Higher organisms contain two types of cells: postmitotic cells, which never divide, and mitotic (or mitotically competent) cells, which can divide. Postmitotic cells include mature nerve, muscle, and fat cells, some of which persist for life. Mitotic cells include epithelial and stromal cells of organs such as the skin. Because postmitotic and mitotic cells differ in their proliferative capacity, they may age by different mechanisms. Normal somatic mitotically competent cells do not divide indefinitely. The process that limits the cell division number is termed cellular or replicative senescence. Replicative senescence is thought to be a powerful, albeit imperfect, tumor suppressive mechanism. It is also thought to contribute to organismic aging. Senescent cells undergo three phenotypic changes: they irreversibly arrest growth, they acquire resistance to apoptotic death, and they acquire altered differentiated functions. The growth arrest is very likely critical for the role of replicative senescence in tumor suppression, but may be less important for the aging of organs such as the skin. On the other hand, the altered differentiation may be critical for compromising the function and integrity of organs like the skin during aging. Senescent keratinocytes and fibroblasts appear to accumulate with age in human skin. Moreover, senescent cells express genes that have long-range, pleiotropic effects - degradative enzymes, growth factors, and inflammatory cytokines. Thus, relatively few senescent cells might compromise skin function and integrity. Moreover, by altering the tissue microenvironment, senescent cells may also contribute to the rise in cancer that occurs with age.