Genetics was turned on its head when it was discovered that our genes have only a partial role on the way we look and feel. There are now many factors in our environment that can basically ‘tweak’ the operating system of our genes. These factors are known as epigenetic markers and these little guys can have a massive impact on our lives and our appearance.
THE IMPACT OF YOUR GENES
It has been discovered that epigenetic signals from diet, surroundings and even behaviour can be passed on to future generations without a single change to the genes in the cells. As bizarre as this may sound, what you put in your body today could have an impact on the wellbeing of your great-great grandchildren. Crazy huh?
This fascinating field is now carrying over to cosmeceutical skincare and epigenetic skincare is truly booming in the industry. Cosmetic chemists can now harness ingredients to reprogram skin cells for optimal health and a more youthful appearance.
In terms of our skin, there are hundreds of genes that relate to our skin structure and function. For example, there are 40 collagen genes, 200 genes involved with antioxidants, 400 inflammation genes, over 500 genes involved with hydration. With epigenetic skincare, we can now be in control of how our skin genes are expressed and the destiny of our DNA.
WHAT IS THE EPIGENOME
The epigenome is the information that lies above the genome or chromosomes, in charge of holding our genetic information. Genes are shy little entities and can’t do much without a gentle nudge. Think of the genes as the actors in a movie and the epigenome as the director telling our genes what to do – whether to be expressed, suppressed, amplified or diminished. Any time a gene is expressed in our skin, it is always directed by epigenetics.
EPIGENETICS IN SKINCARE
Epigenetically active ingredients intentionally influence the genes of skin cells. For example, if UV light damages the skin cells to the extent that mutations occur in the genes of skin cells, retinoic acid (found in vitamin A serums) can reverse the mutation and direct the genes to repair. Retinoic acid also influences genetic processes, directing them toward actions such as regulating the rate of cell turnover so our skin cells are renewed, or stimulating collagen production to make our skin look more youthful.
There is also a new epigenetically active peptide called hexapeptide-51. This cosmeceutical can reduce genetic damage from solar radiation, protect skin cells from ultraviolet damage and activate the genes for overall DNA repair. Clinical studies even show that this ingredient is able to epigenetically direct cells to behave as if they are ten years younger!
Another exciting epigenetic discovery is in the case of collagen. Deep within our skin, there is a vital cell called the fibroblast which is responsible for making collagen – the protein that gives our skin firmness, density and important proteins. As we age, the fibroblasts begin to age too. They are less efficient at making these ‘proteins of youth’ and our skin loses its youthful tone. Cosmetic chemists have now harnessed the botanical ‘marjoram extract’ to epigenetically restore ageing fibroblasts. This is achieved via the purified active ingredient directing the gene for collagen production to simply stay ‘switched on’! This epigenetic ingredient results in an 18% improved density and 15% improved firmness.
Even though all cells are genetically identical, through epigenetics we now know cells can be programmed to be specialised – influencing cellular communication, chemical processes, and the physical health of our bodies tissues. This reprogramming can happen through your environment, nutrition, and yes, your skincare ingredients.
My goal as a cosmetic chemist is to understand how the environment – both external and within our bodies – can impact the vitality of our skin. Through our new understanding of epigenetics, we can now harness the benefits of active cosmeceuticals to reprogram the genes we inherited, enhancing the function of our cells. The result is the best version of the genes we are born with. Our genes really are the key to the fountain of youth, but epigenetics provides the key.