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Everything you need to know about autophagy

We uncover the latest slow-ageing trend that speeds up cell renewal, and increases collagen production

Bio-hacking has become all the rage, we want to live longer, feel better and look younger and there are a host of ways we’re going about it. One of the slow-ageing methods that is said to aid all of the above is autophagy – a process that has become a buzz word in the longevity space. But what is autophagy, and how does it help youth-boost from the inside out?

Autophagy explained

“Autophagy is the recycling of old and damaged cell parts,” shares aesthetic doctor the Harrods Wellness Clinic, Marwa Ali. “Our cells are the building blocks of our bodies and naturally over time parts of our cells will cease to function. That’s where our natural recycling mechanism comes into play. The process of autophagy allows for these ‘junk’ like defunct cell parts to be discarded and for any reusable parts to be given a new lease on life so to speak. If our bodies were unable to perform this vital function an accumulation of defunct cell parts can lead to changes in cell DNA which could ultimately lead to the formation of cancer cells,” explains Ali.

As we age autophagy decreases which can have an impact on what we can’t see internally, as well as what we can see externally – i.e our skin.

Autophagy and your skin

Our skin is the largest organ we have. Made up of three layers – the hypodermis, dermis and epidermis each of these layers have different functions and contain a variety of different cell types. “The cells found in our skin help protect our bodies, and autophagy helps keep these skin cells in check, optimising cell renewal, boosting collagen, regulating melanin and more. When working optimally you can expect your skin to sport a gorgeous glow, be even-toned, firm and be in good health," says Aesthetic doctor and Etre Vous expert, Ahmed El Muntasar.

UV protection

UV exposure breaks down collagen, triggers melanin and speeds up ageing. “Autophagy helps combat these effects. Naturally when skin cells are exposed to UV autophagy helps the skin better protect itself, lessening the negative impact UV can have on the skin,” explains Ali.


A recent study from Korea found that, “autophagy is closely associated with pathogenesis and the treatment of immune-related skin diseases. It enables skin cells, including keratinocytes and immune cells, to successfully perform their protective functions by eliminating pathogens and maintaining skin homeostasis. Inducing this process could be beneficial in treating immune-related skin diseases, such as alopecia areata, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis,” shared the scientists who conducted the study.


Inflammation is a natural and much needed response in the wound-healing process, however, chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on the skin. Over time dehydration, sagging, uneven skin tone, lines and wrinkles can ensue. This is because long-term inflammation impairs the protective barrier function, triggers pigmentation and leads to a loss of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. “Thankfully the process of autophagy helps clear proinflammatory proteins once they are no longer needed,” says Ali.

How to boost autophagy 

“The body performs this process naturally, but there are some treatments mainly used on cancer patients that can boost autophagy. However, there are no medications for healthy individuals to take to trigger autophagy at this time,” shares El Muntasar.

But there are some ‘natural’ ways to induce autophagy if you want to reap the skin benefits. 24-48 hour fasts, ultra-low protein and caloric restricted short-term detox diets have all been shown to trigger autophagy (though they should be undertaken with medical supervision). However, El Muntasar advises rather than trying to manipulate the cells to that level of complexity - simply adopting a healthier lifestyle and introducing the right skincare products will be just as beneficial to slow down the ageing process.

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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