Although the existence of epithelial stem cells in the skin has been known for some decades from cell kinetic studies performed in vivo, attempts to prospectively isolate these cells for further biological characterization have been made possible relatively recently facilitated by the availability of antibodies that detect cell surface markers on epidermal cells. Elegant gene marking studies in vivo have provided confirmation of the patterns of epithelial tissue replacement predicted by classical cell turnover studies. But, the identification of candidate epidermal stem cells ex vivo remains an area of great controversy, requiring the re-evaluation of current experimental approaches that rely of necessity on predicted epidermal stem cell behavior in culture. Here we review the diverse experimental approaches utilized to identify keratinocyte stem cells and their underlying assumptions. We conclude that hair follicles and interfollicular epidermis each have their own self-renewing stem cell populations, contributing to distinct regions of the epithelium during homeostasis, although this is perturbed during wound healing. The need for the development of more rigorous assays for stem cell activity is highlighted given our recent observations using current assays and the discovery of new surface markers that identify putative epidermal stem cells.