Abstract The dependence of radiation transmission on sample thickness was studied in isolated samples of human stratum corneum and full-thickness epidermis. The investigation also included samples of skin repeatedly exposed to UV-B. Transmission was measured in the ultraviolet and in the visible from 248–546 nm. Two methods, one microscopic and the other mechanical, were used to measure thickness. There was a good correlation between the results.

The dependence of transmission on thickness in these samples could be described satisfactorily by an exponential function, implying that the Lambert-Beer law is approximately valid. Thus, a single parameter, such as the half-value layer (d½), is sufficient to characterize absorption in the skin samples.

Water content of the isolated stratum corneum was influenced by maintenance conditions: samples floating on water containing a small amount of NaCl were more hydrated than samples floating on a more concentrated salt solution, or stored in air. Changes in water content of the samples resulted in changes of thickness and, to a lesser extent, of transmission. Approximate in vivo values of d½ were computed after estimating the in vivo water content of stratum corneum.

Differences found in the shape of the transmission spectra of stratum corneum and full-thickness epidermis may reflect differences in chemical composition. The influence of wetting of the skin on its sensitivity to sunlight is explained in a new way.