You often hear how the skin cycle or skin cell turnover is the key to the fountain of youth, the holy grail of smooth and plump complexion, or how it relates to acne. If you check the ingredients of your skincare, be it for acne, anti-ageing, or against dull skin, most likely you’ll see that they boost skin cell turnover.

And it’s true. The skin cell turnover has an impact on “everything skin”. It affects your skin’s overall health, the visible age of your skin, or conditions such as acne.

Skin cell turn over affects how it looks and feels, photo by cottonbro

Almost everything in your body has a cycle. Think of your daily cycle of wakefulness and sleep or your hormonal cycle. In just the same way, your skin also has its own cycle. Every day, your skin UV radiation, temperature changes, you apply chemical products (also known as makeup), or plain simple friction. All of which can damage your skin cells. That’s why the skin renews itself continuously.

Journey of a new skin cell

All cells have a turnover in your body. Skin cell turnover is the process in which new skin cells are formed in the deepest layers of the skin and then migrate to the top.

In the deepest layer of the dermis, a new skin cell is formed and starts its life plump and full of moisture. It makes its way up to the uppermost layer of the skin. On its way, it matures and becomes flatter and drier until it reaches the surface of the skin. Once it has arrived at the surface, it’s just a dried-up keratin protein. In scientific terms, a skin cell undergoes a process called keratinisation, where a cell full of moisture gets a keratin protein deposited in it.

This process eventually results in cell death. These dry dead skin cells are just waiting to shed. You mostly don’t see sloughed-off skin cells except as almost unnoticeable dust-sized particles on your furniture or clothes. The skin cells that just arrived at the surface are the youngest and freshest looking. Until they get pushed out by newer ones, they become dry, rough, and flaky.

The outermost layer of the skin that you see is made up of about 25 to 30 layers of dead skin cells. Skin cell turnover is an ongoing process but it’s almost undetectable. As with most biological processes, several factors can have an impact. Cell turnover is faster where your skin is exposed to the environment like your hands and face. Other factors can be intrinsic and extrinsic such as your

  • Diet
  • Hormones
  • Genetics
  • Sleep pattern
  • Stress
  • Sun exposure
  • Overall health
  • Smoking

Turnover cycle

The average time it takes a skin cell from its formation until it arrives at the surface of the skin is around 30 days. The biggest factor in how quickly or slowly this process occurs is your age. Like almost all biological processes, it slows with age.

Young children have the shortest turnover cycle because they’re growing quickly. This also explains why babies and children have clear, smooth, and healthy skin. Things “naturally” begin to decline in the late 20s. If you take your skin at 20 as a base, your skin turnover rate will be 50% slower by the time you reach 40 years.

Longer Turnover Cycle

The longer the turnover cycle, the more dead skin cells can build up. This makes the skin look heavy, dry, and dull. Moreover, it can cause sagging skin that also has more lines, wrinkles, and deeper folds.

More cell build-up can cause pores to stretch so that they appear larger. It can cock them too so that bacteria can become tracked triggering breakouts.

Beyond “purely” appearances, a slower turnover rate means that wound healing takes longer. Other skin issues such as eczema can become more severe.

What can you do?

When you look at your skin and body as a whole by maintaining healthy lifestyle choices you can improve the turnover rate to an average of 30 days or even faster.

As mentioned, dead skin cells can be sloughed off by external friction. So literally you can scrub your skin to stimulate fresher and younger cells to rise to the surface. You can also encourage newer skin cells to surface with a chemical exfoliant.

Both physical and chemical exfoliation loosens dead skin cells so that they can be whisked off. If you’re looking to shorten the cycle, then the gold standard is vitamin A (retinol or retinoids).

Vitamin A works by speeding up how new skin cell formation. It also speeds up the whole process of the cells travelling up to the top layer. As is with many skin-related issues, you have to be consistent and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Light therapy can produce intriguing results. LED light therapy was first developed by NASA for encouraging plants to grow in space. It was very fast discovered that LED light can boost wound healing and human tissue rejuvenation. When LED lights are directed to the skin, they stimulate the cell turnover, helping to regenerate the skin cells and even boost collagen and elastin. And all that without causing harm to the outer skin.

A word of caution

While removing dead skin cells regularly is can reveal a healthy and bright complexion, over-exfoliation can damage your skin. Over-exfoliation can strip the skin of its natural oils, aggravating acne. Further, it can also cause redness, sensitivity, and irritation.


The tips to improve your skin tone and texture will give you fast and visible results. Most importantly however is that cell turnover is a key indicator of your skin health. This means, in the long run, regarding your body holistically where you maintain a healthy lifestyle including a healthy diet and regular exercise will help you maintain overall good body functions and thus also cell turnover cycle.

Do you have any thoughts about cell turnover? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

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