5 Science-Backed Ways To Naturally Rejuvenate Skin Cells*
You see the claim on many beauty products: "This will rejuvenate your skin!" It's an attractive claim. Take all the wear of yesterday and magically transform it into healthy new cells today? Yes, please.
But many products and approaches fall short. Why? Because what is masked as "rejuvenating" is really just superficial dressing.
Here's the thing: Your skin "rejuvenates" all the time: Your body is constantly creating new cells to replace older ones that have been exposed to stressors.
In fact, this happens every 27 days in the epidermis. However, there are science-backed ways you can—and should—support that process.
By giving your body the tools it needs to help heal itself, you can keep your skin cells looking vibrant and healthy for longer. That's the wonder of cellular beauty.
Five ways to harness your body's power of rejuvenation
Enter the REM cycle.
For years, scientists have known that sleep is a vital part of overall body rejuvenation: When you enter the REM cycle, cells throughout the body are able to repair and restore themselves. This happens in your skin cells, too.
When you sleep, your body releases certain hormones that have loads of beauty benefits. Notably, melatonin.
"Melatonin is critically important for your skin and plays a significant role in skin repair from environmental exposure, UV light, stressors, pollution, and so on," says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. "If you're not resting, you're not generating that melatonin, and your skin isn't repairing itself."
And recently scientists have found that this nighttime-induced rejuvenation process is especially important for collagen and collagen production.
When we enter the REM cycle, our body naturally repairs its collagen layer in the skin1. This happens because we have two collagen fiber structures: One structure is our skin's permanent collagen, or the scaffolding that keeps our skin in place. The other is thinner and more transient; these collagen fibers repair and then bind with the permanent collagen fibers as we sleep.
Essentially: Whatever blows your collagen took throughout the day—sun, pollution, inflammatory processes—your body restores them by using these "helper" collagen fibers. It’s a technical concept, but the bottom line is there’s a rhythmic nature to collagen production, which means sleep is vital for skin health.
Take a targeted beauty supplement.
If beauty starts at the cellular level—which we believe it does—then you must give your skin cells all the tools possible to rejuvenate from the inside out. You want to give your skin cells the proper tools so that they can function optimally.
We suggest a holistic approach and finding a supplement that aids skin cells from multiple angles.*
For example, look at coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is present in every human cell and concentrated in the mitochondria; it is required for cellular energy production and rejuvenation2.*
And when you take the most bioavailable form—ubiquinol—it has been clinically shown to increase your natural CoQ10 levels3 and reduce oxidative stress.*
What does this mean for the skin? Well, CoQ10 supports skin elasticity and smoothness while combating wrinkles.*
You can also look for pomegranate whole fruit extract, which promotes cellular resilience and anti-inflammatory properties for healthy aging: this superfruit extract is clinically shown to enhance antioxidant responses and skin photoprotection from UV exposure.*
For another antioxidant: Astaxanthin protects the skin's collagen layer and has been shown to help reduce fine lines and age spots and support skin hydration.*
Finally, phytoceramides can help rejuvenate the skin barrier, which is vital for overall skin function. In doing so, it can help reduce dryness and wrinkles while significantly improving skin hydration, elasticity, and smoothness.*
Use a serum with both vitamins C and E.
As far as healthy skin goes, there's a reason vitamin C is continually on the top of the list for derms' topical recommendations.
The antioxidant has been shown to support collagen in two ways4: first by promoting collagen production, and second by stabilizing the collagen your skin already has.* This means your skin is able to rebuild its internal structure with collagen—and keep it there for longer.
What you might not realize is that using vitamin C topically is most effective when paired with vitamin E. To understand why, you have to get down to the cellular level.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, whereas vitamin E is a fat-soluble5 vitamin. When formulated together6, the vitamin E helps the vitamin C better penetrate the skin cells' lipid layer into water inside the cell, where it can work its antioxidant magic.
But that's not all: Vitamin C is a very unstable antioxidant, and it loses its free-radical-fighting power once it neutralizes a free radical.
However, vitamin E is actually able to "hype" up vitamin C again so it can continue to fight oxidative stress for longer.
If you can tolerate it, use a topical retinol or retinol alternative.
Topical retinols work by increasing the rate at which your skin cells reproduce and cycle out7. Essentially it takes that 27-day cycle and shortens it. This helps the skin, making it look younger, brighter, and healthier.
It also helps those with blemishes, as increasing the turnover rate of cells means they are less likely to get stuck in pores. (This is also why there's a lengthy "adjustment period" of retinol—your skin needs to get used to its new turnover cycle.)
It helps skin in other ways, too. For years people assumed that retinol made your skin thinner as your cells were shedding faster—however, research indicates that it actually helps thicken the dermal layer over time8.
However, it does make your skin extra sensitive to photodamage, so be sure to practice proper sun care if you use this active. That’s typically why derms recommend you use retinol at night paired with diligent sun care during the day. Not to mention, some forms of retinol are generally unstable and break down in light (another reason why experts advise a nighttime use), so be sure to follow the directions on the label.
Additionally, it improves collagen production: "Retinol binds to retinoid receptors within skin cells," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. This "activates genes that upregulate collagen production."
This effect was observed in a small human study, where topical retinols stimulated collagen production9 in mature skin, helping decrease the appearance of wrinkling.
Retinol, and its alternatives like bakuchiol, are not for everyone. For starters, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use retinol (though they can use bakuchiol).
But some skin types just don't tolerate it as well, and it can be irritating for some individuals. However, if you can tolerate it, there is significant evidence that you should incorporate it into your nighttime routine. If you're interested in trying, here are our favorite topical retinols.
Consider PRP injections.
Sure, this is the most extreme of the recommendations here, but if you are serious about helping your skin cells function at their peak, platelet-rich plasma injections are the most sophisticated integrative option available.
You might hear "facial injections" and immediately think of filler or Botox, but these injections are entirely natural—because they come from your own blood.
A vial of your own blood is drawn, put in a machine called a centrifuge, which separates the platelets from the rest of the blood cells (white and red).
Platelets, which contain growth factors, are in charge of recovery in the body. When an area of the body is in need of repair (i.e., premature aging from oxidative stress or environmental aggressors, like pollution), that area needs more repair cells, but sometimes it's hard for the body to get those cells to said location.
So that's why you inject (or use acupuncture or via microneedling) a concentrated amount, so the platelets can hyper-focus on stressed and aging skin cells.
The result is skin that is better able to heal itself—resulting in smoother lines, more even texture, and improved tone.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.