Are 'Zombie Cells' Aging Your Skin? Here's What To Know.

Zombie cells might be the next big thing in anti-aging skin care concerns.
Illustration: HuffPost; Photos: Getty

The term “zombie cells” sounds scary, but everyone has them floating around in their bodies and on their skin. These complex cells can help us, harm us and make us look older. A bit conflicting, right?

Products that fight or even clear zombie cells have already hit the skin care market, promising to halt the aging process, but are they legitimate? We asked top dermatologists for their takes.

What are zombie cells?

Dr. Christine Ko, a board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, explained to HuffPost that “zombie cells are another name for senescent cells.”

“These cells have stopped dividing, but are not dying off,” she added.

Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green noted that zombie cells are a normal part of the aging process and every cell in the body has the potential to turn into one.

When zombie cells form, they stop “performing their natural function,” said Dr. Mariano Busso, a board-certified dermatologist. In small numbers, zombie cells aren’t problematic. They may even have some benefits, including preventing cancer and healing wounds. However, as we age, our immune systems lose the ability to clear zombie cells, Busso said.

“When this happens, the benefits are lost,” explained board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kristina Collins. Moreover, as zombie cells accumulate they start to affect nearby, healthy cells by releasing “inflammatory chemicals that have toxic effects,” she added.

“It is clear that despite whatever evolutionary mechanism caused us to develop these cells, they cause more harm than good when they are not effectively cleared,” Collins explained. Ko pointed to studies that say this accumulation can contribute to diseases like arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

Because zombie cells can form throughout the body, they also accumulate on the skin. When this happens, zombie cells lead to signs of aging, including “poor wound healing, wrinkles, fine lines, inflammation and pigmentation,” Green said.

Can getting rid of zombie cells result in healthier skin?

Research has shown that when zombie cells accumulate on the skin, they result in a “less youthful” appearance, according to Ko. Clearing zombie cells from the skin seems like a logical step to prevent signs of aging, and dermatologists are optimistic about new treatments being developed.

However, we don’t yet know what those treatments will look like. Although animal studies have been successful, human studies are still underway. These therapies, called senotherapy, work in two ways, either “selectively killing” zombie cells or interfering with the negative effects of the inflammatory chemicals released by zombie cells, Busso explained.

In animals, senotherapy “boosts collagen production and makes the skin proliferate, things that can make the skin look younger,” Ko said.

Collins noted it’s a “very new area of study but one with great potential benefits.”

So what about over-the-counter products? Do they work to clear zombie cells?

Some companies, including Nescens and One Skin, have developed topical treatments called senolytics to try to combat the effects of zombie cells on the skin. According to Green, products that clear zombie cells from the skin typically contain polyphenols like fisetin and quercetin, which have been proved effective in clearing zombie cells in animal studies.

However, Green cautions that although these treatments show promise, there are currently no “human studies to confirm the safety and efficacy of the therapies.”

Busso also said we don’t yet know the long-term effects of these treatments on normal cells or what the long-term impact of killing zombie cells might be. Additionally, because zombie cells play an important role in wound healing, “We don’t want to remove all of them,” he said. “We don’t know the ideal regimen, daily versus weekly versus monthly.”

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait long for answers about the best way to get rid of zombie cells on the skin. “Major breakthroughs and contributions to delaying of the aging process are expected in the near future,” Busso said.

Can we limit the number of zombie cells that form on our skin?

Although it’s still unclear whether zombie cells can be safely and effectively cleared from the skin, it is possible to prevent some zombie cells from forming in the first place. Collins explained that zombie cells are formed as the result of both biological and environmental factors. “The internal factors, like aging or genetic disease, are not so much within our control,” but the external factors can be controlled, she said.

“Using sunscreen is a good idea,” Ko said. “Topical antioxidants like vitamin C can also keep skin healthy.” Collins added that using products with “ingredients that penetrate the skin well and have strong anti-oxidative properties” effectively stops some zombie cells from forming. She recommended looking for skin care products that include vitamin C, niacinamide, astaxanthin, galangal root, ginger root and vitamin E.

Below, see HuffPost Shopping’s top picks for some of the products experts recommend — sunscreen, retinol (which helps increase cell turnover) and vitamin C serums (which combat free radicals).

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability are subject to change.

Affordable Sunscreens With Anti-aging Ingredients

Neutrogena Age Shield oil-free sunscreen (SPF 70)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Designed to help you keep a youthful appearance, Neutrogena’s Age Shield facial sunscreen has a high SPF to keep you confident in the sun. The sunscreen is not only PABA-free and oil-free, but it’s also formulated to be moisturizing.

Promising review: “Best sunscreen for anti-aging. I have been using this sunscreen for years. I believe it has protected my face from much of the damage caused by the sun. It’s also a great daytime moisturizer.” — Marie E
Obagi Sun Shield broad spectrum tinted sunscreen (SPF 50)
Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars

Obagi’s sunscreen uses micro-shield crystal technology, which promises to disperse damaging rays before they can harm your delicate skin. Beyond its innovative technology, it also is tinted to enhance your complexion.

Promising review: “Love love love. Will never use another tinted sunscreen. This sunscreen is smooth, light to medium coverage (but looks dewy/natural) and is excellent at blocking out sun. I have used for 7 years and wear it every single day. I spend a lot of time in the sun and it does not show bc this stuff works!” — Candice
DRMTLGY anti-aging facial moisturizer with sunscreen (SPF 45)
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars

Formulated first-most as an anti-aging moisturizer, this product from DRMTLGY also has an added SPF 45. It uses hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to help moisturize skin and zinc oxide to protect you from the sun.

Promising review: “I always used Elta sunscreen. This product is just as good and half the price. I love the way it absorbs quickly and my makeup goes on smoothly after. Great product, great price!” — Kathy
EltaMD UV Restore tinted anti-aging face sunscreen (SPF 40)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

EltaMD says this sunscreen will protect you from the sun and help improve existing sun damage. It’s also crafted with ginger root extract and saccharide isomerate, which are said to improve skin’s smoothness and decrease fine lines while minimizing dark spots.

Promising review: “Due to my melasma was told by my Dr to always use mineral sunscreen, problem is I have medium tone skin and all mineral sunscreen leaves a white cast on me. this one has been working very well, no more white cast. Blends very well.” — Evy
Neutrogena Triple Age Repair anti-aging moisturizer (SPF 25)
Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Made with vitamin C, shea butter, and glycerin, this anti-aging moisturizer helps hydrate the skin. It also includes an SPF 25, so while it’s not primarily a sunscreen, it will still offer some necessary sun protection.

Promising review: “I'll be 60 yes old in 4 days & have used this for about a year now. I think it's great! Not oily & I have seen some smoothness of fine lines. This is a keeper, along with the night cream.” — Michele A C
Oars + Alps mineral sunscreen and anti-aging moisturizer (SPF 30)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Crafted as a 100% mineral sunscreen and a facial moisturizer, this facial product is sweat and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Along with hyaluronic acid, this sunscreen uses alpine moss, vitamin E, and vitamin B5 to help moisturize skin.

Promising review: “It's hard to find a good SPF & moisturizer that's 100% mineral-based. This one works great and doesn't leave your face ghost white like other mineral sunscreens.” — Nick D.
L'Oreal Paris Revitalift broad spectrum facial sunscreen (SPF 30)
Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars

This sunscreen has basically all the ingredients you want in an anti-aging facial moisturizer: pro-retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid. The dermatologist-tested product has an SPF of 30 to keep your skin happy in the sun.

Promising review: “Perfect sunscreen and moisturizer. Love the added sunscreen protection of this product. Great for moisturizer under makeup.” — Dennis
ISDIN Eryfotona Ageless tinted mineral sunscreen (SPF 50)
Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

This sunscreen from ISDIN is tinted with an SPF 50. The sunscreen also claims to repair skin from sun damage using a blend of peptides and antioxidants.

Promising review: “I tried this based on several dermatologist You Tube and website reviews. It has been my favorite tinted sunscreen to date because it goes on smoothly giving just a hint of color and keeps me protected from the sun. It hasn't clogged my pores like other sunscreens I've tried. Also, there's a large amount of sunscreen for the price compared to others so it's a fair deal for a quality product.” — Barbara
Aveeno Absolutely Ageless antioxidant daily moisturizer (SPF 30)
Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Aveeno’s anti-wrinkle moisturizer can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also protecting from the sun. With over 700 reviews, customers have great things to say about this face lotion with SPF 30.

Promising review: “By far this is the best face lotion that I have used. I am 74 years of age, I started using the Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Daily Moisturizer about four months ago and have seen a marked improvement in the over all appearance of my skin. Less lines and color spots and an overall even of skin tone.” — Charmane
Revision Skincare multi-protection broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 50)
Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars

Green tea, pomegranate extract, vitamin C, and hyaluronic can help brighten, reduce fine lines, and hydrate skin. Somehow it does all that and still protects you from the sun with a strong SPF of 50.

Promising review: “This is the same product my dermatologist highly recommends. I've been using it for years and love it. I also love this fantastic price and quick delivery.” — Bobby

Over-The-Counter Retinols

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair retinol moisturizer
This is an excellent option for retinol newbies. Formulated for daytime use, Neutrogena's retinol moisturizer includes SPF 30, which is imperative to apply when using powerful ingredients like retinol. It fights fine lines, dullness, wrinkles, dark spots and more while hyaluronic acid adds much-needed plumping moisture so the moisture barrier stays healthy.
Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C moisturizer
Those with sensitive skin may want to go easy on this potent mix of powerful active ingredients, as it could cause irritation. The combination of retinol and vitamin C helps to brighten and replenish the skin while also improving skin texture and fine lines. It's a rich, nourishing cream that will protect against free radicals while working hard to hydrate and repair the skin.
Skin Better Science Intensive AlphaRet overnight cream
This potent cream is great for anyone who wants to up their retinol game but doesn't quite want to go all the way to prescription strength. Just be sure to be diligent about sunscreen use. Formulated with both retinol and AHAs to improve the visible appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone, Skin Better Science's night cream is a powerful addition to any skin care regime. A higher concentration of glycolic acids helps to enhance the texture and feel of skin.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni retinol cream
If you're seeking a more eco-friendly, vegan alternative that is also incredibly effective, then this is the one for you. Just be sure to go slow if you're a retinol newcomer. Made with a vegan form of 1% retinol with peptides and niacinamide, Drunk Elephant's night cream features a powerful combination of anti-aging ingredients along with soothing botanical extracts. It's the best of both worlds for those looking for powerful, plant-based retinol that delivers results.
CeraVe skin renewing retinol serum
Great for most skin types, beginners and those with sensitive skin, CeraVe's offering includes an encapsulated, time-released retinol along with moisturizing, skin-repairing ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. It has a gentle-yet-effective formula that won't cause irritation and helps smooth and brighten skin.
SkinMedica age defense retinol complex
This option is best for those who know their skin can tolerate high levels of active ingredients. SkinMedica's night lotion is formulated with multiple different strengths of retinol to help rejuvenate the skin and diminish the appearance of fine lines. Algae extract keeps skin soft, hydrated and protected against free-radical damage.
Alastin renewal retinol
Alastin's retinol cream is available in two strengths, 0.25 and 0.5, so you can start with the lighter strength if necessary. Those who are ready to try a higher percentage of retinol should do so slowly, so your skin can get used to it even if you've long used active ingredients. It is formulated with an encapsulated retinol to decrease the appearance of fine lines and to smooth skin texture. It includes oat extract and antioxidants to help calm and soothe the skin while protecting against dehydration with powerful hydrators.
Paula's Choice 1% retinol treatment with peptides and vitamin C
Retinol newbies and veterans alike can enjoy the benefits of this effective cream. This high-strength formula from Paula's Choice absorbs quickly into the skin, smoothing, strengthening and brightening the complexion. Powerful antioxidants like vitamins C and E work in tandem with hydrating hyaluronic acid and skin-firming, nourishing peptides to safely deliver results.

Vitamin C Serums

iS Clinical Super Serum Advance
Sr. Shopping Writer Lourdes Uribe is absolutely devoted to this powerful vitamin C serum. Her esthetician recommended adding it to her lineup, and now she can’t imagine her skin without it. It's an oil-based vitamin C-rich serum that not only has the potential to help reduce typical signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage, but can help to reduce scarring as well. While it costs a pretty penny, she thinks it’s absolutely worth it. A little goes a long way, making it less of a financial burden than one might imagine. It’s definitely worth the splurge.

Promising review: "Love this stuff. It might be a tad expensive, but it has done wonders for my skin to even it out and make it so smooth. Lines seem to have almost vanished (I’m 57). I have sensitive skin and this was not harsh, nor did it break out my skin. VERY happy with this product and would recommend this to anyone with sensitive skin who wants their skin to feel soft and look radiant. I get SO many compliments on my skin. Have been using for 5 months and will continue to do so.” — Kindle customer
Tatcha Violet-C Brightening serum
This serum has an very high 20% concentration of vitamin C, plus mild fruit AHAs to act as gentle exfoliators and Japanese Angelica root extract that softens, smooths and helps to counterbalance and enhance the effects of vitamin C.

Promising review: "This is the only serum I’ve ever used during the day that truly makes a difference. I have really sensitive skin but I can use this everyday and I actually see my skin brighter, smoother, less redness and over all improvement. I used the whole bottle before writing a review but honestly 2 weeks in I saw noticeable results. I’m scared to switch to any other vitamin c serum now!" — iz95
Dr. Dennis Gross 15% Vitamin C Firm & Bright serum
There are tons of vitamin C serums on the market, but this pick previously recommended by Dr. Brendan Camp, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, is a powerful, effective option for anyone looking to amp up their routine. It can help tackle sun damage, dark spots, lines, dullness and more.

"Vitamin C serums neutralize the free oxygen radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules that can damage cellular structures like DNA, lipids, and proteins. Used on a regular basis, they can also help brighten skin and reduce the appearance of sunspots," Camp said.

Promising review: "Road to clear skin. I agree that this product have a strong scent but it goes away after applying moisturizer. However this is one of the best vitamins c I’ve used. It’s been 1 month, my dark spots are fading quickly. Make sure to use sunscreen. This product works! Won’t stop buying." — Jaiivee
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic acid serum
If you're into skin care, you've likely heard people sing the praises of this cult-favorite serum, and with good reason. The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum has been hailed by dermatologists for its ability to help lighten fine lines, firm skin, provide environmental protection and brighten a dull complexion. The stabilized formulation means all ingredients are working at the peak of their powers, in tandem with each other.

Promising reviews: "I have tried many vitamin c serums and keep coming back to this one. It’s been highly effective on my skin, and while it’s pricey the results have been well worth it. One thing I have especially noticed is that it helps fade my acne scars pretty quickly." — GG

"When I first bought this, I was so apprehensive because of the price. But it really is amazing! You have to use it consistently for a few weeks to see the results, but it’s worth it. My skin has never looked better. A little goes a long way, so the price is worth it." — Emma
Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex 30%
This award-winning serum from Revision Skincare is an excellent way to get smooth, glowy and even skin. It helps to support the skin's natural production of vitamins C and E and can help to correct the effects of sun damage and free radicals.

Promising review: "I found my miracle. It really works for me! For years like I mean forever I have been searching for the right product. I have very sensitive skin and I suffer from hyperpigmentation. I even went to a dermatologist and nothing worked. I saw this on Instagram and I thought to give it a try. It was very expensive but I was desperate. And now I don’t regret it. I bought the facial wash and I apply this treatment every night. The amazing thing is that, I saw the difference within a week. Now I am slowly buying other products and would create a routinely regimen for my face." — Verified user
Paula's Choice C15 Vitamin C Super Booster
This powerful serum from Paula's Choice is formulated with 15% vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid and peptides that can help to fade away sun damage and hyperpigmentation as well as post-acne scarring while moisturizing and smoothing the skin.

Promising reviews: "Products gives a good glow, notice a difference when I forget to apply in the morning. I have very sensitive skin and this product does not irritate my skin at all. Apply a SPF after, always." — tdkh

"Great addition to skincare routine. This is my first time using vitamin C and it’s been almost three weeks since I started. I have dry skin and adding this to my everyday routine has been a game changer. My skin looks brighter and looks/ feels smoother." — gigiatsephora
Maelove Glow Maker antioxidant serum
Considered by many skin care enthusiasts to be an affordable alternative to SkinCeuticals' cult-fave serum above, this option from Maelove is full of vitamins C and E, ferulic acid and hyaluronic acid. It provides long-lasting hydration as well as all the benefits that come along with a powerful vitamin C serum.

Promising reviews: "So many c serums out there, but Maelove is wonderful. I stopped using SkinCeuticals. Maelove is less expensive and the serum does give me a clean tight glow." — Kay B.

"My derm recommended this product and even he was impressed! Works just as well if not better than that very expensive brand we all know. I'm thrilled that I found maelove!!" — Erica M.

"Glowing skin. I love the texture! I noticed my skin looked a lot more alive, less dull and brightened within a couple of days. I use this consistently every morning after I wash my face." — Danielle K.
Kiehl's vitamin C eye serum
Don't sleep on the power of eye serums! Camp is also fan of this particular antioxidant-rich option from Kiehl's, which is as hydrating as it is effective at improving the look of lines and discoloration.

"Eye creams and serums maintain and help prevent the delicate skin around the eyes from showing your true age," Camp told us previously. "Products with vitamin C or retinol are effective for encouraging collagen production and minimizing the appearance of wrinkles."

Promising reviews: "Perfect Hydrating and Moisturizing Serum. This is the perfect serum for me because prepares my skin to put on my eye cream. It is so hydrating and moisturizing. Love it and I wish I had found it before. I don't have dark circles, so I don't know about this matter." — Zabrina
The Inkey List
The Inkey List 15% vitamin C and EGF serum
Ideal for sensitive skin or those who are only just beginning to dabble in active ingredients, this serum from The Inkey List is as powerful and effective as it is gentle. Vitamin C and plant-derived epidermal growth factors can help smooth, brighten and tighten the appearance of skin.

Promising review: "Wonderful for Brightening. I have very sensitive skin, and have tried countless vitamin c serums. This is the only one that doesn’t burn when I apply, and leave my skin covered in red bumps. My skin looks brighter since I’ve started using this, and more plump. I feel like I can get away with wearing way less makeup on a daily basis since starting this." — miaaaa96
U Beauty
U Beauty Resurfacing Compound
If you're more interested in a powerful blend as opposed to a serum that is primarily focused on vitamin C, try this compound from U Beauty. It fights free radicals, sun damage, dullness and more with both retinol and vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, mandelic acid and much more to leave skin soft, smooth and vibrant. It's definitely a significant splurge, but reviewers say it's worth it.

Promising review: "I've been using so many products on my skin for years to help with redness, pores, texture, fine lines... You name it and nothing has ever come close to this resurfacing compound!!!! It has everything you need in one bottle. The price is definitely worth it without having to get Botox or pricey fillers!!" — Angel B.
Glow Recipe
Glow Recipe Guava vitamin C dark spot serum
Looking for a silky, gel-like serum that won't feel heavy or sticky but is still full of all the aforementioned doctor-recommended ingredients? You might want to give this Glow Recipe serum a shot. It's formulated with five kinds of vitamin C, guava, tranexamic acid and ferulic acid that can leave skin more glowy and even.

Promising review: "I wear this everyday, my face looks brighter, healthier and I can tell its made a big difference on my skin. I have acne prone skin and lots of sun damage. Which helped both. Only thing that needs to improve is the bottle of the serum. By the time I'm done with it I have to take out the pump and hit the bottle on my hand lol. same goes with the eye guava eye serum bottle." — Jaqueline G.
Ilia C Beyond Triple serum SPF 40
I had to throw this pick into the mix myself, because it's perfect for those just starting to dip their toes into skin care. It's a multitasking serum that is full of delicious active ingredients recommended by dermatologists, like vitamin C and niacinamide, while also functioning as both an SPF and a foundation, adding a touch of color to the skin.

Promising review: "One of my favorite Ilia Products. I love subbing this out for the Super Serum Skin Tint a couple of times a week, especially during the summer or on days when I just want very light coverage. It gives your skin a glowy radiance and an extra dose of vitamin C. A little goes a long way. I find that when I wear Beyond C, I end up wearing less make-up because it provides such a natural, healthy and fresh look. I just combine it with brow gel and lip oil. It also saves me from needing a vitamin C serum those days!" — Summer
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh day serum
You really can't go wrong with Drunk Elephant. The brand uses high-quality ingredients that users love, regardless of which product it might be. This serum includes vitamin C, ferulic acid, and vitamin E, all of which balance each other out and can improve uneven skin tone, fine lines and wrinkles and brighten the skin while fighting free-radicals.

Promising review: "My absolute favorite. I love this serum so much! My skin feels so much nicer after I use it! If you’re looking for a product that makes your skin feel smooth, firmer, and add a glow then this is amazing! (Great for anyone)." — smstew
Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
I'm a huge Sunday Riley lover and it's not surprising to me that this serum is a fan favorite. This powerful and high-quality vitamin C serum was specifically formulated to target dark spots, signs of aging and more, leaving skin smooth and soft. Glycolic acid, a BHA, provides chemical exfoliation while stabilizing the vitamin C, refining and supporting the skin's luminosity.

Promising review: "I purchased the smaller size to try this out, and decided to purchase the regular size. My skin responds really well to this product. It doesn't sting and makes my skin appear refreshed and hydrated. More like a lightweight lotion than a serum, in my opinion, but I really like that about it." — Meena
First Aid Beauty 10% vitamin C brightening serum
Perfect for people with sensitive skin or for someone who wants to start with a lower dosage, this 10% vitamin C serum includes vitamin E to soften the skin and squalane to deeply hydrate and soften.

Promising reviews: "I've been using this product for a month now, and OMG hello bright skin! My skin has never looked so bright & glowy! This is a MUST HAVE in your collection! My sensitive skin needs gentle products, and FAB is my joy grail skin, body & haircare brand!" — makeupandmomlif

"Love this serum. It’s so light and soaks in right away. Lays great under moisturizer and makeup! Skin instantly looks brighter!" — Bri092918
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