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Skin Care Alters Endogenous Stratum Corneum Ceramide Profile

This is an English translation of a news release in Japanese on July 31.

The Skin Care Research Laboratory and Analytical Science Laboratory of Kao Corporation (Michitaka Sawada, President) have found that the stratum corneum endogenous ceramides profile*1 shifts by daily treatment of atopic skin with a skin care lotion containing synthetic pseudo ceramide.*2
These findings showed not only the importance of skin care, but also a new function of that for atopic skin.
The results of this study were published in the online version of Journal of Investigative Dermatology, February 1, 2020.

  • * 1 Endogenous ceramide profile: Endogenous refers to substances and products originating in humans. Endogenous stratum corneum ceramides have 12 molecular structural types (Figure 1) depending on the combination patterns of 3 fatty acids and 4 sphingoid bases, which results in different ratios of these molecular groups.
  • * 2 Synthetic pseudo-ceramide (pCer): Lipid material that imitates human stratum corneum ceramide, and plays important roles in skin for moisturizing and barrier function between keratinocytes.


Figure 1. Endogenous human stratum corneum ceramide

Research background

Atopic dermatitis is characterized by immunological hypersensitivity to allergen substances, as well as clinical symptoms of severe skin inflammation and dryness, with impairments of barrier function and water-holding capacity recognized in the stratum corneum of affected individuals. When stratum corneum functions are impaired, dermatitis symptoms are likely to recur in atopic skin, with strong itching and stinging on the skin reducing quality of life (QOL) of affected individuals. Therefore, the Atopic Dermatitis Treatment Guidelines*3 recommend daily skin care to reduce skin symptoms and maintain remission by normalization of stratum corneum functions.

The stratum corneum ceramide level is also known to be decreased in non-lesional sites of skin in atopic dermatitis patients,*4 one of the causes of stratum corneum function decline seen in atopic skin. In addition, the stratum corneum ceramide profile of atopic skin shifts from that of healthy skin.*5 However, little is known about the relationship between changes in stratum corneum ceramide profile and stratum corneum function in atopic dermatitis.

Thus, the influence of changes in stratum corneum functions on endogenous ceramide profile was investigated in atopic dermatitis patients.

  • * 3 Atopic Dermatitis Treatment Guidelines 2018: Guidelines for healthcare professionals treating atopic dermatitis. (The Japanese J Dermatol 128(12), 2431-2502, 2018)
  • * 4 Imokawa G, Abe A, Jin K, Higaki Y, Kawashima M, Hidano A. J Invest Dermatol 96:52,1991
  • * 5 In patients with atopic dermatitis, ceramide [NH] and ceramide [NP] amounts are low, while those of ceramide [NS] and ceramide [AS] are high, and the carbon chain length of ceramide [NS] is short as compared with healthy skin. (Ishikawa J, Narita H, Kondo N, Hotta M, Takagi Y, Masukawa Y, et al. J Invest Dermatol 130:2511,2010)

Study methods

This study was performed with atopic dermatitis patients diagnosed by a dermatologist as not requiring medical treatment (N=38) following provision of informed consent. The study volunteers treated their skin twice a day with a test lotion for 4 weeks. During that period, they did not use medical treatment drugs or other skin care products, except for the test lotion.

Stratum corneum samples were collected from the volunteers using a tape-stripping method before and after 4 weeks of treatments with the test lotion. Synthetic pseudo-ceramide and endogenous ceramides in the stratum corneum were examined using normal phase liquid chromatography-electrospray ionized (NPLC-ESI) mass spectrometry. Stratum corneum water content was determined by skin conductance measurements.

Research outcomes

The endogenous stratum corneum ceramide profile showed a shift after 4 weeks of daily treatments with the test lotion. In particular, ceramide [NH] and [NP] levels were increased, and ceramide [NS] and [AS] levels were decreased at the end of the treatment period (Figure 2a). Furthermore, lengthening of the ceramide [NS] carbon chain was also observed (Figure 2b). These results indicated that the endogenous ceramide profile characteristic of atopic skin shifted to that seen in healthy skin.*5


Figure 2a. Change in endogenous ceramide ratios (ratio of each of 12 ceramide molecule types) after 4 weeks treatment with test lotion.


Figure 2b. Change in total carbon number of ceramide [NS] after 4 weeks treatment with test lotion.

The level of synthetic pseudo ceramide showing penetration and accumulation in the stratum corneum after 4 weeks of treatment with the test lotion was found to be significantly correlated with stratum corneum water content (Figure 3a).

In addition, the level of synthetic pseudo-ceramide showing penetration and accumulation in the stratum corneum was negatively correlated with the amount of endogenous ceramide [NS] (Figure 3b), while it was positively correlated with the average carbon chain length of ceramide [NS] (Figure 3c).




Figure 3. Relationship of amount of penetrated and accumulated pCer in stratum corneum with (a) stratum corneum water content, (b) ceramide [NS] class ratio, and (c) average ceramide [NS] total carbon number.


Interesting results were obtained in this study showing that daily treatment with a skin care lotion containing synthetic pseudo-ceramide changed the endogenous ceramide profile of individuals with atopic dermatitis to that of healthy skin as well as penetration of synthetic pseudo-ceramide into the stratum corneum.

Kao plans to use knowledge gained in this study, considered to be important for skin care in patients with atopic dermatitis, for future skin research investigations.

About Kao

Kao creates high-value-added products that enrich the lives of consumers around the world. Through its portfolio of over 20 leading brands such as Attack, Bioré, Goldwell, Jergens, John Frieda, Kanebo, Laurier, Merries and Molton Brown, Kao is part of the everyday lives of people in Asia, Oceania, North America and Europe. Combined with its chemical division, which contributes to a wide range of industries, Kao generates about 1,500 billion yen in annual sales. Kao employs about 33,000 people worldwide and has 130 years of history in innovation. Please visit the Kao Group website for updated information.

Media inquiries should be directed to:

Corporate Communications
Kao Corporation

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