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.