BY ALEXANDRA BREEN
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
What’s the next frontier in beauty? If you believe in the upswing in science-based brands, it’s your very genetic make up. “Bespoke” skincare brands such as Skin Inc. are popping up in places like Sephora, allowing consumers to create custom blended serums based on their specific needs. Do a quick search online and you’ll find made-to-order facial products by IOMA, TruthArtBeauty and Jennifer Young are just a click away. And then there’s SkinShift and GeneU, two companies making news for their high-tech take on the trend: tailor-made beauty products based on your DNA. A recent study valued the global market for individualized skincare products at $12.2-billion. “There are a number of ways you can now get personalized skincare,” says Dr. Jennifer Salsberg of Toronto’s Bay Street Dermatology Centre. “Getting a sense of what patients need by talking to them or doing questionnaires has been done forever,” she adds. “The DNA thing takes it to the next level, obviously.”
“It’s not about saying this is better than high-end product lines like Crème de la Mer or La Prairie,” says Christofer Toumazou, GeneU founder and professor at London’s Imperial College. But why buy all of these serums if your skin doesn’t need them? “I wanted to bring medical technology to the consumer,” he explains, “and tackle an industry that needs some real science.” An electrical engineer by training, he previously developed an artificial pancreas for Type I diabetes patients, an artificial ear implant that allows deaf children to hear, and a wireless heart monitor. His latest accomplishment is the Bond Street GeneU flagship store in London. Here, “retail scientists” with PhDs (in fields like oncology, for example) take a customer’s saliva swab, put it onto a chip, and 30 minutes later recommend two of 18 face serums based on their collagen degradation and antioxidant protection scores from the genetic test and answers to a brief questionnaire. “It’s about concentrations. It’s about optimized self. What is optimal for your DNA?”
Skinshift, based in the U.S., operates on similar principals. The big difference is that their DNA test is sent to a lab for a reading. “Skin Shift was created to specifically look at the strengths and weaknesses in a person’s genetic code as it relates to skin health and beauty,” explains the brand’s founder, Dr. Ruthie Harper, whose post-graduate training is in internal medicine. Based on her clients’ results (consultations can also be done online or over the phone after mailing in a DNA swab), a combination of four serums and five supplements are recommended. “This is the biggest breakthrough in skincare that we’ve seen in the last decade,” she says. “I think personalization and the use of genetics is a game changer.”
Salsberg says that while there is a true scientific basis for what they’re doing, a DNA test can’t give you the whole story. “Your genes and DNA is one component of what is going to happen with your skin and how you’re going to age, but there are so many other factors as well. Lifestyle, what type of sun exposure have you had. Where are you from? Do you smoke? Do you drink? Those types of things,” she explains.
Montreal-based pharmaceutical compounding company Medisca’s take on the trend – the recently launched Blend and Boost product line – may represent a middle ground to some. Having seen first-hand how customization alters patients’ lifestyles and improves their health from a pharmaceutical perspective, research and development manager Panagiota Danopoulos says Medisca decided to try and bring the same benefits to the skincare field. While Blend and Boost doesn’t involve a prescription, a physician and a pharmacist are needed to prepare the end product. After answering a brief questionnaire about skin concerns at a Blend and Boost-affiliated medical clinic, two product suggestions are generated from over 80 possible options. “We don’t want to eliminate the doctor’s expertise. I may think my main concern is anti-aging but they might think sun damage should be focus,” adds Danopoulos. “The doctor makes the final selection and then a compounding pharmacist mixes the concoction.”
There are also several apps popping up targeting individual skincare needs and concerns, too. My Skin Authority provides skin assessments online by trained estheticians via platforms like Skype or FaceTime, who then prescribe a regimen using Skin Authority products. Spruce offers virtual dermatologist appointments – upload a picture, share your concerns and receive advice and even prescriptions within 24 hours. And then there’s Visada, an app that analyzes your selfie using computer algorithms, and gives customized beauty advice and product suggestions based on the findings.
Harper says the advancing interest in individualized beauty boils down to this: “People really want to know what is unique about them and what products can best suit them,” adding that, “You really don’t know what is going to be most beneficial to you unless you know what the strengths and weakness of your skin are.” Now, thanks to this new crop of DNA-focused brands and custom skincare focused apps, it’s easier than ever to find out.