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Did you know DNA influences your skin health?

Skin health and genetics - Loving the skin you are in

Skin is the largest organ in our body. It keeps us warm, prevents water loss, makes vitamin D and is vital to our sense of touch. Whether you have “skin white as snow” or “liver-spotted hands” your skin defines how the world sees you and it sets that first impression. Skin is also our first line of defence against nature, which means scars, age spots and wrinkles really are reminders of battles fought and won. It is fitting then, that we can now offer our skin special attention, from choosing the best products, to diets and habits that will preserve its allure. The secret to personalized skin care is in your genes.

Skin is unique from person to person, and many of its qualities like texture and appearance are influenced by genetic variations. Studies have linked hundreds of gene variants to different aspects of the skin. One quality of most interest to us in the Western world perhaps is photo-aging, the premature aging of the skin from being exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. If you like tanning or sunbathing, both of these activities expose your skin to UV light. Even if you don’t, you are still exposed to harmful UV rays, as we are slowly losing the natural protection offered by the ozone layer.

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Variation in the MMP1 gene is one of the many genetic variants that influences photo-aging. The matrix metaloproteinase-1 enzyme encoded by MMP1 is switched on by the presence of UV light and plays a role in collagen breakdown. But some unlucky people carry an MMP1 variant that results in elevated MMP1 enzyme levels, increasing collagen degradation and the development of wrinkles. Other genetic variants influence other signs of aging, including the likelihood of age spots and the ability to protect against harmful oxidation and glycation reactions.  

Silky, radiant skin calls for vitamins and minerals. Dry skin, discoloration and conditions like acne and eczema are common signs of vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin A. Most of the vitamin A in the body is made from beta-carotene, a nutrient found in fruits and vegetables that are orange-red in colour like carrots and pumpkin. The beta-carotene oxygenase 1 enzyme is responsible for converting beta-carotene into active vitamin A. Women with certain versions of BCO1 are inefficient at making this conversion and are more prone to rough, dry skin. The fix fortunately is quite simple, increasing the intake of vitamin A, either by changing your diet or by taking a multivitamin.

Finally to aesthetics. What about cellulite? Those pesky deposits of fat that make the skin look like an orange peel. People with variants of two genes, ACE and HIF1A are more likely to develop cellulite. Another gene, elastin (ELN), is implicated in stretch marks and may explain why your pregnant belly was covered in stretch marks when your best friend’s wasn’t. You will be happy to know that scientists are actively working on finding ways to help us fight these genetic predispositions.

With a skin care industry worth over 120 billion dollars, it is not surprising that there is a suggested remedy to every one of our skin issues. VitaNiacin, CoQ10 or hyaluronic acid, to defy aging. Bio-oil, cocoa butter or vitamin E, to battle stretch marks. And for cellulite, maybe a formula with glycolic acid, retinol, caffeine or sunflower. With endless possibilities, the choice can become overwhelming. Perhaps it is time to let genes lead the way and discover a skin care routine that fits your skin just right.

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