Gene Therapy In Skincare

Gene therapy in skin care

The excitable chaps who cover beauty over at the Daily Mail have gone even more  effervescent than usual over the latest expensive skin serum.  And when I say expensive I mean expensive – a four week course costs £600  (€750, $940).  That is well over half the amount a full time worker on the minimum wage would earn in a week.  You’d also have to factor in the cost of a trip to Bond Street to get your DNA tested.  This is the first cosmetic application of gene therapy and gets the full hype treatment under the headline ‘Is This The Most Advanced Anti-Ageing Cream Ever?’

The science is not too difficult to follow.  The skin’s firmness is largely due to the presence of collagen, which is a protein that is continually being broken down and rebuilt by the body.  As we get older the rate of collagen replacement falls leaving the skin with less total collagen, and so it becomes looser and saggier.  There is a big genetic component to this, and so some people have skin that just naturally ages more quickly than others.  But remember that the genetic component is just one component – lifestyle and where you live play a part as well.  Also, there is a lot more to ageing than just collagen synthesis rates.

But in principle, if we understood the genes that controlled collagen levels in the skin – and progress on that is being made – and if we had a way of modifying the way those genes are expressed in the skin then we could indeed imagine that we might be able to improve the quality of our skin in later life.  That sounds like a promising line of enquiry.

Sadly it doesn’t sound like that is what they are doing in Bond Street.  Their ambition is a bit more modest than their price tag.  They carry out a test on your DNA to see how well your genes are disposed towards collagen production and prescribe you a serum with a customised amount of collagen to make up the difference.  Let’s concede that they have got the DNA analysis right – I haven’t troubled to look to see if they have even put these details in the public domain but it doesn’t sound an outrageous claim.  The obvious question arises, if they are mainly concerned with collagen levels why not simply look at the skin itself?

In fact it makes more sense to look at the skin itself.  The genes aren’t the whole story and exposure to bright sunlight and things like cigarette smoke have just as much if not more impact.  Getting collagen levels up is in any case no easy task.  Some actives like retinol are able to help, but we certainly don’t have any way of fine tuning collagen production to make up for the ravages of our lives and the deficiencies of our genetic programming.  Skin serums aren’t totally useless, but they certainly aren’t that good.

Gene therapy in skin care might well one day enable us to enjoy better skin longer into our lives.  But it isn’t available yet, and despite the breathless enthusiasm of the journalists on the Mail there is nothing much to suggest that knowing what your personal DNA is like will enable a customised skin serum to give you any better skin than any other anti ageing product.

PS – The very first comment made on the Mail article by a member of the public was ‘Is this a paid article?’.  Quite.

Photo credit:

kevin dooley via photopin cc


5 thoughts on “Gene Therapy In Skincare”

  1. I guess to be fair to the Mail (words i never thought i’d ever say)!)….a number of magazines and bloggers have been equally excitable about this. I walked past the store the other day, Bond Street premises don’t come cheap…..would it cost as much if it was based elsewhere i wonder

  2. Thanks for explaining this Colin – it’s really hard for the consumer not to fall for the bamboozle and the hype. It’s hope in a jar with the emphasis on hope. I’m actually going to see if I can get a rental price for a property on Bond Street because I would genuinely be intrigued to know what rents have to be met. Most brands don’t head straight to a property on Bond Street so I think there’s even more to this.

  3. Those are good points about the location. Bond Street isn’t exactly the place you would normally look for a high tech start up to emerge. In the article they say it is all about the science, but the very large rent cheque paid in advance still has to be covered somehow.

  4. Also, is the claim that too much collagen in a cream cannot be absorbed true? Surely that depends on different genes, not the collagen-producing ones?

    1. Well spotted Robyn. The claim that too much collagen in a cream cannot be absorbed is complete nonsense that is so far from reality it is hard to know where to start. For a start collagen as it stands is not absorbed at all. To get it through the skin you need to break it down to its component parts, whereupon it is not really collagen any more. In any case even if you could get it through the skin, just adding it is not going to help much. You cannot repair a building by throwing bricks at it from a distance. The way you increase collagen is by stimulating its production or inhibiting its breakdown. This can just about be done, but it is a hit and miss affair. We can’t simply turn it on and off at will. In theory you could overstimulate collagen production, but I have never heard of that actually happening. But I have never heard of Professor Toumazou despite his incredible achievements in creating an artificial pancreas, curing deafness and developing a wireless heart monitor, so what do I know? He may have some insight I don’t have that the Daily Mail haven’t fully explained.

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