic skin and hair.
        Dermatol Clin. 2003; 21: 595-600
        • Castiel-Higounenc I.
        • Chopart M.
        • Ferraris C.
        Stratum corneum lipids: specificity, role, deficiencies and modulation. 11. OCL-OL Corps Gras Li, 2004: 401-406
        • Jin K.
        • Higaki Y.
        • Takagi Y.
        • Higuchi K.
        • Yada Y.
        • Kawashima M.
        • et al.
        Analysis of betaglucocerebrosidase and ceramidase activities in atopic and aged dry skin.
        Acta Derm Venereol. 1994; 74: 337-340
        • Declercq L.
        • Muizzuddin N.
        • Hellemans L.
        • Van Overloop L.
        • Sparacio R.
        • Marenus K.
        • et al.
        Adaptation response in human skin barrier to a hot and dry environment.
        J Invest Dermatol. 2002; 119: 716
        • Van Overloop L.
        • Declercq L.
        • Maes D.
        Visual scaliness of human skin correlates to decreased ceramide levels and decreased stratum corneum protease activity.
        J Invest Dermatol. 2001; 117: 811
        • Santanastasio H.
        • Zhang S.
        • Krishnan S.
        • Velthuizen R.
        • Shah P.
        • Tsaur L.
        Quantifying skin ashing using cross-polarized imaging.
        Skin Res Technol. 2003; 9: 194