DNA-Guided Skin Care Products Do Not Always Deliver


Allergic reaction points up weak science behind some companies that offer dermatological solutions.

Trawling through Gizmodo recently, I came across an article by Kristen Brown titled "I tried a DNA-optimized skincare routine - and I was allergic to it."1

I have written about the recent slew of products using DNA home kits for applications beyond just determining one's ancestry. This includes the expansion by 23andMe to genetic testing for rare diseases or the risk of cancerous genetic types, including the first to be approved for breast cancer. However, another service that caught my eye was Helix, which has multiple platforms on its site to target what diets, wines, or workouts are best for people based on their genes.

It was not a leap to deduce that other companies would start capitalizing on the "personalized care" market using other products as well. After all, we are in the era of bespoke personalized product marketing, so why not health care? We are already hearing people talking about 3D-printing medications for patients based on their individual characteristics, so the idea of a company making dermatological products for patients based on their genetic structures did not surprise me.

Brown was approached by a company called LifeDNA that offered her their service which incorporates DNA testing from other companies such as 23andMe and then identifies which skin care products are best for people.2 Brown is no stranger to this market. Indeed, she has done multiple write-ups about similar companies in the past, so it is hard to imagine why this one approached her. However, the result was a bit surprising.

The company sent Brown a variety of products based on their interpretation of what her skin needed. This included "a cleanser, a toner, a moisturizer, and a serum" which were applied twice a day. Interestingly, she was also given 5 daily supplements that she was supposed to take twice a day as well. That is a lot of supplements.

Brown was planning to do a 2-week trial but ended up getting an allergic reaction that necessitated a revised product being delivered by the company. She subsequently visited her dermatologist, which led to this comment: "Hoopla ... It's snake oil, with a digital signature."

LifeDNA purports to go through the entire medical literature of more than 1000 peer-reviewed studies to guide its personalized product recommendations. However, as Brown found when she looked into it, the science was relatively weak with small samples.

For a 3-month service running anywhere between $99 and $289, the science better be good. Yet perusing LifeDNA's advisory board online shows that there are no doctors. Yes, there are several people with PhD's in biochemistry and genomics, but the closest clinical background is a person with a doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I am not sure what to make of a company that has no physicians and especially no dermatologist on board to support their product.

This may not be the last we will hear about companies like this. I expect to see further growth in companies that will purport to use a person's genetic code to get them other personalized products. The supplement market seems the most solid bet, as those products are not regulated by the FDA. So, this could include products that may target a person's microbiome and then recommend probiotics, skin care products, vitamins, etc. If we see research that demonstrates that some of these products have clinical benefits, that could be a different story, but unless or until that happens, this is clearly a gray area.


1. Brown KV. I tried a DNA-optimized skincare routine—and I was allergic to it. Gizmodo. gizmodo.com/i-tried-a-dna-optimized-skin-care-routine-and-i-was-all-1825684947. Published May 14, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.

2. LifeDNA. lifedna.com/. Accessed May 20, 2018.

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