Lipophilic antioxidants in human sebum and aging

Siro Passi, Ornella De Pità, Pietro Puddu, Gian Paolo Littarru

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Skin surface lipids (SSL), a very complex mixture of sebum mixed to small amounts of epidermal lipids, mantle the human epidermis, thus representing the outermost protection of the body against exogenous oxidative insults. The present work is a systematic and quantitative analysis of upper-chest SSL and their content in antioxidants in 100 healthy volunteers, divided into five age groups using TLC, HPLC, and GC-MS methods. Further, the effect of exposing SSL in vitro to increasing doses of UV irradiation was examined. Straight monounsaturated and diunsaturated as well as branched monounsaturated fatty acids of triglycerides and pooled fractions were found to be higher at maturity than in childhood and in advancing age. Diunsaturated fatty acids were below 3% of the total and constituted exclusively of C18:2Δ5,8, C20:2Δ7,10, C18:2Δ9,12. Squalene, vitamin E (vit. E) and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) were found to increase from childhood to maturity to decrease again significantly in old age. Vitamin E and CoQ10 were the only known lipophilic antioxidants present in SSL. In spite of their low levels they were found to synergically inhibit the UV induced depletion of squalene, cholesterol and of unsaturated fatty acids of SSL. In fact, exposure of SSL to increasing amounts of UV irradiation led preferentially to lowering of the levels of vit. E and CoQ10. Four minimal erythema dose (MED) (5.6J/cm2) were able to deplete 84% vit. E and 70% ubiquinone, and only 13% squalene. Diunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids as well as cholesterol were unaffected even following 10 MED UV exposures, which produced a 26% loss of squalene. The same UV dose when applied in the absence of vit. E and CoQ10 produced a 90% decrease of squalene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-477
Number of pages7
JournalFree Radical Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2002


  • Aging
  • Antioxidants
  • CoQ
  • Sebum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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