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Are ‘zombie cells’ ageing your skin?

What do you know about skin cells that refuse to expire? We ask the experts to shed light on the latest foe when it comes to maintaining a fresh complexion

Another day, another aggressor that’s coming for your youthful complexion. This one, however, is internal and although well known in the scientific field of biology, it now has the cosmetic world taking note, as research advances into how it effects skin specifically.

Yes, formidable-sounding ‘zombie cells’ are the latest discovery around what’s terrorising your skin into ageing faster. But what are they and can they be defeated?  

What are zombie cells?

Skin is made up of millions of cells, with some 40,000 being shed daily to be replaced by fresh ones. However it now seems some stick around like unwelcome guests, bringing equally unwanted side effects.

As we age, we develop more of these senescent or ‘zombie cells’ throughout the body. “The second that a cell is getting old and not functioning properly, it will go into what's known as apoptosis, which is basically programmed cell death,” explains EV Expert and award winning aesthetician, Dr Ahmed El Muntasar. “It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘you’re not doing your job any more; you’re fired.’ But these senescent cells are old cells that should have died but are still alive, which is why they are called zombie.”

While there are a host of physiological causes for a particular cell to become senescent, it’s a process exacerbated by environmental stressors such as pollution or poor sleeping habits.

How are they believed to help and harm skin?

“Our cells usually communicate well with each other but in zombie cells, this isn’t happening and causes a host of problems,” adds Dr Ahmed. “With the skin, it will make the cells around them not function properly either. So they will start to thin and to show signs of ageing, even though those cells should be shedding off.”

Not only are the zombie cells unable to repair and regenerate tissue as they should, but they also release a host of inflammatory proteins that damage healthy cells around them, creating further chaos. Think the usual suspects: pigmentation, dullness, dryness, fine lines and wrinkles.

On the flipside, it’s thought that zombie cells may offer some benefits, including healing wounds and preventing cancer. However, also as we age, our immune system loses the ability to clear zombie cells and when this happens, the benefits are lost.

Can we beat the zombies?
While we can’t stop zombie cells from forming as they are part of the intrinsic ageing process, new clinical treatments that aim to clear them from the skin are currently being developed and studied, showing great promise.

In the meantime, infrared therapy (such as IR saunas and lamps) are said to help as the heat shocks proteins into promoting cellular recovery, while NAD+ treatments (where a co-enzyme vital to every cell in the body is administered via an IV drip) claim to reverse the process of senescence. Dr Ahmed takes a more measured approach.

“I've done in-depth research into how we treat zombie cells and there's no real consensus,” advises Dr Ahmed. “For now, once senescence happens, it’s very difficult to treat, so prevention is better than cure. Skincare with antioxidants such as vitamin C will help prevent senescence in cells, while retinoids are great for keeping turnover of dead cells high. In clinics, treatments including microdermabrasion and chemical peels will also help shed the top layer to bring fresh skin from underneath to the surface.”  

Skincare for the senescent

While we wait for science to find a way to prolong our cell’s life span or clear out zombie cells more effectively, a handful of skincare companies are offering their own at-home solutions, including...

Intuisse Face Serum
From the first clinically-tested topical NAD+ system created by a leading chemist and molecular biologist, that aims to help improve the lifespan of healthy cells so they stay more youthful and better behaved for longer. The hero Face Serum, delivers the active ingredient directly into skin cells, boosting their health and anti-ageing capabilities.

Chanel Sublimage L’Essence Fondamentale 
In conjunction with global authority Professor Johannes Grillari, Chanel have been researching senescence in skin for over a decade. They discovered that an extract from the solidago plant can inhibit the inflammatory function of senescent cells and have added it to their Sublimage range.

Ahmed El Muntasar, Aesthetics Expert

Dr El Muntasar began his medical career in clinical research, focusing on patient safety. After spending some time as...

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