What’s Skin Cell Turnover & Why Is It Important?

skin cell turnover
⏱️ 6 min read

Skin cell turnover is one of the most important natural processes that occur in our body when we’re talking about beauty – especially in terms of anti-aging treatments.

Chances are, you’ve already heard this term somewhere, but aren’t 100% sure what it means.

Thankfully, it isn’t anything complex, but having even a rudimentary understanding of it will allow you to streamline your efforts if your goal is to reduce the signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles.

Acne is also influenced by skin cell turnover, meaning that you can also solve this issue faster by understanding what it is.

In this article, we explain what this process is, why it matters, and how you can use it to your advantage, plus, we’ll leave our top picks for the best treatments and the most effective products so make sure you try them out!

What Is Skin Cell Turnover?

To explain in the simplest terms possible, skin cell turnover is the process of replacing old, dead skin cells with new ones.

This is the process responsible for keeping our skin smooth, even, and fresh – that’s what the new layer looks like. The old layer is dull and full of impurities.

To understand the difference, remember how you felt and looked after a fresh facial – that glow was from the new layer of skin that was revealed following an exfoliating treatment.

As we said, this process happens naturally in our bodies. But, much like many other processes, it also slows down with age, which is why children tend to have great skin, and our woes seem to intensify as we grow older.

How Does Skin Cell Renewal Work?

To give a more detailed explanation, we’ll use this section to take a more scientific look at what happens during skin cell renewal.

As you already know, the skin consists of different layers. The outermost one is called the epidermis. At its bottom, there’s a layer of specialized cells called keratinocytes. Their task is to produce new skin cells, which is constantly happening.

These new skin cells travel upwards, toward the very surface of the skin. As they do so, they become fortified with keratin, which is a tough protein – this is how they mature and turn duller.

Once they reach the surface, they shed and make way for the fresh layer of younger cells.

Although it naturally slows down with age, this process is also greatly influenced by other factors, such as our diet, hormones, sleep, stress, sun exposure, and overall health.

Why Does Skin Turnover Matter?

As we already briefly mentioned, there are lots of different things that are affected by our cellular turnover. Similar to other processes in the body, this isn’t something we notice on a daily basis but is still a vital process.

Most notably, this process is responsible for repairing minor damage to the skin – for example, when you have a scratch and can see it becoming less and less red over time, that is the new layer of skin emerging, as the harmed (red) one fades away.

When talking about cosmetics, skin cell turnover matters because the freshest layer is always the most even in terms of both pigmentation and texture.

For example, fine lines, wrinkles, and the other marks we call signs of aging are actually signs of a slowed-down skin cell turnover rate, among other factors.

How Does Skin Cell Turnover Affect Acne?

The cellular turnover in our skin also plays a crucial role in both the development and the persistence of acne.

If the turnover is somehow disrupted or slowed down, old cells accumulate on the surface, mixing with excess sebum and clogging pores and hair follicles.

This is exactly what occurs with skin purging.

By introducing new product ingredients or new facial treatments to your routine, the skin pushes all the excess oil, sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris to the surface to get rid of it – but all of that dirt tends to clog pores, leading to breakouts.

 

@drwhitneybowe #duet with @hkonopka #acneawareness You can even get this if you transition to a stronger product. Purging should not last longer than 6 weeks. #purgingskin #purgingvsbreakout #dermatologist #thatboweglow ♬ Use this sound when youre hot - ❦

For some, the results will be less dramatic, and bacteria will only cause regular blackheads or whiteheads, while others will develop persistent acne. Again, this all goes back to the other factors we mentioned.

On the flip side, by keeping skin cell turnover at an optimal level by living a healthy lifestyle and giving proper care to your skin, you can minimize the chances of ever developing any type of inflammation.

How Does the Skin Cell Renewal Process Affect Signs of Aging?

As we grow older, the skin cell renewal process naturally becomes slower. Paired with an unhealthy lifestyle, hormonal imbalance, or prolonged sun exposure, dead skin cells will start to accumulate at the surface level.

A naturally slowed turnover means that those damaged cells will persist on the surface for longer times, intensifying the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

This, in combination with a natural decrease in collagen and elastin production, is what leads to aging skin.

As was the case with acne prevention, keeping a balanced state of cellular turnover in your skin will help you retain a more youthful look for longer.

How to Determine Cell Turnover Rate?

It’s already been said that there are changes to our skin cell turnover rate by age. In this section, we’ll give a rundown on what that looks like exactly, so you can find where you fall in the timeline.

So, here’s what a general skin cell turnover rate looks like, by age:

Age Range

Skin Cell Turnover Rate

Infants

Every 14 days

Children

Every 28 days

Teenagers

Every 21-28 days

20s

Every 28-30 days

30s

Every 30-42 days

40s 

Every 42-50 days

50s and up

Every 50-84 days

How to Encourage Skin Turnover Time?

As we’ve already mentioned – not all hope is lost and there are ways to help your body through the cellular turnover and increase the turnover time. Other than professional treatments and specialized products (which we’ll get to in a moment), there are also at-home ways to do this.

The easiest approach is to exfoliate frequently – 2-3 times a week. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy, and a good scrub can be a homemade one. A popular recipe includes mixing milk, oatmeal, brown sugar, and almond or olive oil.

Another easy fix is to start using probiotics which will increase the number of good bacteria in your skin. However, it’s best you don’t do this on your own without consulting a doctor first.

On the other hand, there are plenty of small changes that you can make immediately, including:

  • Limiting direct sun exposure and using an SPF,
  • Embracing a more balanced diet,
  • Getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night,
  • Trying to remove unnecessary stress from your life,
  • Keeping hydrated as much as possible.

If none of these seem to do the trick, you can also check for hormonal imbalances and get prescription therapy if necessary.

The Best Treatments for Skin Cell Turnover

If you’re the type that would rather trust their skin cell turnover to a professional, there is a myriad of treatments that aim to increase the time.

Different exfoliating treatments will do wonders here, and your options are almost endless. For example, going for a chemical peel or enzyme peel every once in a while will ensure you get all the old cells off the surface of your skin.

Microdermabrasion is also a good option. It includes a device with a diamond tip and exfoliating crystals to mechanically remove the top layer of those dead cells, simultaneously encouraging the growth of younger skin cells.

Microneedling involves a device with tiny needles that penetrate your skin and allow active ingredients to penetrate the skin deeper. Other than being great for exfoliation, microneedling also boosts collagen production which even further makes the skin appear younger and more refreshed.

Finally, a more aggressive treatment is laser skin resurfacing. This procedure will remove the damaged layer of your skin, stimulate collagen production, and promote skin cell turnover.

The Best Skin Turnover Products

Finally, as promised, we’re going to delve deeper into different products that you use to increase your skin’s cellular turnover rate. As you may have already gathered, the most effective solution to this challenge is exfoliation.

So, the best product will be one that serves as a strong exfoliant – retinol – which helps stimulate the production of new skin cells, promoting the exfoliation of old cells, and increasing collagen production.

Check out our favorite retinol products below:

This is an objective, non-biased article. We base our product choices on various factors, such as product reviews, ratings, and overall reputation of brands. It does, however, contain affiliate links for featured products.

Final Thoughts on Skin Cell Turnover

Skin cell turnover is a natural process that slows down as we age, and plays a very important role in repairing skin damage. When slowed down, it can affect the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, making them more prominent.

The good news is that simple lifestyle changes or various exfoliating treatments can optimize skin cell renewal and speed up the turnover rate.

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