You’ve heard the recommendations. “You should get rid of dead skin. It builds up and makes you dull. Exfoliate regularly if you want to look younger.”
All this talk about dead skin. What is it anyway, and why are we so obsessed?
What Is Dead Skin?
It’s sort of creepy to think that we have something dead on our skin. But so-called “dead” skin is a little different than what we usually think of as dead. We’re not talking zombies here.
Dead skin refers to dead skin “cells.” You may remember from your biology class that our bodies, including the skin, are made of up trillions of little cells. They’re constantly dividing to produce new cells that replace the old ones. As this natural process takes place, new cells spring to life, and old cells die.
Estimates are that about 40 to 50 billion cells die every day in one human. Inside the body, the old cells are broken down by enzymes and scavenged by the immune system, which sends white blood cells to eat the dead cells. (Okay, maybe we are sort of like zombies.) The white cells then use the energy they get from digesting the dead cells to make other white cells.
On the surface of the body, however, there is nothing around that eats those dead cells. Instead, they are sloughed off and discarded as we go about our daily lives. Sort of.
In the skin, new cells begin in the deep layers and then travel up to the outermost layer. This process takes about a month. When they get there, they die off and eventually are shed off. Every hour about 40,000 skin cells are shed!
As we get older, however, certain factors can cause these dead skin cells to build up on the skin’s surface instead of being shed away.
Why Do Dead Skin Cells Build Up?
When we’re young, we have no problem shedding dead skin cells. As we get older, though, it becomes easier for those dead skin cells to hang around and cause problems. Here are several reasons why this happens.
Simply getting older tends to slow down the cellular renewal process in the skin. The new cells don’t come up as quickly as they did before, which can cause the old dead cells to pile up on the surface of the skin.
2. Dry Skin
When your skin is dry, the cells on the surface die off faster than usual. Dry skin also creates a rough barrier that traps the dead skin cells.
Dry, arid climates, and cold, frigid temperatures both create dry air. This causes your skin to lose moisture faster than usual, leading to dry skin. As we noted above, dry skin results in dead skin cell buildup.
4. Lack of Exfoliation
Exfoliating your skin helps loosen up those trapped dead skin cells so they are easier to shed. If you’re not getting enough exfoliation, that dead skin may stay right where it is.
5. Using the Wrong Moisturizer
As noted above, dry and dehydrated skin is more susceptible to dead skin cell buildup. You may be moisturizing your skin, but if your moisturizer isn’t working very well, you’ll have dead skin cell buildup. You’ve probably experienced this before when using hand lotion that smelled nice but didn’t do much to soften your skin.
6. Wearing Masks
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all wearing masks more than usual. While they can help reduce the spread of the virus, they can also cause a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin. They create a humid environment, trapping oil, dirt, and debris next to the skin, which can clog pores and slow natural exfoliation.
How to Get Rid of Dead Skin Cells
If dead skin hangs around too long, you may suffer from:
- Increased acne breakouts
- More whiteheads and blackheads
- Dull looking skin
- Older looking skin
To keep your skin looking its best, follow these tips:
- Cleanse regularly: Most of your dead skin cells will slough off naturally during cleansing. You can use a cleansing brush if you like to make sure they are rinsed away.
- Exfoliate: Exfoliate your skin between once and twice a week. This helps get rid of any stubborn dead skin cells and becomes more important around the age of 40. Beware of “physical exfoliators” that may damage the skin and increase irritation. These contain scratchy, harsh chunks that can create small wounds in the skin that later lead to breakouts and inflammation. Instead, choose gentle chemical exfoliators with fruit acids (citric, lactic, malic, glycolic, and tartaric) that break down dead skills and allow you to wash them away.
- Don’t exfoliate too much: Be careful that you don’t get too aggressive with exfoliation. It can actually damage the skin and make it worse. If you notice skin becoming dry, flaky, or irritated, back off to only once a week or less.
- Moisturize: Every time after you cleanse or exfoliate, make sure you’re using a quality moisturizer. Remember—moisturized skin is healthier and less likely to suffer from dead skin cell buildup. We recommend our Calming Moisture and Body Repair Lotion as they penetrate deeply and help keep the skin’s outer layer healthy and strong.
What do you think of dead skin cells?