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What causes dead skin cell build-up and how can you treat it?

Dead skin cell build-up is a common skincare concern. Over time, it can lead to a dull skin tone, clogged pores, acne breakouts, and a generally poor complexion. There are treatments available to shed way dead skin cells, but in the first instance it is essential to know what causes the build-up.

Skin cells move through the layers of skin to the outermost layer during their life cycles, which is about one month. At the outer layer, skin cells die and shed away at a rate of almost 40,000 skin cells per hour.

As the old skin cells shed, newer (and more vibrant looking) skin is revealed underneath. But sometimes, the dead skin cells don’t shed in the way they are supposed to, leading to a build-up which may cause skin problems for you.

Reasons why dead skin cells may not shed away include:

1. Age
The skin cell renewal process slows down as we age, meaning we shed dead skin cells at a slower rate and actually produce less oil in our skin. The skin becomes drier and leaves a build-up of dead skin cells on the surface.

2. Improper cleansing
By not cleansing your skin every night or not cleansing properly, dead skin cells may stay on your face longer than they should. Oils and makeup on the skin can also make it harder for skin cells to shed.

3. Not exfoliating properly
Exfoliating doesn’t need to be done every day – once or twice a week is enough. Exfoliation boosts the shedding process, making way for new skin cells to emerge.

4. Using the wrong moisturiser (or not enough of it)
Dehydrated or dry skin is vulnerable to dead skin cell build-up because the skin cells can become trapped in the skin. Moisturiser can help boost moisture levels in your skin, but ensure you use a product tailored to your skin type and needs.

5. Weather
Dry or cold weather lacks humidity, which can dry out the skin. This can be combated by sleeping with a humidifier, avoiding artificial heating and cooling where possible, and regularly moisturising your skin when the climate calls for it. Learn more about rehydrating dry skin in winter.

6. Other factors
Some other factors can cause dead skin cells to build up, such as harsh soaps, sun exposure, and skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema. In these cases, it is really important to see a clinician about how to take care of your individual skin needs.

Apart from avoiding dead skin cell build-up by following some of the above advice, there are also treatments available that can help shed away dead skin cells from your skin or speed up the cell turnover process.

Some of the best treatments for dead skin cell build-up include:

1. The right skincare products
A tailored skincare plan featuring the right exfoliants, moisturisers and cleansers will do wonders for your skin. Your skin clinician can advise what products are right for your skin type and concerns.

2. Dermaplaning (epi-blading)
Dermaplaning uses an exfoliating blade to gently remove the top layers of the skin, erasing dead skin cells and hair from your face. It is a great treatment to decongest and resurface your skin to leave it looking smooth, even, and soft. Learn more.

3. Microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion uses tiny, rough crystals to rub away the upper layers of dead skin cells, allowing the skin’s healing process to commence and bring back newer skin cells which look and feel smoother. Learn more.

4. Chemical peels
Medi-aesthetic or chemical peels improve the skin's upper layers by inducing a healing effect as damaged layers of skin are replaced by healthy ones, helping to refine, resurface, restore or rejuvenate your skin. Learn more.

5. HydraFacial
HydraFacial performs a spring clean on your skin to improve its overall health and hydration. Combining elements of microdermabrasion with a facial, the process uses a special device that gently vacuums impurities from your skin, clearing congested pores to attain a perfectly cleansed and exfoliated surface. Learn more.

If you would like to speak to a clinician about your skin concerns, please call us or book your appointment online.

Written by National Skin Cancer Centres