Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease characterized by T helper 2 cell (Th2)-shifted abnormal immunity, skin barrier impairment, and pruritus. The prevalence of AD in childhood is slightly higher in boys than in girls; after puberty, the sexual difference is reversed. The female preponderance in all generations exists in intrinsic AD with enhanced Th1 activity and nickel allergy, lacking increased serum IgE or filaggrin mutation. AD is often deteriorated before menstruation. We review the effects of sex hormones on immune responses and skin permeability barrier and propose possible hypotheses for the above phenomena. After puberty, the immune responses of patients are remarkably influenced by sex hormones. Estrogen and progesterone enhance the activities of Th2/regulatory T cell (Treg) but suppress Th1/Th17. Androgens suppress Th1/Th2/Th17 and induce Treg. The skin permeability barrier is fortified by estrogen but is impaired by progesterone and androgens. Dehydroepiandrosterone suppresses Th2 but enhances Th1. The amount of steroid sulfatase converting dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate to dehydroepiandrosterone is higher in women than in men, and thus, women might be more susceptible to the influence of dehydroepiandrosterone. The balance of modulatory effects of sex hormones on immune responses and skin barrier might regulate the course of AD.
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