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Skin aging: the genetics behind and how to slow it down

Skin aging: the genetics behind and how to slow it down

The wish to feel and look young and fresh is something most of us can probably relate to, and what signals youth more than a radiant and smooth skin? For generations the search for ways to unlock prolonged youth have kept scientists and the beauty industry all over the world busy. Even though we still haven’t found a perfect answer to our youthful aspirations, research has indeed identified a few key factors that will impact the way our skin ages. In this article we will go through some of the most important areas in terms of skin aging from a genetic perspective. Relevant lifestyle and skin care choices will also be discussed.

Firmness and elasticity of the skin is largely related to gene variants that regulate tissue synthesis and degradation of the extracellular matrix (a non-cellular network consisting of macromolecules and minerals, such as collagen, enzymes and glycoproteins that provide support to surrounding cells). Carrying certain gene variants in this area could lead to accelerated skin aging and skin sensitivity, especially after exposure to sunlight. Thus, it will be important to use a high-quality sun protection as well as targeting the cellular matrix with protective and strengthening moisturizers containing certain beneficial ingredients. In addition, certain nutrients such as vitamin C and hydrolysed type 1 collagen should be consumed daily.

Sun exposure is one of the most influential factors when it comes to the visible aging of the skin. But depending on our genetic makeup, we might be better or worse off at handling the UV light. For example, the ability to produce melanin (the pigment in the skin) depends on certain gene variants involved in melanin production. Moreover, it has been shown that another pigment, called pheomelanin, is associated with a decreased tanning ability and an increased skin sensitivity when exposed to sunlight. Carrying certain gene variants that increase predisposition for having higher amounts of this pigment may in other words lead to increased sun damage and thus increased skin aging. By limiting the sun exposure to the face and always wearing sun protection when it’s sunny these risks can be mitigated. Furthermore, moisturizers containing photoprotective agents as well as certain vitamins such as vitamin C and B3 are beneficial.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can lead to increased oxidative stress by causing damage to our DNA. Cigarette smoke, synthetic chemicals, smoked foods and a diet high in sugar and transfats are all examples of pro-carcinogens that can expose us to an excess of free radicals, which in turn can lead to accelerated aging. If we carry genetic variants that puts us at an increased risk of oxidative stress it is important to incorporate a diet that is high in antioxidants since antioxidants have the ability to neutralise the reactive molecules.

In our everyday lives we are constantly faced with toxins and pollutants in the environment, which our body needs to handle. The body's natural detoxification process involves two steps: phase 1 and phase 2. A toxin initially enters phase 1 and is reduced to smaller fragments. These fragments then proceed to phase 2, where they bind to molecules such as glutathione, glycine and sulphate. This process creates a new non-toxic molecule that can be excreted from the body. For some of us, this detoxification process may be decreased, a state that has been associated with certain gene variants. If that is the case, we may suffer an increased risk for cellular damage and accelerated aging. To counteract this, it is important to decrease exposure to pollutants as much as possible as well as increase the dietary intake of a variety of vegetables. Moreover, skincare products containing for example resveratrol, tocopherol, L-carnosine, vitamin C and vitamin B3 are beneficial as well as supplements of resveratrol, NAC, vitamin C and curcumin. 

Another area that could lead to increased signs of aging is that of inflammation. Inflammation is a normal and vital immune response, and the release of inflammatory substances is governed by certain genes involved in the inflammatory response. However, in some cases these genes remain “switched on” for a prolonged time. If that happens, we may become susceptible to increased skin sensitivity and premature aging. By testing for the relevant gene variants, it is possible to identify whether or not this is an area that should be prioritized. In that case an anti-inflammatory diet combined with the right kind of skincare products would be highly recommended.