The cornified cell envelope (CE) is a specialized structure assembled beneath the plasma membrane of keratinocytes in the outermost layers of the epidermis. It is essential for the physical and permeability properties of the barrier function of the skin. Our skin is continuously exposed to atmospheric oxygen and threatened by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Here, we identify the CE as a first line of antioxidant defense and show that the small proline-rich (SPRR) family of CE precursor proteins have a major role in ROS detoxification. Cysteine residues within these proteins are responsible for ROS quenching, resulting in inter- and intramolecular S-S bond formation, both in isolated proteins and purified CEs. The related keratinocyte proline-rich protein is also oxidized on several cysteine residues within the CE. Differences in antioxidant potential between various SPRR family members are likely determined by structural differences rather than by the amount of cysteine residues per protein. Loricrin, a major component of the CE with a higher cysteine content than SPRRs, is a weak ROS quencher and oxidized on a single cysteine residue within the CE. It is inferred that SPRR proteins provide the outermost layer of our skin with a highly adaptive and protective antioxidant shield. © 2011 The Society for Investigative Dermatology.