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What is cell turnover and why is it important for skin?

What is cell turnover and why is it important for skin?

Cell turnover plays a pivotal role in unlocking the skin’s youthful looking appearance and treating skin issues like acne, dryness, and rough texture.
03 Oct 2023

The skin is designed to naturally renew itself by producing fresh, healthy cells. These new cells replace dead cells that make their way to the skin’s surface in a natural process called cellular turnover. In order to maintain the skin's youthful appearance, it is important to promote cell turnover.


Beyond the role that cell turnover plays in the visible appearance of the skin, its underlying biological role is to provide protection against UV rays, harsh environmental conditions, and external irritants. Each skin cell has its own pre-programmed “clock” that determines its life span. (If all the skin cells were on the same schedule, our skin would shed similarly to snakes.) When cells reach the surface and naturally exfoliate or loosen from the skin, cells in the deeper layer of the skin receive a “message” to produce new cells to replace the ones that are shed.


In young adults, skin cell turnover takes approximately 28 days (about 4 weeks). It takes 14 days for each cell to travel from the lower layer of the skin to the surface, where the cell stays for another 14 days to provide protection from the environment before it detaches from the skin. These cells provide protection because they carry water, pigment, and lipids to the skin’s surface.

Although 4 weeks is the average, “normal” rate of cellular turnover, the length of the skin cycle can be affected by age, sun exposure, skin disorders, stress, hormones, and professional procedures such as deep chemical peels or laser resurfacing. When the rate of cell turnover slows, so does the movement of moisture, pigment, and lipids to the skin’s surface—which can lead to skin dehydration, discoloration, dryness, and impaired barrier function.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between exfoliating the skin and promoting skin cell turnover (although exfoliation can help achieve this goal). Exfoliation is the process of removing old skin cells with acid-based ingredients or scrubs while promoting cell turnover.


Cell turnover becomes more sluggish over time, and you can use your age to estimate how long it takes for your skin to renew itself. For example, a 50-year-old’s skin could take up to 50 days to complete its cell turnover cycle—and more mature skin can take up to 90 days (about 3 months). For those who are concerned about visible signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, and dullness, it’s important to help promote cell turnover with your daily skincare regimen to eliminate the buildup of dead cells that contributes to these concerns.


The root cause of acne is clogged pores that create an environment that allows C. acnes bacteria to grow and thrive. Both excess oil and dead skin cells are responsible for clogged pores, and cell turnover rate plays a role as well. In those who are prone to acne, cells divide faster in the lower levels of the skin. As new cells make their way to the surface, they can get “stuck” in the sebaceous follicle, which connects the dermis to the epidermis and creates a pore. Dead cells that sit on the skin’s surface rather than shedding in a timely manner can clog the pores as well—and contribute to the formation of acne. Encouraging cell turnover is an important part of any anti-acne skincare approach.


Regular and proper exfoliation is important for maintaining efficient cell renewal. By mimicking what the skin is supposed to do naturally, skincare helps enhance the skin’s thickness and its responsiveness to active ingredients by strengthening the skin surface. Our exfoliating products are designed to be gentle yet effective for promoting optimal skin turnover.

Cell Cycle Catalyst: Tested safe on all skin types, this multi-acid serum formulation can boost the effectiveness of any cellular turnover-focused (anti-aging) regimen by up to 20%. This groundbreaking taurine-infused serum requires no adjustment period and has been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines, discoloration, pores, texture, radiance, and skin clarity in as little as one week.

Exfoliating cleansers: Promoting skin cell turnover can be as simple as washing your face with a specially formulated cleanser every morning and night. We offer an array of exfoliating cleansers for a variety of skin types and concerns, including Glycolic Renewal Cleanser (for dullness and rough texture), LHA Cleanser (for acne-prone skin), Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser (for chemical and physical exfoliation), and Micro-Exfoliating Scrub (for physical exfoliation).

Retexturing Activator: This dual-action daily serum simultaneously exfoliates and hydrates the skin as it optimizes the skin’s amino acid supply to reinforce the skin barrier. Suitable for refining skin texture in all skin types, it offers the resurfacing power of a daily 20% glycolic acid treatment without irritating sensitive skin.

Blemish + Age Defense: Ideal for aging, acne-prone skin, this oil-free serum features a blend of dioic, alpha-, and beta-hydroxy acids for even, effective exfoliation that helps reduce clogged pores while improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.

Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight: Formulated for evening use, this high-potency 10% glycolic acid exfoliating cream promotes skin cell turnover to improve skin brightness, clarity, radiance, texture, and tone—and contains a triple-action soothing complex to help support the skin barrier.

Retinol: A dermatologist-recommended mainstay for enhancing skin cell turnover for more than 50 years, this ingredient is effective for preventing premature skin aging, improving visible signs of aging, and preventing blemishes from developing. SkinCeuticals offers three nighttime retinol serum concentrations for new and experienced users, as well as different skin types (along with a targeted treatment for visible signs of neck aging).

Cell Cycle Catalyst: Safe for all skin types, this multi-acid serum formulation can boost the effectiveness of any cellular turnover-focused product regimen by up to 20%, and effectively preps the skin for in-office procedures to ensure optimal results. This groundbreaking taurine-infused serum requires no adjustment period, and has been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines, discoloration, pores, texture, radiance, and skin clarity in as little as one week.

Broad-spectrum sun protection: When exfoliating or using any skincare products that promote skin cell turnover, the skin may be more vulnerable to damage caused by UV rays. It’s imperative to use sunscreen daily to preserve visible skin improvement and prevent further sun-induced skin changes.

To learn more about cell turnover and discover the ideal skincare regimen for your unique skin issues and skin concerns, use our online Regimen Finder, visit one of our SkinCeuticals SkinLab locations, or schedule an appointment with a SkinCeuticals Skincare Professional for a one-on-one consultation.


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