Epigenetic skincare can actually change your DNA—here’s what you need to know

As skincare aficionados, we’re always on the lookout for the next best thing in anti-aging. While we love bakuchiol, ceramides, and retinol as much as the next person, sometimes it seems like our skin just needs more. Feel the same? One solution is to turn your attention to epigenetic skincare.

If you’re sitting here reading this thinking, “epige-what?” you’re not alone. While epigenetic skincare still needs to be more heavily researched, according to FightAging.org, the general consensus according to is that, since most people experience the appearance of aging due to the same external factors (think: diet, sun exposure, and the like), it’s possible to study the epigenome to uncover the patterns that are linked with age. By uncovering these patterns, cosmetic chemists can develop products that interact epigenetically to deliver your youngest, most radiantly-looking complexion.

Sounds pretty dreamy, right? To learn more about the high-tech approach, sit down, mute your notifications, and get ready to soak in a whole lot of science in an effort to say hello to your most effective skincare routine.

What is epigenetic skincare?

First things first, let’s talk epigenetics as a whole. Scientifically speaking, Olay‘s Principal Scientist, Dr. Frauke Neuser explains that “epigenetics describes the study of gene regulation and behavior which happen without any alteration of the genetic code (DNA) itself.” In layman’s terms, BeautyStat’s founder and CEO Ron Robinson says, “epigenetics is the science behind the fact that environmental factors can affect the expression of genes.”

To illustrate this idea, Neuser points out that the genes in the skin that are responsible for collagen production become less active with age, but they can also become less active due to external factors, like sun exposure and air pollution. As such, “Epigenetic skincare is based on the concept that skincare ingredients can affect gene behavior and counteract undesirable increases or decreases in activity by switching certain genes on or off (although turning genes up or down, like a dimmer light switch, might be the better analogy),” she says.

How does epigenetic skincare work differently than traditional formulas?

In short, epigenetic skincare is designed to dive far beyond traditional formulas to not only affect the cellular level but the genetic one, too. While epigenetic concoctions complement traditional formulas, Neuser explains that certain skincare ingredients work directly on skin’s behavior and appearance while also having the potential to affect skin cells at the gene activity level—whereas others might only do one or the other. “It is usually a combination of ingredients that can achieve the best benefits,” she adds. “For example, about two years ago, Olay added a new ingredient (carob seed extract) to its Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, accompanying already present niacinamide (vitamin B3) and peptides, based on gene activity studies that showed complementary effects. Clinical studies confirmed the desired anti-aging benefits.”

What’s worth noting, however, is that even though brands (Olay’s not the only one) are uncovering the perks of epigenetic skincare, Robinson points out that they’re not actually allowed to claim that the products work on the genetic level, as that gets into drug territory as determined by the FDA. That’s why so many epigenetic formulations speak to the cosmetic benefits of the product, as opposed to genetic ones.

What are the benefits of epigenetic skincare?

Along with deep dives into the skin comes the ability to address complexion concerns from an all-encompassing stance. “In theory, the idea is to ‘help skin help itself’ by regulating processes that naturally occur in skin, as opposed to purely relying on extrinsic actives to help and improve skin health and appearance,” Neuser says.

In December 2016, scientists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, found that, after focusing on epigenetic markers and intermittently altering the genes in mice with progeria, a genetic disease that affects both animals and humans, mice appeared younger and healthier. While mice and humans are two very different things, the researchers concluded that it could lead to positive anti-aging effects for humans, too. (Though, they do note that more research is necessary to reach clinical trials.)

“This work shows that epigenetic changes are at least partially driving aging,” says Paloma Martinez-Redondo, a Salk Institute research associate and co-author of the study. “It gives us exciting insights into which pathways could be targeted to delay cellular aging.”

And the Salk scientists aren’t the only ones who have found promise with epigenetic research. In a September 2018 article published in the SOFW Journal, principal authors found that by targeting epigenetic mechanisms, specific anti-aging ingredients can positively affect the skin, essentially reversing the aging clock to make way for a younger-looking complexion.

Are there any downsides or side effects of using epigenetic skincare?

Downsides are largely undocumented given the shallow pool of research of epigenetic skincare. However, given that it’s tailored directly towards specific genes that affect aging, and it requires elaborate research to even launch, consumers can typically have faith in a quality product that won’t cause irritation when they do come across one. That said, it’s important to understand that creating epigenetic skincare products is a super complex process, so there aren’t tons of options on the market, in the first place.

“At Olay, we have been studying gene activity in skin for over 20 years, because identifying individual genes among the tens of thousands of genes present in our skin cells, and understanding how they work and interact, is the first big step on the epigenetic skincare journey,” Neuser explains. “Highly complex and sophisticated methods are needed to study gene activity and make sure any changes measured are really relevant and significant.”

With that in mind, below you’ll find four highly-rated epigenetic skincare products. While more science is necessary on the subject, we think the sky-high reviews make testing this seriously-scientific self-care well worth it.

1Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream


Shop it Available at Amazon

With over 50 million jars sold, it’s safe to say this drugstore product is a must. It’s made with vitamin B3, amino-peptides, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants to address aging concerns topically and deep down—10 layers to be exact. While they can’t promise gene transformation, they do ensure a noticeable change in the appearance of your skin when used regularly for 28 days straight.

2BABOR Skinovage Calming Cream


Shop it Available at Amazon

BABOR has done extensive epigenetic research to create their entire Skionvage system, which is focused on the brand’s Power Peptide to help the skin resist outside factors like sun exposure, pollution, and free radicals as a whole. This cream, in particular, is a dream for reactive skin types, as it reduces redness and calms the complexion on a deep level.

3Augustinus Bader The Body Cream


Shop it Available at Neiman Marcus

It’s important to remember that body care requires skincare too; after all, we do have skin on our bodies. The Augustinus Bader body cream fulfills the basic requirement of moisturizing skin, but what makes this anti-aging body product stand out is that it uses its epigenetic technology to target and treat stretch marks and cellulite with continued use. It’s so impressive that it won a Beauty Crush Award.

4Sisley Paris Sisleÿa L’integral Anti-Age Firming Concentrated Serum


Shop it Available at Nordstrom

With heavy research into behavioral aging, Sisley launched this anti-aging serum that tightens, lifts, and smooths skin for a younger-looking appeal. While the price is high, the reviews make it seem well worth it.

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