This “Zombie Facial” Is Wild, Weird, and 100% Worth It
I have long suspected that I had stagnant lymph fluid in my face. For reference, lymph fluid is what carries the toxins being detoxed from your body, circulating between the lymph nodes. Aside from a patch of discoloration that a dermatologist attributed to lymphatic accumulation around tear-trough filler, my skin’s immune health was suffering. In the midst of a high-stress home renovation, my skin barrier and microbiome would not heal following a severely drying treatment. My nose had been left red and chafed and worsened into inflamed dermatitis that spread from my nose to my chin. Even on prescription medication, it was not going away – and it had been months.
The lymph system is part of the immune system, so I wondered if supporting it could help me heal. After all, it produces lymphocytes, or white blood cells, to combat pathogens while flushing toxins and waste from our bodies. “Our lymphatic system plays an important role in clearing excess fluid, toxins, and cellular waste from our tissue,” says Beverly Hills oculoplastic surgeon Kami Parsa, MD. “As we age, there is significant reduction in this important function, [which can lead to] swelling and inflammation.”
He adds that lifestyle factors make a difference, too – from your diet to having filler injected. Even stress, alcohol consumption, and the position you sleep in can interfere with how your lymph fluid flows. When stagnant, celebrity facialist and medical aesthetician Sarah Ford sees symptoms such as “water weight, swelling, pain along certain pressure points, inflamed cystic acne, broken capillaries, and a red undertone” in clients.
Dermatology nurse and celebrity facialist Natalie Aguilar compares the lymphatic system to plumbing. When waste buildup occurs, it’s because the body lacks its own innate pump to flush it out, and techniques like lymphatic drainage massage can be beneficial. Another method is to use enzymes, such as the treatment used in DMK Enzyme Therapy – aka the “zombie facial” – which cues an oxygenating process under the skin that also helps to unblock the lymph.
The latter is also known for creating a plasmatic effect that leaves you with creepy red lines, indicating the lymph and circulation pathways, before flushing out the system. The treatment looks extreme but promises clearer, healthier skin, so I decided to try it myself. Keep reading to find out how (and if) it worked.
What Is the Zombie Facial?
I went to Dr. Parsa’s practice for a treatment called the Renewal Mask, which is a customized version of the DMK Enzyme Therapy protocol. DMK’s founder, Danné Montague-King, likens enzymes to nature’s biological catalysts, and the transfer messenger enzymes utilized in the mask “hydrolyze dead cells, increase oxygenation, boost cellular energy, encourage new collagen and elastin formation, and flush out cellular waste and debris.” This process is achieved via reverse osmosis, which Dr. Parsa describes as “forcing fluid through the cell membranes to flush out impurities, increase circulation, and deliver fresh, oxygenated blood to the skin.”
Aguilar explains that the mask itself is made from fermented beta-glucan, a humectant that helps to repair the skin barrier while being a powerful immune modulator. “Beta-glucan stimulates our Langerhans cells, which initiate the immune and reparative functions of the skin,” she says. She has seen it help everything from healing burns and abrasions to treating acne, eczema/psoriasis, rosacea, and premature aging. “The mask has concentrated amounts of beta-glucan, making it an in-office treatment rather than an at-home mask.”
The “zombie” nickname comes from the appearance of the plasmatic effect, which is described as the dilation of blood vessels that are flooded with oxygen-rich blood.
The “zombie” nickname comes from the appearance of the plasmatic effect, which Ford describes as the dilation of blood vessels that are flooded with oxygen-rich blood. This leaves visible striations in the skin, a pattern of red lines tracing the lymph and circulation pathways under the skin, as the fluids rebalance. For about 10 to 15 minutes, you can also see which areas are blocked by visible contrast. “The more striations, the better the skin’s circulation,” Aguilar says. “The treatment is significant because it allows us to work underneath the skin to build and repair our skin’s structure and to see how our facial lymphatic and circulatory systems are performing.”
My Zombie-Facial Experience
The treatment begins with preparing the skin to receive the enzyme therapy. Aguilar cleansed my face, neck, and décolletage using DMK Deep Pore Cleanser, which was applied using a brush. The next step is to apply one of the brand’s exfoliants, selected based on the skin’s condition. For my skin, she applied a cinnamon-smelling exfoliant and held up a small fan just in case it tingled (but it didn’t). Then comes the pre-mask active ingredients – in my case, a form of vitamin C that comes in a powder form for stability and tyrosinase-inhibiting ingredients to treat hyperpigmentation via DMK Melanotech Drops. (If you get the powder vitamin C, make sure not to breathe in while it’s being applied or you’ll cough.)
Then comes the enzyme mask itself, which Aguilar mixes in a bowl and activates with a product from the line. She brushes it on, beginning at the base of the décolletage, using outward motions to create a V formation. The mask has a cool and jelly-like consistency when it’s painted on, and I will admit that it does not smell appetizing – it actually smells kind of like cold, putrid oatmeal. It was ultimately painted everywhere on my face aside from my eyes, nostrils, and mouth, where it was left to dry for 45 minutes.
The drying is the important, but not-so-fun, part. As I learned, the sensation of your rushing lymph and blood flow feels like being tickled. The areas with the best functioning pathways will start to feel it soonest. My neck, chest, and shoulders always get the itchy sensation first, but as I have made progress unblocking my pathways, I now feel the ticklish sensation along my hairline, nose, eyelids, and ears. Even my clavicles felt itchy last time. But you can’t scratch anywhere, because if the mask cracks, you’ll lose out on the benefits.
As the mask dries and hardens, the texture also feels rough and uncomfortable against the skin. They tell you that if you experience pulsing or throbbing (not the painful kind), it’s the plasmatic effect at work, building collagen and elastin fibers. The mask also gets tighter and tighter as it dries, to the point that I didn’t even close my mouth fully for fear of it cracking. Even knowing that the discomfort is a good thing, I remember thinking to myself, “They should call this the ‘devil’s facial,’ because it’s hell under here.”
When it was time to remove the mask, Aguilar brushed on more cleanser and massaged over the mask, alternating with hot towels, until it broke and could be easily removed. We waited for the striations to pop up so I could note my progress, and then I was sent on my way with my “goodie bag” of travel-size DMK products appropriate for my skin concerns.
It usually takes three to six sessions to get your pathways cleared, at which point you can switch to monthly maintenance treatments. After four treatments, the difference in my skin is remarkable. Just the other day, celebrity makeup artist Sir John called me “glowy” on a Zoom call.
My dermatitis has completely healed, and my inflammatory breakouts have stopped. There is still a slightly dry patch under the tip of my nose, but I’m so relieved that the redness and dermatitis are gone and my confidence has been restored.
I’ve discontinued using exfoliants and retinoids while my skin barrier heals, but one product I found immensely helpful during the process has been the microbiome-saving Biojouvé Living Biome Essentials Serum + Activating Mist Duo ($225). I’ve been so determined to see progress that I applied an oxygenating mask – the CO2 Lift Carboxy Gel Treatment ($100) – the weekend before, which flushed the skin with oxygen by using carbon dioxide to harness the Bohr effect. I also wore a top by Elastique to help stimulate my lymph and completed five rounds of Wim Hof breathwork to hyperoxygenate my blood as the mask was drying. Anecdotally speaking, we did notice improvement in my striations, and I will try these techniques again next time. However, it will still take one to two more treatments before I see adequate improvement to move onto the maintenance protocol.
Who Can Get the Zombie Facial?
Ford and Aguilar both consider this mask to be transformative for their clients’ skin. “The fact that this treatment helps with internal circulation and flushing out toxins makes it appropriate for everyone,” Ford says. “Dry clients that are prone to broken capillaries, those with stubborn melasma, and even those with acne – in fact, after receiving the enzyme treatment, cystic breakouts are usually flat and healing.” She loves that it requires no downtime and has no restrictions (even pregnant clients can use it), but mostly it’s the results that make this a cult favorite. “After three treatments, there is a significant difference in their skin: firm collagen, smooth texture, and brightened, glowing undertone.”
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