What in the World are Zombie Cells, and How Do You Protect Against Them?

Photograph by istock

Hint: They are as menacing as they sound.

Working in beauty, you hear a lot of new phrases relating to skincare, but none have piqued my interest nearly as much as ‘zombie cells’. In a meeting with Dermalogica‘s VP of Technology and Development, Dr. Angela Murphy, to discuss the brand’s new Phyto-Nature Firming Serum (CAD$199), Murphy tells us that they’re a relatively new discovery in skincare. “We’re really starting to learn more about them. The real name for zombie cells is senescent cells – cells go through a lifecycle, they live and die, but sometimes they sort of go off to the side, secreting toxins and doing lots of bad things in the cell as a result. We’re starting to understand the role of those cells in diseases, but what we also know is that when you have more of those senescent cells, you age more rapidly.”

These zombie cells are controlled by two other proteins present in cells – progerin and sirtuins. Murphy explains, “Progerin builds up over time and the exposome [essentially external lifestyle factors that contribute to our skin’s health like stress, sun exposure, sleep etc] makes this worse. Basically, this is a protein that just messes up the cell. As a result of that, a cell might die but it might also become one of these toxic cells. Sirtuins are more of the good proteins and are starting to be called longevity proteins – they protect the nucleus and the DNA and try to maintain its integrity.”

Murphy says that zombie cells are naturally occurring in the body, and can be the result of both genetics and external aggressors. “In the context of skin aging, the build-up of senescent cells is directly related to the external aggressors and the exposome setting off that cascade of processes related to the progerin which increases the number of senescent cells.”

Dermalogica created its newest serum to help fight these cells, as well as to help with the appearance of ageing overall. According to the brand, research has shown that exposomic factors account for a huge 50 per cent of visible signs of aging. To help counter all of the above, the Phyto-Nature Firming serum operates in three phases:

  1. Reawakens younger looking skin by boosting glutathione (a naturally present anti-oxidant) levels through the use of sapphire-coated biomimetic peptide that helps firm skin and restimulate its own defence mechanisms;
  2. Re-energizes collagen machinery (also known as fibroblast) through the use of Moroccan Rock Rose, Amazonian Camu Camu and Madagascar Green Coffee Bean;
  3. And reduces the amount of zombie cells via a peptide that “helps decrease the level of progerin and increase sirtuins” to stop the formation of the senescent cells.

The dual-phase serum has produced some incredible clinical results, says Murphy, with the brand able to confidently proclaim that consistent use over an eight-week time period results in reducing skin’s visible age by five years. “We’ve really designed this to be a very different take on aging,” says Murphy. “This isn’t just about prevention or covering up damage, we’re trying to restore the skin to the functionality of younger skin.”