Summary Background Hand eczema (HE) is a multifactorial disease, comprising different aetiological conditions and different morphologies. There are two aetiologically distinct groups of HE recognised: exogenous, such as contact dermatitis (allergic and/or irritant HE) and endogenous, such as the classic hyperkeratotic HE. Differences in the skin barrier properties of these two conditions could theoretically be expected. Aim To examine whether differences exist in the lipid profile and the susceptibility of the stratum corneum (SC) in patients with allergic/irritant HE and those with hyperkeratotic HE. Methods Using cyanoacrylate, SC samples were taken from 23 patients with allergic/irritant HE and 15 with hyperkeratotic HE for lipid analysis by high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC). Samples were also taken from adjacent, unaffected skin. Severity of HE was assessed by the Hand Eczema Severity Index (HECSI), and skin barrier susceptibility was assessed by measuring transepidermal water loss (TEWL) after a 24-hour patch test with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Results No statistically significant difference was found between groups for the lipid analysis or for skin susceptibility to SLS. We found a significantly higher HECSI score for hyperkeratotic HE compared with irritant or allergic HE (P = 0.02). Conclusions There appears to be no difference in skin barrier between allergic/irritant HE (exogenous eczema) and hyperkeratotic HE (endogenous eczema) with regard to SC lipids or susceptibility to SLS.