Discussion| Volume 30, ISSUE 3, P297-300, May 2012

Effect of soaps and detergents on epidermal barrier function


      The past decade has witnessed an explosion of new impartial information about the complex interaction of the skin with topically applied substances, including soaps and detergents. Despite of all these new data, our knowledge on the exact pathomechanism and molecular events leading to detergent-induced barrier dysfunction remains incomplete and the answers continue to elude us.
      The longtime prevailing opinion which contends that the damaging effect of soaps and detergents is related to their property to extract and remove useful intercellular lipids has mostly been abandoned. Although this effect might be involved in the damaging effect, it is definitely not the sole mechanism, nor, indeed, is it even the main one. Skin proteins damage, the interaction with keratins and their denaturation, swelling of cell membranes and collagen fibers, cytotoxicity expressed with cellular lysis are other important mechanisms.
      One proposed mechanism is that an initial stratum corneum hyper-hydration results from a continuous disruption of the secondary and tertiary structures of keratin protein by surfactants, exposing new water-binding sites, thereby increasing the hydration of the membrane. Following evaporation of excess water, the denatured keratin possesses a decreased water-binding capacity and decreased ability to function as a barrier.
      Recent studies have also emphasized the effects of detergents on lipid synthesis, on lipid-metabolizing enzymes and on keratinocyte differentiation.
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