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Shedding Some Light on Dead Skin Cell Buildup

Dead surface skin cells are the cause of dull, sallow looking skin, clogged pores and breakouts. Most of us know chemical and physical exfoliation is essential to remove cell buildup and reveal your skin glow. But what causes skin cells to build up? The most common causes are:

Your skin has glands (called sebaceous) that produce natural oils and the cell renewal process continually produces new skin cells while shedding the old. These cells (called keratinocytes) are made up of protein (keratin) and formed in the epidermis. During its life cycle, the skin cell travels up to the outermost layer (stratum corneum). At the surface layer, the cell dies and is shed through a process called desquamation. Every hour nearly 40,000 skin cells are shed, and it takes one skin cell about a month to complete the desquamation process.

What influences skin cell buildup?

As these older, dead skin cells are shed each day, they reveal newer, more radiant-looking skin underneath. There are a few factors, however, that can cause those dead skin cells to build up on the skin’s surface instead of being shed away.


As we age, the desquamation process slows down and the cells don't shed at the same rate. Oil production decreases, and cell buildup increases.

Improper Proper Cleansing

It's important to cleanse your skin - preferably at least twice a day. Excess oil, skin dirt, debris and makeup residue make it more difficult for the skin to shed old skin cells and create new ones.

Not Exfoliating Regularly

Exfoliating your skin either physically (facial scrubs) or with chemicals (glycolic, lactic or natural enzymes) helps remove dead skin cells. Aim for once or twice a week to give your natural shedding process a boost.

Remember to wear broad-spectrum SPF during the daytime because chemical exfoliants can cause hypersensitivity to the sun.

The Wrong Moisturizer

Exfoliation and cleansing are key for helping to get rid of dead skin cell buildup, but you need to follow with the right moisturizer . Dehydrated or dry skin is more prone to dead skin cell buildup. A dry complexion or rough texture can create a barrier, trapping the dead skin cells that are ready to be shed underneath. Look for moisturizers that are tailored for your skin type or condition - reach out to your esthetician for a skin evaluation.

Climate Changes

Dry, arid climates and cold temperatures lack humidity. Here's where living in the great Pacific Northwest has home field advantage - more moisture in the air! Hot weather also affects skin hydration levels and trap dead skin cells underneath and cause a buildup. Keep moisturizers on hand and consider sleeping with a humidifier.

Sun Exposure

Excessive sun exposure as explained above does a number on your skin. Do your best to stay out of the sun’s harsh rays and always apply a good SPF of 30 or higher to keep your skin protected.

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