Pinpointing factors that make a person unique could shift the entire landscape of how we attend to our health – from exercise plans to custom diets and even skincare regimens. The concept of personalization has pierced the bubble of the prevailing “one size fits all” mentality, deflating the flawed notion that what works for the majority will likely work for anyone. When it comes to our bodies’ largest organ, and caring for it effectively, epigenetics may provide an answer.
Our genetic code sets the stage for what makes our skin unique, but perhaps more important is the dynamic layer of molecular information that lies above our genes – our epigenome. Our interactions with the environment, our lifestyle, and our habits have potential to adjust epigenetic tags on genes, changing our skin over time through certain pathways.
“To move forward, we need to address nature and nurture at the same time. EpigenCare gives us the tools to do that,” said James Wang, MD, board-certified dermatologist and dermapathologist. He adds: “Personalized epigenetics is the new frontier in skincare.”
Our interactions with the environment, our lifestyle, and our habits have potential to adjust epigenetic tags on genes, changing our skin over time.
A new startup called EpigenCare is the first company to personalize skincare based on these epigenetic tags, which comprise a unique epigenetic signature of one’s skin. The direct-to-consumer test uses a special next-generation sequencing technique, known as targeted-bisulfite sequencing, to measure DNA methylation levels on specific genes related to skin characteristics like aging, elasticity, moisture, sensitivity, and pigmentation.
These genes and their epigenetic pathways form the test’s proprietary panel of epigenetic markers. Subsequently, specific products can be recommended based on the ingredient composition that has been scientifically demonstrated to affect the markers. The company determined the marker candidates by parsing through thousands of peer-reviewed epigenetic studies and then validating them in the lab with the assistance of EpiGentek, a well-known reagent supplier and service provider for epigenetics researchers.
DNA methylation is a popular epigenetic mechanism that suppresses genes or turns them “off” by adding a methyl group to certain areas of DNA. This happens without any changes to the underlying genetic sequence, or our genotype. Based on past research, diet and exercise have been closely linked to observable changes in DNA methylation levels. In regard to skin, this epigenetic mechanism may suppress genes whose expression contributes to a beautiful, youthful appearance. For example, if a gene linked to skin elasticity was highly methylated, we might expect more wrinkles, and EpigenCare could recommend products containing ingredients that research has shown to functionally influence this marker or its epigenetic pathways.
The SEC31L2 gene is an example of an epigenetic marker noted by EpigenCare. In the skin of older individuals, this gene is highly methylated, thereby reducing the amount of protein it produces. Because SEC31 protein products are involved in collagen secretion, reversing marks that turn off this gene would likely contribute to maintaining firm skin. Another gene, DDAH2, is also hypermethylated in aging skin. This gene is linked to the structural and functional integrity of the outer layer of our skin.
“Genetic-based tests for skincare cannot be used to determine dynamic changes of functional pathways which will affect skin quality status,” explained EpigenCare CEO, William Lee. “You have the same genes since the day you were born – it’s not possible to represent the current state of your skin quality. You’d need an epigenetic-based test.”
Monitoring skin status over time would provide additional information about how to care for it. Interestingly, epigenetic marks like DNA methylation are thought to be dynamic and modifiable by lifestyle choices and our environment. For example, consuming phytochemicals contained in vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and leafy greens have been shown to modulate oxidative stress and inflammatory signaling and regulate metabolic pathways, potentially reducing age-related inflammation. Studies suggest that epigenetic tags, although much more susceptible to change when a human is first developing, can be removed or added over the course of our lifespan.
In the skincare industry, many will agree that there is no such thing as a universally effective product or one that works for everyone. Research suggests that our skin is a dynamic landscape of an accumulation of environmental stimuli like pollution and sun exposure, and lifestyle choices like smoking, exercising, and diet, among many other things.
“Instead of using harsh chemicals that try to treat everything at once, EpigenCare allows for a personalized approach for a tailored skincare regimen based on the damage the person’s skin has sustained over time,” Wang explained. “This is an incredible advance.”
Ultimately, EpigenCare links a person’s unique epigenetic signature with skincare options whose ingredient composition has been shown to impact important skin-related markers. The epigenetic signature can be collected over time for a more comprehensive understanding of the skin and the ingredients that may influence its health. What may be useful to an individual’s complexion now might not be as effective next year or during the next season, when epigenetic tags may have adjusted and the skin’s characteristics have potentially changed.
EpigenCare is pioneering the path to personalized skincare using next-generation sequencing and data gathered from thousands of epigenetic studies, with its panel of epigenetic markers further validated using targeted-bisulfite sequencing. It will be interesting to see how EpigenCare and the personalized epigenomics industry develop.
With mounting data through constantly improving instruments and bioinformatics, researchers can refine epigenetics as a new avenue for health, beauty, and skincare, ultimately helping to translate studies done in the lab into practical applications for our everyday lives. Within our epigenomes lies an untapped biological uniqueness that has potential to guide more accurate and personalized skincare in the future.
Investors can also participate in EpigenCare’s crowdsale opportunity.