5 Things You Must Know about DNA and Beauty Products

By Nicki Zevola, Pennsylvania, Skincare Expert

Nicki Zevola is a beauty expert and the founder of FutureDerm.com, where she provides clear, well-researched information about beauty+skincare, fashion+style, nutrition+fitness, and personal development from a different perspective from most in the blogosphere. Named one of the top beauty bloggers since 2009, Nicki is also a medical student (M.D.) with an estimated graduation date of May 2013. Continue reading her full bio

Photo by mira66

5 Things You Must Know about DNA and Beauty Products

It’s been almost a decade since the human genome has been sequenced, and all of a sudden, it seems everyone wants to get in on the hot biological terminology. From sequencing to splicing to cloning, you can’t walk into a Sephora without having someone ask you about your genes (and sorry, honey, we’re not talkin’ about your Sevens). Unfortunately, while some industry insiders are utilizing the technology to make skin care bravely go where no product has ever gone before, others are, unfortunately, being a bit deceptive in their approach. Here’s what we know about the technologies:

1. There is no such thing as a single “Youth Gene.”

A product that shall go nameless recently advertised that it is clinically proven to turn on the “Youth Gene.” Unfortunately, the Human Genome Project has affirmed there are 19,599 protein-coding genes (Ornl.gov), and it is likely that the expression of nearly all of them decreases with age. Furthermore, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of genes targeted towards manufacturing proteins that can help make you look younger. It is the decrease of function a number of genes, not just one, that contribute to aging. So beware of any product that claims to target a single gene. It may have other redeeming factors, but this should not be your primary reason to buy.

2. The secret to red wine is not just resveratrol.

Want to know why people are so excited about resveratrol? Although resveratrol is a noted antioxidant, its main benefit is that it may upregulate proteins called sirtuins, which in turn prolong the life of your skin’s collagen-producing fibroblasts. Sirtuins do this by turning off unnecessary gene expression, so when the fibroblasts aren’t expending more energy than they need to on unnecessary tasks, they will theoretically last longer. This means that your fibroblasts enable you to make collagen naturally for more years than if you did not treat your skin with sirtuins.

Unfortunately, numerous studies suggest resveratrol does not influence sirtuin production, including a 2005 study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry2009 study in Chemical Biology and Drug Design, and 2010 study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. It is also hard to know for sure if sirtuins in skin care products are able to diffuse through the your skin’s cellular and nuclear membranes to affect the genetic material within in the first place. Preliminary data from companies like Avon, who feature the ingredient in their Ultimate Age Repair Elixir Serum and Night Cream, seem to suggest that sirtuins applied topically may have an effect. However, there may also be confounding variables, as the other ingredients in the products have previously been proven beneficial for the skin. Clearly, more research needs to be done.

Three more facts you NEED to know! 

3. Not all creams that claim to contain growth factors actually do.

Granted, true growth factors do exist; biologists define them as substances capable of stimulating cellular growth, proliferation, and cellular differentiation. Most established growth factors are proteins or steroid molecule that include epidermal growth factor (EGF) and fibroblast stimulating factor (FGF), or anti-inflammatory cytokines like TGF-β or IL-3.

Some skin care creams, like Vitaphenol Cellustructure Serum and Skinmedica TNS Skin Recovery Complex, actually contain the anti-inflammatory growth factor TGF-β. However, other companies advertising that they contain “growth factors” may instead include ingredients like Glutamylamidoethyl indole that are proven to stimulate the production of growth factor, not growth factor itself. While this would still be somewhat effective, I would choose a product with 2% “growth factor” over a product with 2% “ingredient that may stimulate growth factor” any day.

4. Telomeres are likely to play a role in anti-aging in the future, but not yet.

A telomere is a piece of DNA at the end of your chromosomes. It protects the ends of your chromosomes from being lost through DNA replication. As we age, it has been noted that telomere length naturally shortens. It is no wonder, then, that many scientists (and drug companies!) are interested in developing agents to increase or preserve the size of your telomeres.

One agent, telomerase, is a natural enzyme that increases the size of your telomeres. Unfortunately, no forms of telomerase in skin care products to date have been found to preserve telomere length through DNA replication cycles in human skin in vivo. Furthermore, it’s hard to say how much we want to increase telomerase in the first place: patients with lupus have increased amounts of telomerase, though not enough to overcome telomere shortening. And even though we know that shortening a telomere in an individual contributes to aging, two different people who are of completely different stages of aging can have telomeres that are the same size. (!) In other words, telomere technology has a long way to go before we can be confident about its effects in skin care.

5. Certain DNA repair enzymes might be effective in fighting UV damage.

As dermatologist Dr. Helen Torok, M.D., once told me in an exclusive interview, enzymes like photolyase and endolyase have been shown to decrease the number of UVB radiation-induced dimers by 45% and increase UV protection by 300%. Apparently, DNA enzymes contained within skin care products may be able to diffuse through cellular and nuclear membranes to affect the cell’s natural machinery. As to whether or not this is dangerous, Dr. Torok replied, “We cannot say with complete certainty but most likely not. The DNA repair enzymes detect DNA damage, remove the damage and then assist the body’s own natural repair mechanisms in restoring healthy DNA. The body can do this on its own, but repeated sun exposure – whether or not a sunburn forms – lessens the skin’s ability to repair itself. The DNA repair enzymes help to promote the recovery process.”

Bottom Line

DNA in skin care is certainly a very interesting subject, and we are likely to hear about it many times more in the future. For now, beware of products that claim to turn on or regulate a particular gene, be careful when shopping for “growth factors,” and know that the current research looks most promising (right now) for growth factors and DNA repair enzymes. I’ll keep you posted when more research emerges!