The purpose of this review is to summarize some of the biochemical or chemical findings that have contributed most significantly to our current understanding of the permeability barrier of the skin. This literature survey covers the period from the 1970s up to the present. This seems appropriate since earlier progress was comprehensively covered in a 1978 review by Bob Scheuplein entitled 'Permeability of the skin: a review of major concepts' and in the earlier review by Scheuplein and Blank entitled 'Permeability of the skin'. Both of these review articles are still being cited, and the earlier one has been cited more than 800 times. Overlap with material covered in these earlier publications will be minimized. The overall significance of findings from some of the most recent years may not yet be determined. The emphasis will be placed on the determination of the composition and structures of the epidermal lipids, especially those of the stratum corneum, key enzymes in the biosynthesis of these lipids and some of the physical chemical properties of these lipids as revealed by X-ray diffraction, infrared spectroscopy and other physical methods.
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