Cellular senescence is a highly stable cell cycle arrest that is elicited in response to different stresses. By imposing a growth arrest, senescence limits the replication of old or damaged cells. Besides exiting the cell cycle, senescent cells undergo many other phenotypic alterations such as metabolic reprogramming, chromatin rearrangement, or autophagy modulation. In addition, senescent cells produce and secrete a complex combination of factors, collectively referred as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype, that mediate most of their non–cell-autonomous effects. Because senescent cells influence the outcome of a variety of physiological and pathological processes, including cancer and age-related diseases, pro-senescent and anti-senescent therapies are actively being explored. In this Review, we discuss the mechanisms regulating different aspects of the senescence phenotype and their functional implications. This knowledge is essential to improve the identification and characterization of senescent cells in vivo and will help to develop rational strategies to modulate the senescence program for therapeutic benefit.