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Summary Moisturizers are used daily by many people to alleviate symptoms of dry skin. All of them contain lipids. It has been suggested that topically applied lipids may interfere with the structure and function of the permeability barrier. The influence of a single application of nine different lipids on normal skin and skin irritated by sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) was studied in 21 healthy subjects. Parameters assessed were visible signs of irritation, and objectively measured cutaneous blood flow and transepidermal water loss (TEWL). The substances tested were hydrocortisone, petrolatum, fish oil, borage oil, sunflower seed oil, canola oil, shea butter, and fractions of unsaponifiable lipids from canola oil and shea butter. Water was included as a control.

On normal skin, no significant differences in the effects of the test substances were found, whereas significant differences were observed when they were applied to SLS-irritated skin. The visible signs of SLS-induced irritation were significantly less pronounced after treatment with the sterol-enriched fraction from canola oil than after treatment with water. This fraction, and hydrocortisone, reduced cutaneous blood flow. Furthermore, application of hydrocortisone, canola oil, and its sterol-enriched fraction, resulted in significantly lower TEWL than with water. The other lipids had no effect on the degree of irritation.

In conclusion, lipids commonly used in moisturizers may reduce skin reactions to irritants. Previous studies have shown that, in barrier perturbed skin, the synthesis of sterols is increased. The observed effects of canola oil and its fraction of unsaponifiable lipids on SLS-induced irritation suggest the possibility that they assisted the skin in supplying the damaged barrier with adequate lipids.