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The Skin Cycle Explained

Why skincare products show results at different rates due to the cycle of skin cells

Pippa HarmanCo-Founder Renude
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Pippa Harman
Written byPippa HarmanCo-Founder Renude
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Our epidermis constantly renews itself through a complex process known as the skin cycle. This involves the ‘shedding’ of old skin cells and the generation of new ones, resulting in a continuous cycle of renewal.

Our skin is made up of three parts - the epidermis (outermost layer), the dermis (this sits underneath), and the hypodermis (this is the lowest layer and is made up of connective tissue and subcutaneous fat.) Understanding this process is crucial for maintaining healthy and vibrant skin. 

Stages of the Skin Cycle 

The skin cycle consists of four distinct stages: proliferation, migration, differentiation, and desquamation.

  1. Proliferation: The skin cycle begins in the basal layer of the epidermis, where cells called keratinocytes divide and multiply rapidly. This stage is responsible for generating new cells that will eventually replace the older ones.
  2. Migration: As new cells are produced, they gradually move upwards through the epidermal layers. During this stage of the skin cycle, keratinocytes undergo changes in shape and structure, preparing to fulfil their specific functions.
  3. Differentiation: As the keratinocytes migrate towards the surface of the skin, they undergo a process called differentiation. This process of the skin cycle involves the transformation of the cells into specialised structures known as corneocytes. Corneocytes are flat, tough cells that make up the outermost layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum.
  4. Desquamation: Once the corneocytes reach the stratum corneum, they serve as a protective barrier against external factors. Over time, these cells gradually shed from the surface of the skin in a process called desquamation. This shedding is a natural exfoliation process that helps to eliminate dead skin cells and maintain a healthy complexion. This is the last stage of the skin cycle.

What can influence my the Skin Cycle? 

Several factors can affect the skin cycle, either by accelerating or slowing down the process. Let's explore some of the key factors that influence the skin cycle:

  1. Age: The skin cycle tends to slow down as we age. In youth, the turnover rate is faster, leading to a more radiant and youthful appearance. However, as we grow older, the process becomes slower, resulting in a dull and uneven complexion.
  2. Sun Exposure: Excessive exposure to the sun's harmful UV rays can disrupt the skin cycle. UV radiation damages the DNA within skin cells, leading to premature ageing and an increased risk of skin cancer. It can also impair the skin's ability to regenerate and renew itself effectively.
  3. Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those that occur during puberty or menopause, can impact the skin cycle. These hormonal shifts can influence the production of sebum, leading to an increased likelihood of acne or other skin conditions.
  4. Lifestyle Factors: Lack of sleep, an unhealthy diet, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, can hinder the skin cycle. These habits can disrupt the skin's natural balance and impede the renewal process, resulting in dull and lacklustre skin.

Promoting a Healthy Skin Cycle 

To maintain an optimum skin cycle and promote a youthful complexion, it is essential to adopt a skincare routine that supports the natural renewal process. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:

  1. Cleansing: Cleanse your skin twice a day to remove dirt, excess oil, and impurities. Choose a gentle cleanser that won't strip away the skin's natural moisture.
  2. Exfoliation: Regular exfoliation helps to remove dead skin cells and stimulate cell turnover. Use a gentle exfoliator up to once or twice a week to reveal a brighter and smoother complexion. Be mindful not to over-exfoliate the skin, and ensure you are selecting the best exfoliating ingredient for your unique skin.
  3. Moisturisation: Keep your skin hydrated by using a suitable moisturiser. Hydration is crucial for maintaining skin elasticity and promoting a healthy skin cycle.
  4. Sun Protection: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to shield your skin from harmful UV rays. Remember to reapply every two hours, especially when outdoors.
  5. Healthy Lifestyle: Adopt a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants. Get enough sleep, manage stress levels, and avoid smoking. 

Skincare and the Skin Cycle  

When it comes to skincare products, it's important to understand that the skin cycle plays a significant role in determining how long it takes to see noticeable results. Different products target specific stages of the skin cycle, and their effectiveness can vary based on individual factors. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Active Ingredients and their Targeted Mechanisms: Different skincare products contain various active ingredients that target the skin at different stages of the skin cycle. For instance, acid exfoliants work by loosening the dead surface skin cells (which in turn promotes faster cell turnover) while ingredients like tyrosinase inhibitors (to target hyperpigmentation) need to absorb right down into the skin, to target the melanocytes, which sit at the very bottom of the epidermis (at the junction with the dermis.) 
  2. Immediate and Long-Term Effects: Some products may provide immediate effects, such as hydration or temporary brightness, while others require continuous use to achieve long-term benefits. For example, products targeting collagen production or hyperpigmentation will take multiple skin cycles to show visible results. This is because the processes that need targeting occur at the base of the epidermis. To address these issues effectively, skincare ingredients need to penetrate and interact with the cells at the deeper layers of the epidermis where collagen is synthesised or where excessive melanin production occurs. 
  3. Patience and Consistency: It's crucial to be patient and consistent when using skincare products. The skin cycle typically takes about 4-6 weeks, in which time the old skin is slowly shedding and a fresh layer of skin, benefiting from all the goodness of your skincare surfaces.  This is why you may wait several weeks, or even longer depending on what you’re targeting, before you see noticeable improvements in your skin. 
  4. Individual Factors: Everyone's skin is unique, so individual factors like skin type, age, and overall skin condition can influence how quickly results become visible. Additionally, certain skin concerns, such as deep wrinkles or stubborn acne, may require more time and specialised treatments to see significant improvements.

By understanding the interplay between the skin cycle and skincare products, you can set yourself with realistic expectations and make informed decisions about the products you use, leading to healthier and happier skin. 

If you have questions about your own skin; blemishes, hyperpigmentation, or ageing concerns or you’re just overwhelmed by the choice out there and don’t know where to start. Connect with one of our licensed aestheticians for free today. Just complete our two-minute skin care quiz, you’ll be assigned your very own expert and we’ll provide you with a personalised skincare routine.  

Pippa HarmanCo-Founder Renude
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