What Is Cell Turnover and How Is It Related to Acne?

Acne outbreaks are never fun, and they can arise from all kinds of issues, ranging from puberty to hormonal issues to over-washing your face and more. However, cell turnover is also closely related to acne outbreaks.

How? Let's break down what exactly cell turnover is, how it works, and how cell turnover can lead to acne outbreaks if it isn't controlled properly.

Cell Turnover Explained

In a nutshell, skin cell turnover is the process of old, dry, and potentially dead skin cells being shed and replaced by newer, younger, healthier skin cells. This is a natural process that occurs to every skin cell over the course of two to three weeks. In fact, that’s approximately as long as each skin cell lives from the time it is created to when it dies and takes its place on the surface of your skin.

The surface layer of your skin is usually occupied by old or dead skin cells. These don’t feel as smooth or moisturized as younger skin cells underneath. As our skin produces new skin cells underneath, those cells are pushed to the top. They move the old skin cells out of the way or loosen them enough that they flake off over time. This usually occurs so gradually that you can’t tell, nor can you see the individual skin cells falling off when you scratch an itch or lay on your pillow.

When we take care of our skin, we can hijack the cell turnover process and quickly remove dead skin cells to make way for younger, healthier cells. Done properly, you’ll see skin benefits in the process.

How Does It Affect Acne?

Skin cell turnover affects acne because dead skin cells can sometimes clog the pores. Acne can occur when your pores become clogged by dirt, debris, or dead skin cells. As this occurs, pus accumulates underneath whatever blocks the pores, causing a pimple to form.

Given enough time, bacteria and pus can spread to other pores, leading to acne outbreaks. Acne outbreaks can occur for a variety of reasons, including hormonal changes, environmental chemicals or toxins, and your skin cell turnover rate.

If your skin cell turnover rate isn’t fast enough, dead skin cells may accumulate in your pores. Younger skin cells continuously rise to the uppermost layer of your skin, pushing the dead skin cells to the side and into pores.

This is partially why acne outbreaks are so common when we are young or hit puberty (though hormones also play a big role). When we are young, our skin cell turnover rate is higher. This causes young skin cells to push older ones out of the way more frequently.

What Happens When You Increase Cell Turnover?

Although skin cell turnover can cause acne in some cases, you can also accelerate this process and see results.

When you increase skin cell turnover:

  • You remove the dead skin cells proactively, preventing them from falling into the open pores of your skin.
  • You remove any dead skin cells or debris that may have already clogged your skin's pores. This, in turn, opens them up and prevents them from forming acne pimples in the first place.

Therefore, accelerating skin cell turnover is one of the primary goals of many skincare routines, especially for folks who have acne-prone skin. Of course, you have to be careful not to accelerate skin cell turnover too much.

If you do this, your skin will look red and irritated because your young skin cells don’t have enough time to mature before being forced to the surface of your skin’s many layers.

How Can I Increase Cell Turnover?

There are lots of ways you can increase skin cell turnover and see major benefits. These include:

  • Washing your face twice daily, especially with a cleanser. Washing your face in this way gets rid of dirt, debris, and some dead skin cells.
  • Exfoliating twice per week at maximum. You can use chemical or mechanical exfoliants to buff your skin.
  • Using skin serums and other products with healthy ingredients. These ingredients can naturally accelerate the skin cell turnover process, maximizing your exfoliation results and giving your skin a radiant, youthful glow.

As you can see, simply maintaining a healthy, holistic skincare routine will increase cell turnover for you without you having to put a lot of extra effort in!

Other Benefits of Faster Cell Turnover

While focusing on faster cell turnover may result in fewer acne or breaks over time, it will also lead to other skincare benefits.

For example, you might find that your skin looks and feels younger and more radiant. That's because many of the skin turnover activities above, especially exfoliation, stimulate the skin cells and bring blood closer to the surface level of your skin. As a result, your skin will look warmer and brighter than before.

Plus, you may find that your skin feels a lot younger. When you stimulate your skin cells through exfoliation and serum application, those skin cells produce more collagen and elastin. These vital compounds are important for your skin’s elasticity and firmness: both of which decrease as we get older.

Lastly, faster skin cell turnover means that your skin will look a lot smoother and younger. After all, younger skin cells will be at the forefront of your skin barrier rather than old, decaying skin cells that pile up and look their age.

This is especially important as you get older. Accelerating skin cell turnover is one of the primary ways to see anti-aging skincare benefits, so exfoliation and regular skincare routines are important.


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Making an epidermis - PMC | NCBI

Epidermis and Its Renewal by Stem Cells - Molecular Biology of the Cell | NCBI Bookshelf

Acne Vulgaris - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf