Many adult regenerative cells divide infrequently but have high proliferative capacity. We developed a strategy to fluorescently label slow-cycling cells in a cell type-specific fashion. We used this method to purify the label-retaining cells (LRCs) that mark the skin stem cell (SC) niche. We found that these cells rarely divide within their niche but change properties abruptly when stimulated to exit. We determined their transcriptional profile, which, when compared to progeny and other SCs, defines the niche. Many of the >100 messenger RNAs preferentially expressed in the niche encode surface receptors and secreted proteins, enabling LRCs to signal and respond to their environment.