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July 1990

N-Alkanes in the Skin: Function or Fancy?

Author Affiliations

Dermatology Service (190) Veterans Administration Medical Center 4150 Clement St San Francisco, CA 94121

Arch Dermatol. 1990;126(7):868-870. doi:10.1001/archderm.1990.01670310028003

Mammals are not alone in their requirement to survive as an aqueous body in a terrestrial environment. Plants, arthropods, reptiles, and birds have all developed cellular mechanisms to regulate integumental water loss in an arid environment.1 Although the details of the regulatory systems vary significantly among these divergent groups, all share a common requirement for integumental lipids for this function. Lipids by definition display minimal affinity for water, however, the degree of hydrophobicity varies among different lipid classes. Whereas the polar headgroups of phospholipids and glycosphingolipids exhibit considerable affinity for water, even such so-called polar lipids can display substantial hydrophobicity, depending on the chain length of their esterified fatty acids, and the presence or absence of hydroxyl groups. Among the traditional nonpolar or neutral lipids; ie, free fatty acids, triglycerides, sterol esters, and hydrocarbons; the latter, which are for the most part very long chain (C ≤ 20 species),

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