Wait, are dead skin cells actually a good thing?

Admit it: Ever since the first rough, grainy glob of St. Ives Apricot Scrub touched down on your pre-pubescent cheek, you’ve devoted your life to destroying your dead skin cells. And why wouldn’t you? Dead skin cells are the root of all skin-care evils: dullness, dryness, flakiness, clogged pores, pimples… right?

Well, not to cause your (well-exfoliated) head to explode or anything, but everything you think you know about dead skin cells is wrong. These babies actually play an important role in the skin’s barrier—maybe the most important role—and when they’re scrubbed, sloughed, or acid-burned to oblivion, the overall health of the skin suffers. In other words, dead skin cells are actually a good thing, and you could probably use more of ‘em.

To understand what makes dead skin cells (or, in scientific terms, corneocytes) so essential, you need to understand the natural life cycle of a skin cell. First of all, cells proliferate at a rate of about 40,000 per day: “New skin cells originate in the basal layer of the skin,” Dr. Ronald Moy, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder DNA Renewal, tells HelloGiggles. As they’re created, they push older cells closer to the top layer of the skin (also known as the stratum corneum). “It takes 28 days for a single skin cell to go through from creation at the basal layer to the top of the skin, when it is dead skin cell,” Dr. Moy explains. “The role of mature dead skin cells is to protect the skin and keep it from drying out.”

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