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The cutaneous lipidome: Does ethnicity impact skin’s lipid barrier?

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Prof A Nicolaou, Dr Alexandra Kendall, Dr Abigail Langton, Prof R Watson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The project forms part of The Boots Company Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP), which aims to develop entrepreneurial, highly trained doctorate scientists with transferable research and business skills, who will make valuable contributions to the UK economy by tackling bioscience challenges of the future.

This CTP PhD opportunity is a partnership between the No7 Beauty Company, within The Boots Company PLC, and the University of Manchester. The No7 Beauty Company’s collection of inclusive and innovative beauty brands including No7, Liz Earle Beauty Company, Botanics, Soap & Glory, Sleek MakeUp and YourGoodSkin stem from a rich heritage of over 85 years in beauty and skincare. We are powered by a deep understanding of our customers and their needs with science at the heart of the skin care solutions and services developed. 

We believe that the maintenance of healthy skin for life is key in helping people lead healthier and happier lives and progress cannot be made in achieving healthy skin without cutting-edge research into skin biology, with direct access to consumers and patients Boots and No7 Beauty Company play a vital role in delivering scientific insights into the UK skincare market.

Historically, skin research has focused on the properties of white Northern European (or Caucasian) skin. Consequently, our knowledge of skin biology in individuals from different ethnicities is much less advanced. There is also an assumption that treatments aiming to improve skin quality in white individuals will be equally beneficial in those with darker skin. However, data suggest that skin physiology, structure and mechanical function, is altered across different ethnic populations. However, it is unkown whether ethnicity impacts the epidermal barrier and its component lipids.

The epidermal lipid barrier is vital in protecting the body from environmental factors and contributes to our immune defences. Bioactive lipids, such as ceramides, are key components of the stratum corneum (SC) and are intimately involved in the structure and function of both the permeability and immunological skin barriers. Furthermore, the lipid composition of SC is subject to seasonal changes, and can be affected by diseases such as atopic dermatitis, and the onset of ageing. Currently, our knowledge of how the epidermal lipidome influences barrier properties in ethnic skin is limited.

In this project we aim to identify differences in SC lipids in individuals across a wide-range of ethnic groups, assess whether gender and age can additionally impact epidermal lipid composition across different body sites, and explore the consequence of such alterations for the epidermal barrier’s structure and function. Our experimental approach will be based on a human volunteer study accompanied by non-invasive biomechanical measures such as cutometry, analysis of SC lipids using mass spectrometry lipidomics, genetic analyses, and assessment of biochemical properties of skin samples by immunohistochemistry, histology, and atomic force microscopy.

The study outcomes will generate new scientific insight into the biology of ethnic skin, with the long-term aims of developing intervention strategies to address unmet needs of consumers with darker skin tones.

Entry Requirements

Applicants are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class undergraduate honours degree (or equivalent) in biosciences including Biochemistry, Biology, Biomedical Sciences or related discipline. A Masters degree in a relevant subject and/or experience in cell biology, bioanalysis, dermatological sciences, lipid biology or related areas is desirable. In addition to the academic requirements for the project the following skills and behaviours would be highly advantageous: 

• A curiosity to expand your knowledge of business practices and how research insights can be translated into consumer applications 

• An appreciation of the benefits of stakeholder management 

• Strong communication skills with the ability to tailor information to the needs of different audiences

Applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Primary Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible

How To Apply

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( You MUST also submit an online application form - choose PhD Cell Biology.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

This project is funded by BBSRC CTP with No 7 Boots Company. Studentship funding is for a duration of four years to commence on 1 October 2022 and covers UK tuition fees and an annual minimum stipend (£15,609 per annum 21/22). Applications are invited from both UK and non-UK residents. However, please be aware that if you are a non-UK applicant, the BBSRC requirements cap the number of PhDs that can be filled by non-UK residents at 30% per academic year.


1. AC Kendall, SM Pilkington, SA Murphy, F Del Carratore, AL Sunarwidhi, M Kiezel-Tsugunova, P Urquhart, REB Watson, R Breitling, LE Rhodes, A Nicolaou. Dynamics of the skin mediator lipidome in response to dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (2019) FASEB J 33:13014-13027
2. AC Kendall, MM Koszyczarek, EA Jones, PJ Hart, M Towers, CEM Griffiths, M Morris, A Nicolaou. Lipidomics for translational skin research: a primer for the uninitiated. (2018) Exp Dermatol 27:721-728
3. AC Kendall, M Kiezel-Tsugunova, LC Brownbridge, JL Harwood, A Nicolaou. Lipid functions in skin: Differential effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cutaneous ceramides, in a human skin organ culture model (2017) Biochim Biophys Acta 1859:1679-1689
4. AK Langton, S Alessi, M Hann, A Chien, S Kang, CEM Griffiths, REB Watson. Aging in ethnic skin: Disruption to elastic fiber organization is detrimental to skin’s biomechanical function. (2019) J Invest Dermatol 139(4):779-788
5. AK Langton, HK Graham, JC McConnell, MJ Sherratt, CEM Griffiths and REB Watson. Organization of the dermal matrix impacts the biomechanical properties of skin. (2017) Br J Dermatol 177:818-827
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