We’re always encouraged to use products that “increase skin cell turnover” to get smooth skin. At times, it sounds like a hyped skincare trend that is so overly-used that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I mean, why are we supposed to obsess over getting rid of our own skin?
Actually, it does make a lot of sense! We all know that faster skin turnover is good for the skin. But learning how skin turnover actually works is about more than justifying our purchases. Understanding the process of skin turnover will help you take better care of your skin and better utilize your products to achieve clear skin.
What is Skin Cell Turnover?
Cell turnover or skin turnover is the continuous renewal of the outer layer of your skin (1). The old cells on the surface of the skin shed off as the new layer of cells push upwards. On average, this process takes 4 weeks to complete.
The whole cycle, which includes new cell production, their journey upwards, and their death, is called the cell turnover rate. And this rate depends mostly on your age (2).
For example, the skin turnover rate for a newborn baby is roughly 7 days. In your 20s, the process takes about 14 days. In your 30s, it reaches the average rate of 4 weeks. As you get older, it slows down and takes about 6-8 weeks (3).
Why is Skin Cell Turnover Important?
Cell turnover is important in having healthy, smooth, and youthful skin. In healthy skin, a regular turnover rate works like a well-oiled machine where old cells shed off and are replaced by new healthier ones. That’s why baby skin is so perfect and wound-healing is super fast.
When the turnover rate slows down as you age, the dead skin cells stay longer on the surface of the skin. This causes dullness, roughness, clogged pores, acne (4), and several other skin issues including hyperpigmentation.
Cell turnover is like an automatic process. It happens even if you don’t do anything. And it sounds like teens or young adults should be completely happy with their skin’s renewal process. But that’s usually not the case. That’s where factors like genetics and lifestyle come in.
Even if you have a regular cell turnover cycle, you may be genetically “blessed” with enlarged pores and oily skin. In that case, your regular cycle may not be fast enough to get rid of excess sebum building up inside your pores and causing blemishes.
Similarly, if you don’t wear sunscreen and spend excessive amounts of time under the sun, you’ll be damaging healthy collagen way faster than your skin produces new ones. That’s why increasing the cell turnover rate is important.
How To Speed Up Skin Cell Turnover?
The things you can do to accelerate the skin turnover rate are mostly limited to your skincare attempts. After all, you can’t stop intrinsic aging.
The most effective way to increase the cell turnover rate is by exfoliating your skin. Look for skincare products formulated with chemical exfoliants. Try alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid, beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid, or poly-hydroxy acids like lactobionic acid.
Exfoliation removes the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. In doing so, it reveals smoother and healthier skin by stimulating cell turnover. Because as the top layer of your skin is more “exposed” after the exfoliation, the skin will start producing new cells to compensate.
Physical exfoliation, where you use face scrubs made with tiny particles, works as well. But it won’t be as effective as chemical exfoliation. Remember the first time you got a sunburn and your skin started to peel.
It felt like you could get rid of those dead skin cells if you kept peeling them off. But it never stops, does it? That’s what face scrubs are like. Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, dissolve the bond between your skin and the dead skin cells. That way, they shed off easily.
2. Cell Regulation
Over-the-counter retinol or prescription retinoids are directly responsible for collagen production. That’s why retinoids are also called cell regulators.
By using a retinol serum or a prescription retinoid, you can increase your skin cell turnover rate significantly (5). The surface of your skin is rapidly renewed and replaced by a healthier layer of skin.
These are the 2 options you can try at home to stimulate skin turnover. Remember that there are in-office procedures like chemical peels and laser treatments as well, which give dramatic results.
Related: How to Use Retinol For Best Results
The Best Products to Increase Skin Cell Turnover
There are several ways you can incorporate exfoliants or cell regulators into your skincare routine. The question of how often to exfoliate for speeding up skin turnover will depend mostly on the product choice.
If you start out with retinol or an exfoliating serum, you’ll probably have to start using it 2 times a week until your skin adjusts to it. Or if you prefer, you can go slow and steady by using a daily peel pad, an exfoliating toner, or an exfoliating cleanser.
So, decide on the active ingredient first. Then pick the right product type you’re comfortable with and watch your skin get smoother and smoother. If you don’t know where to start, below are some of the best products to speed up skin cell turnover.
The exfoliating treatment is formulated with a combination of alpha-hydroxy acids. Utilizing glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids, which all have different levels of penetration, the treatment sweeps off the top and dead layer of the skin. Additionally, the peel contains antioxidants to repair free radical damage on the skin. Skin-soothers reduce irritation while signal peptides stimulate collagen formation. As a result, the peel helps with enlarged pores, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.
Related: The Best Glycolic Acid Serums
This one is a beginner-friendly, affordable option to get started. It’s an overnight peel in cream form that’s made with AHAs; glycolic and lactic. It’s suitable for all skin types to gently get rid of dead skin cells while plumping up the skin. Yes, lactic acid does that! Additionally, the peel contains a gentle form of retinol; retinyl palmitate to fire up new collagen as well as vitamin E to undo UV-induced damage. It’s a great exfoliant to polish the skin without irritating it.
This is a gentle retinol serum that can help with anything from acne to wrinkles and from dark spots to enlarged pores. Retinol is known for being the ultimate multi-tasker and the mother of all that is anti-aging. As it can be equally irritating, retinol is encapsulated so that your skin has a smoother adjustment period to avoid irritation. Additional benefits include neuropeptides to firm up the skin and retinyl palmitate to enhance the anti-aging effects.
Peel pads are the most practical way to get started on exfoliation. Plus, they’re instantly brightening and radiance-boosting. These pads are made with 20% glycolic acid to sizzle off the dead skin layer. They also contain the anti-bacterial witch hazel to help with acne, and aloe to calm the skin.
If you prefer exfoliating with a daily cleanser, this one comes with 3.5% glycolic acid as well as salicylic acid. And it contains aloe to hydrate and soothe the skin. The gel glycolic acid cleanser is a multi-tasker that cleanses and exfoliates the skin. With regular use, your skin becomes smoother and more radiant.
If you have oily skin, exfoliating with salicylic acid will give you better results in terms of treating and preventing acne. This face toner is made with naturally-derived salicylic acid to get rid of excess sebum and dead skin cells trapped inside the pores. By dissolving them, the toner provides a deeper level of exfoliation and gives you a smoother skin texture, and regulates oil production.
So this is how skin cell turnover rate works, how you can speed it up, and some of the best products you can use to speed up the skin turnover rate. As we’ve established, exfoliants and retinoids are the best ingredients for faster skin turnover. But these ingredients are widely known for making the skin prone to sunburn. So it’s important to wear sunscreen regularly to avoid damaging your new, healthier skin layer.
- Seim, I., Ma, S., & Gladyshev, V. N. (2016). Gene expression signatures of human cell and tissue longevity. NPJ aging and mechanisms of disease, 2, 16014. https://doi.org/10.1038/npjamd.2016.14
- Farage, M. A., Miller, K. W., Elsner, P., & Maibach, H. I. (2013). Characteristics of the Aging Skin. Advances in wound care, 2(1), 5–10. https://doi.org/10.1089/wound.2011.0356
- The Artistry. (2020, Feb 5). What is Cell Turnover or Skin Cycle?. Thea Home Beauty.
- Palmer, A., (2020, August 25). What Cell Turnover Is and How It Relates to Acne Development. VeryWellHealth.
- Zasada, M., & Budzisz, E. (2019). Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 36(4), 392–397. https://doi.org/10.5114/ada.2019.87443