Abnormal follicular keratinization is involved in comedogenesis in acne vulgaris. We recently demonstrated that calcium influx into epidermal keratinocytes is associated with impaired skin barrier function and epidermal proliferation. Based on these results, we hypothesized that sebum components affect calcium dynamics in the keratinocyte and consequently induce abnormal keratinization. To test this idea, we first observed the effects of topical application of sebum components, triglycerides (triolein), saturated fatty acids (palmitic acid and stearic acid), and unsaturated fatty acids (oleic acid and palmitoleic acid) on hairless mouse skin. Neither triglyceride nor saturated fatty acids affected the skin surface morphology or epidermal proliferation. On the other hand, application of unsaturated fatty acids, oleic acid, and palmitoleic acid induced scaly skin, abnormal keratinization, and epidermal hyperplasia. Application of triglycerides and saturated fatty acids on cultured human keratinocytes did not affect the intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca(2+)](i)), whereas unsaturated fatty acids increased the [Ca(2+)](i) of the keratinocytes. Moreover, application of oleic acid on hairless mouse skin induced an abnormal calcium distribution in the epidermis. These results suggest that unsaturated fatty acids in sebum alter the calcium dynamics in epidermal keratinocytes and induce abnormal follicular keratinization.