Mechanisms of natural moisturizing factors for skin hydration

        Stratum corneum (SC) consists of flattened cornified cells (corneocytes) surrounded by extracellular lipid matrix. Whereas skin lipids repel water, the hydration of corneocytes is critical for maintaining biologic functions of skin. The hydration of corneocytes is provided by the natural moisturizing factor (NMF), a mixture of amino acids and other derivatives originating from filaggrin. It is generally accepted that NMF acts as a humectant mixture. We have studied the biophysical mechanisms by which NMF contributes to SC water homeostasis, including the impact of temperature and humidity. Our research reveals that NMF viscosity increases as humidity is reduced, thereby slowing the rate of skin dehydration. In analogy with sugars protecting the plant cells at low humidity, one uncovers novel mechanism of mammalian skin resistance to desiccation via NMF behavior. Possibly, changes to NMF solutions at high viscosities prevent the keratinous structures from mechanical failure, which would be a result of rapid dehydration. The NMF systems may be considered a unique biologic system for water management in a complex biologic substrate subject to wide variation with external environmental changes. The physicochemical properties of topically applied moisturizers, such as glycerol, sugars, and their derivatives, are discussed in the context of desiccation behavior of the SC. Studies of the molecular mechanisms of hydration provide a basis for identifying improved skin moisturizer technologies.
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