[Images: Getty Images]

Skin care has never been an exact science, but research is helping experts zero in on more precise products and treatments every day. Many of the latest developments have to do with deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the molecules containing genetic codes that tell living things—and, more specifically, their cells—how to make the proteins they need to grow. Because skin cells produce so many of these (including keratin, collagen and elastin), it makes sense that DNA plays a huge part in skin health, and that spas should explore products and services that take clients’ DNA and genetics into account.

Some of the newer buzzwords you may have heard in this realm include epigenetics, DNA repair enzymes and clock genes. What do all of those have to do with skin health? You’re about to find out. The details may be a bit daunting, but it’s important for spa pros to stay on top of the latest scientific advances, says Ronald Moy, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, past president of the American Academy of Dermatology and senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. In doing so, you can educate clients about the best treatment options—which is good for the health of their skin and the health of your business.

Understanding Epigenetics

Although DNA is like a blueprint, meaning it never changes, there’s another layer of information called the epigenome—a multitude of chemicals and proteins that tell DNA to switch certain genes on or off. Through continuing research, scientists have found that epigenetic tags are not only connected to the aging process, but that certain environmental factors, from sun exposure to diet, can act upon them to influence genes’ expression. In other words, people may have more control over their health—including skin health—than they realize. “Our genes are not the entire story,” says Neal Kitchen, PhD, chief operating officer of HydroPeptide. “Your DNA doesn’t change, but what does change is how it’s expressed over time, and that can be quite dramatic. It’s a question of what’s happening at the cellular level—what is the health of your cells at a certain stage of your life, and how can we use epigenetics to alter your gene expression in a meaningful way?”

RELATED: Expert Advice for Catering to Clients with Sensitive Skin

Essentially, one of the keys to antiaging lies in knowing which genes to switch on and which ones to switch off. Although modifying behaviors (e.g., limiting UV exposure or consuming a healthy diet) can obviously make a big impact, Kitchen explains that certain actives can also influence skin on the cellular level, turning on genes that protect and promote youthful skin cells, and turning off the ones that can damage or destroy those cells (which leads to undesirable skin traits, like hyperpigmentation and sensitivity). For instance, HydroPeptide formulates its latest antiaging products with a patented amino acid complex that employs the principles
of epigenetics to increase cellular regeneration, boost collagen production and block hyperpigmentation. The brand also uses an antioxidant blend to help control damage from free radicals and prevent premature aging.

Meanwhile, French skincare brand Biologique Recherche has developed the EpigenActiv peptide, which acts on epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptors in the skin, responsible for cell repair and renewal. “We have tested the effects of active ingredients like EpigenActiv and found that they can turn on the right genes, such as those involved in dermal cell proliferation (SDC4), collagen fiber organization (LUM), dermal extracellular matrix protection (TIMP1), or antioxidant defenses (GLRX),” says the brand’s co-chairman Rupert Schmid. EpigenActiv also helps block certain gene carriers that would impair the synthesis of proteins important for skin youthfulness, he adds.

Damage Control

DNA damage can occur for many reasons, including normal aging as well as environmental factors, such as exposure to UV radiation, cell phone and computer screens, and toxic pollutants like arsenic, says Dr. Moy. “Usually, cells can enzymatically reverse or repair this damage, but when they’re unsuccessful this can lead to various aging processes and diseases, including cancer,” he continues. Antioxidants are among the most widely used skin- saving ingredients because of their ability to protect cells from environmental aggressors—however, DNA repair enzymes could soon take center stage. The body already produces these enzymes naturally, but production tapers off after about age 30. That said, studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have shown that topically applied DNA repair enzymes help reverse damage from UV exposure, and hence, make skin appear more youthful and may even help combat skin cancer.

RELATED: 7 Tips to Help Your Clients Achieve Healthier Skin

Inspired by research dating back to 2001, Dr. Moy’s quest to create a topical cream that could address some of the effects of sun damage led to the development of his DNAEGF Renewal skincare line. The products contain enzymes engineered from marine and botanical sources, such as plankton, and are delivered using liposomes to deeply penetrate the skin and help repair DNA damage including brown spots and wrinkles. “If you can increase DNA repair, your skin will look younger,” stresses Dr. Moy. “It isn’t just prevention—it reverses past damage.”

Keeping Time

Another exciting area of DNA-based skin care has to do with clock genes. In recent years, scientists— including researchers who published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2012—have discovered that, like other organs, our skin has an internal clock (or clock gene) that regeneration (which takes place during the day). However, UV exposure and other environmental factors can interrupt these skin-saving scenarios, throwing off the body’s internal clock.
One way companies are addressing this is with tetrapeptide- 26. “This bio-engineered tetrapeptide optimizes the protection and regenerative cycle of skin, harmonizing the cellular rhythm with the circadian rhythm, which is our 24-hour cycle,” says Karen Asquith, national director of education for G.M. Collin. “This ensures good coordination of skin functions in relation to UV exposure, boosting natural DNA protection during the day and repairing DNA overnight.” Resetting the circadian cell cycle in this way can help prevent signs of aging and protect against skin cancer.

Given how promising the evidence surrounding all of these actives has been, spas are understandably embracing DNA-based skin care. But for all the results estheticians and their clients are seeing, chances are that there will be even better, more targeted treatments on the horizon. “You need a lot of humility with science,” notes Schmid. “We’re really just at the beginning.”

Testing 1-2-3

With the rise of DNA testing services like 23andMe, as well as advances in the understanding of how gene expression impacts the skin, a brave new world in customized skin care is emerging: Companies that analyze clients’ DNA, identify the tiny genetic variations associated with problematic skin conditions, and recommend appropriate steps that may include products, supplements and lifestyle changes. Some are even partnering with spas to help them personalize their service offerings.

One of the newest is LifeDNA, which uses data that clients have already obtained from Ancestry or 23andMe, and then provides different a subscription-based options including a three-month supply of Personalized Moisturizer, a one-month supply of Personalized Supplements, and a variety of Beauty/Wellness Boxes. Another company, Pathway Genomics, offers two choices: SkinFit, which tests 23 genetic traits, including texture and elasticity, inflammation and allergy risk, and moisture factor; and SkiN iQ, which analyzes 13 traits. Clients are connected with an online physician and the results take a few weeks. Meanwhile, SKINSHIFT, created by integrative medicine specialist Ruthie Harper, MD, analyzes data from 23andMe to create three reports and recommendations for skin health, general health and weight loss.

–by Stephanie Kramer

Tell us your thoughts! Leave a Facebook Comment

More