Picture this: You hit up the drugstore for a new face cream, but instead of cruising the aisles, you swab the inside of your cheek. An employee loads your saliva onto a microchip, extracts your DNA and runs a series of algorithms. Thirty minutes later, you walk out with your personalized complexion regimen.
It sounds like an episode of The Jetsons, but DNA testing is coming soon to a beauty counter near you. Already, companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com offer mail-in saliva-collection kits that they analyze to assess future health risks and trace family genealogies. Since our chromosomes also dictate our particular skin characteristics—including predisposition to inflammation, sun sensitivity and collagen degradation—such tests could help beauty brands match us with specific products that address our skin’s genetic needs. Sound far-fetched? “If we can figure out not only how you’ll react to different ingredients but also how your skin will change with age because of what’s written in your genes, that will help us develop better, more targeted products that prevent problems before they even occur,” says Dr. Frauke Neuser, principal scientist at Procter & Gamble, the company behind Olay.
According to a 2014 study, there’s a $12.2-billion global market for personalized skincare, and P&G is leading the way. Thanks to a new collaboration with 23andMe, which owns the world’s largest database of human genetic material, Olay researchers have scrutinized 20,000 genes to identify the 2,000 most important to skin aging. “We know what all the genetic variants are,” says Dr. Neuser. “Now we need to establish the correlation between having a certain gene and aging in a particular way.”
A handful of niche competitors, including Geneu and SkinShift, believe they’ve already cracked the code, selling tailor-made skincare products based on customers’ DNA. But neither Dr. Neuser nor Dr. Humphrey think the science is there—yet.
“It’s really difficult to generate an algorithm that will take factors such as the patient’s health history, hormonal balance and environment into account,” says Dr. Humphrey. “We need more evidence to prove the input, analysis and information is actually clinically relevant.” That could happen within the next decade. “There are more than one million people in the 23andMe database that can help us answer some of those questions,” says Dr. Neuser. “Looking at my crystal ball, if we could get to the stage where we only had to analyze 20 genes, the test could be on the spot, and you’d walk out with your perfect products.”
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