Like a light switch, genes can be turned on and off based on a person’s lifestyle, diet, and environment. Referred to as “epigenetics,” which literally means “above genetics,” this field of science has been studied since the mid-20th century. However, lately, it’s become a hot topic in the skincare industry, as scientists have discovered that certain genes that affect the skin are directly influenced by environmental and behavioral factors. “Epigenetics is defined as the way in which age-related, environmental, and behavioral factors can modify gene expression, without changing the underlying DNA,” says Janel Luu, founder and CEO of Le Mieux. Originally, these epigenetic changes were believed to occur only during fetal development, and while these shifts often happen naturally, scientists have come to discover that epigenetic change can also be influenced by one’s age, diet, and environment. Studies show that it can also be passed down from parent to child and from one generation to the next. While adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet is an effective way to prevent negative epigenetic changes, skincare companies are coming up with products and solutions that affect the genes in a positive way to help skin look and feel younger and healthier.
Words of Advice
Because epigenetics is still fairly new, it is imperative that estheticians become educated on the topic. “Once estheticians are aware, they will be quite at ease at promoting various treatments, from skincare to bodycare for anti-aging and other relevant skin conditions that relate to the specific ingredients and products they have,” says Karen Asquith, national director of education for G. M. Collin Skincare.
The first step in helping to achieve healthy skin from within is recommending clients maintain a regular skincare regimen with high-quality products and follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. “All of our own lifestyle choices, and unfortunately many of the choices our parents (and even our grandparents) made before we were born, place or remove these microscopic tags on our DNA,” says Irena James, cofounder and vice president of product development of CelleClé SkinCare and YG Laboratories. “Researchers now believe we can accentuate or negate the epigenetic tags we inherit via our lifestyle choices. Therefore, it is very important to make clients aware of the fact that epigenetic changes can be reversible. Stress-releasing treatments, touch-induced oxytocin, pleasant aromas, soothing music, healthy nutrition, and meditation, can all significantly contribute to our stress-related genes being turned off and skin-reparative genes being turned on. The spa industry is in the unique position of educating our clients on the importance of making the right choices regarding our skin, body, and overall health.”
The Missing Link
In recent years, the link between epigenetics and aging has been a topic of interest among scientists, as it can determine why some people are more prone to developing skin cancer and signs of aging than others. “Genes that govern skin health are also subject to epigenetic mechanisms,” says Charlene DeHaven, M.D., clinical director at Innovative Skincare. “The importance of epigenetics should never be underestimated. For example, epigenetic mechanisms affect photoaging, skin-cancer development, wrinkle development, healing after procedures and following wounds, collagen synthesis, and many other important factors involving skin health and aging.”
What’s even more fascinating is that there are differences in skin aging and cancer risk even among identical twins. For example, Le Mieux's Janel Luu suggests imagining two women who are identical twins (both have the same DNA) with fair complexions and a genetic disposition to skin cancer. One of the twins lives in a northern climate without much sun and always protects her skin when she goes outside. The other twin lives in a sunny southern location and regularly participates in outdoor activities. Even though they have the same genetic code, the skin cells of the sister in the northern climate are much less likely to be prone to epigenetic change. The epigenetic changes in the twin in the southern location are influenced by her environment and lifestyle, and can result in prematurely aging skin cells due to free-radical damage and ultraviolet (UV) exposure. “This twin would benefit from epigenetic skincare that slows or prevents skin-cell senescence and may even minimize epigenetic changes that could otherwise result in skin cancer,” says Luu.
According to Neal Kitchen, Ph.D., vice president of strategy and development at HydroPeptide, scientists are using principles behind epigenetics to create skincare formulas that impact cellular health and gene expressions over time, so skin looks and acts younger. Says Kitchen, “What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging—all of these factors can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes, thereby turning them on and off.”
When it comes to epigenetics and skincare, certain ingredients can affect genes. Here are just a few known to directly impact genes:
Copper Tripeptide-1: It helps to increase collagen synthesis by fibroblasts. “This growth factor is helpful in post-procedure healing and anti-aging,” says Innovative Skincare's Charlene DeHaven. “In the presence of copper tripeptide-1, the genes that direct healthy, youthful collagen synthesis are ‘turned on.’”
Hexapeptide-2: This anti-aging and skin-brightening peptide has been found to help the skin resist epigenetic changes related to skin aging and help decrease melanin synthesis.
Resveratrol: Because grape- and wine-derived resveratrol is difficult to stabilize in many formulas, according to CelleClé SkinCare and YG Laboratories's Irena James, resveratrol-like ingredients, such as Japanese knotweed or Mexican bamboo have been shown to have a strong epigenetic effect in our skin by boosting DNA-protection molecules and minimizing the effect of environmental stressors on DNA.
RoyalEpigen P5: This biologically active royal jelly-like peptide helps activate skin regeneration.
Tetrapeptide-26: According to G.M. Collins's Karen Asquith, new research has shown that skin cells have clock genes, which help regulate the cycle in which cells turn on and off, coordinating with UV exposure. “With age and repeated exposure to environmental stress, like UV rays, they become de-synchronised, causing the skin’s repair and protective processes to slow down and be less effective,” she says. Tetrapeptide-26 helps boost the expression of clock genes and synchronizes the cells. “Our skin cells need to rest at night to repair so they are effective during the day to protect the skin,” says Asquith.
Vitamin C (stable form): Vitamin C can help increase collagen production and cell renewal, and help reduce hyperpigmentation and sensitivity.
Breakthroughs in epigenetic research have revealed important information on how genes are directly affected by a person’s lifestyle, behavior, and diet. Here’s what the experts have to say about the future of epigenetics:
“If we can target specific epigenetic processes, it will have a profound effect on the treatment and reversal of skin aging. Effective treatments may be developed for even more serious skin conditions and diseases such as psoriasis and melanoma.”
—Karen Asquith, national director of education, G.M. Collin Skincare
“Aging is now believed to be an epigenetic phenomena—a result of the wrong genes being turned on and the right ones being turned off. Most prominent researchers in the field firmly believe that it will be determined that all skin conditions have a strong epigenetic component. As we learn to speak the language of DNA, we will become better able to regulate genes in skin cells, making skincare more effective, reliable, and producing faster results.”—Irena James, cofounder and vice president of product development, CelleClé Skincare and YG Laboratories
“With ingredients that influence genes via epigenetic mechanisms, we can influence skin health, healing abilities, and aging.”—Charlene DeHaven, M.D., clinical director, Innovative Skincare
“Changing your genes is a far reach for skincare, and time will tell if epigenetics is simply a ‘sexy’ concept for the latest in skincare products. Consumers should always look for sound science behind skincare claims and not let themselves be taken in by the latest marketing trends. Independent scientific clinical studies are always a good gauge of whether or not a product actually performs.”—Janel Luu, founder and CEO, Le Mieux
“Pollution is having a profound impact on our skin and is likely altering cellular DNA and gene expression through modification of the epigenome over time. Exciting research in the area of gene therapy to treat diseases such as melanoma and skin cancer continues to advance, giving hope for new and better treatments.”—Robin Carmichael, president and chief operating officer, Helix BioMedix
“Recently, companies are providing access to our DNA code and knowledge of our roots, but in the future you will no longer be stuck with the sequence of genes you’ve inherited. If we could map every single cause and effect of different gene combinations, we could reverse more gene states to keep the good while eliminating the bad. We could theoretically slow aging, stop obesity, correct physical and mental illnesses, and ultimately change our health.”—Neal Kitchen, Ph.D., vice president of strategy and development, HydroPeptide