Just as the lunar cycle goes from new to full and back every month, every cell in our bodies has a life cycle that also lasts about 28 days. New skin cells are born in the deepest layer of the dermis called the basal layer, and as cells turn over, the dead skin cells above are shed and replaced, making skin firmer and smoothing lines and wrinkles. Without this process, buildup on the surface of the skin could result in acne, milia, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and uneven texture. Here, a how-to on ramping up this important cellular process for healthier-looking skin.
Week to Week
“Typically, it takes 28 days for skin cells to renew, but the process is different for everyone,” says West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD. During this stage, the skin creates new cells in the basal layer, which is the deepest layer of the epidermis. “These new skin cells then start to move upward toward the skin’s surface,” he adds.
In this stage, the skin’s cells continue to move upward and begin to flatten out as they approach the surface. “As the old cells reach the surface, they start to shed, making way for new skin cells to take their place,” explains Dr. Beer, who notes that this cycle is a continuous process. “This is the reason why scars and blemishes eventually fade over time.”
During this stage, the skin’s outermost layer is made up of mostly dead skin cells. The skin also produces more collagen and elastin, which help to maintain elasticity and firmness. “As we get older, our skin cycle slows down,” notes Scottsdale, AZ facial plastic surgeon Kelly V. Bomer, MD. Once we reach age 50, it can take upwards of 80 days for our skin to renew. “The slower rate can make skin look dull and opaque, and lack elasticity.”
In this final stage, the skin sheds the last of its dead cells, revealing fresh cells underneath. This is also when it produces more natural moisturizing factors to hydrate and protect it. “In addition to using products that speed up the cycle, you also need protection,” explains Montclair, NJ dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD. “You don’t want inflammation or hyperpigmentation, so it’s best to use an SPF of 30 or more.”
We can help our skin “shed” faster with ingredients that encourage turnover in different ways. “Actives are boosters for the skin, and they’re very important to keep skin healthy,” says celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy. “The skin cycle is a very personal thing, and it’s important to know your specific skin type—if you are oily, dry or sensitive—before you treat it. You don’t want to compromise or strip your skin.”
Known for protecting against sun damage, antioxidants also help stimulate blood flow, thereby encouraging cell growth. ”They reverse the damage from the free radicals that are developed in our skin just from the aging process, the sun and pollutants,” Dr. Bomer says.
Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic, lactic and mandelic, work by exfoliating the skin’s surface. Betahydroxy acids (BHAs), which include salicylic acid, can penetrate deeper to unclog pores. Some enzymes, like papain and bromelain, can also break down the bonds between dead skin cells.
Think of peptides as biostimulatory, says Dr. Bomer. “Peptides are like food for our bodies. While retinoids increase turnover, peptides support skin’s self-repair by providing more ‘food’ for the cells to create new collagen and elastin faster.”
10% The rate skin cell turnover slows every decade after the age of 20
Chemical peels, lasers and energy-based devices can accelerate skin cell renewal by removing damaged skin cells and promoting the growth of new, healthy ones. This can be achieved through various mechanisms, such as encouraging the shedding of dead skin cells or inducing controlled damage to the skin, which triggers the body’s natural healing response. “This promotes the production of new collagen and elastin fibers to improve skin elasticity and firmness,” explains Dr. Beer. “The benefit of doing these procedures, whether its Fraxel, microneedling, Clear + Brilliant, or an ablative laser, is to stimulate the skin cells to produce new, undamaged cells and get them from the bottom to the top much faster.”
The experts interviewed here agree that incorporating some form of retinol, a vitamin A derivative, can help accelerate cell renewal. But, the speed by which it increases can vary depending on a variety of factors, like skin type and condition, the concentration of retinol, and the frequency at which it’s used. To help crack the consistency code, New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD developed “skin cycling,” the practice of cycling retinols, exfoliants and moisturizers. “It’s a strategic way to rotate active ingredients in order to dial up results and dial down irritation,” she explains. Exfoliate the first night, use a retinol the second night, and recover on nights three and four with moisturizer, then repeat.
Boost the natural regeneration process with these new options that help kick-start renewal for a fresh glow.
DERMA E Vitamin C 10% Multi-Acid Radiance Liquid Peel ($25) provides antioxidant defense with citrus acids that brighten, clear dead skin cells and balance out uneven skin tone.
PCA Skin Pro-Max Age Renewal Serum ($219) uses micro-growth factor technology that is clinically proven to reduce sagging and improve firmness.
Target signs of damage every night with No7 Future Renew Damage Reversal Night Cream ($40), which contains an advanced peptide blend that supports the skin’s renewal process.
BIOJUVE Living Biome Essentials Duo ($250) with Retinol improves lackluster skin using beneficial microbes that deliver antioxidants, proteins, polypeptides, and retinol to shift skin renewal into high gear.