“The functioning of genes may depend on environmental influences”, Dr Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor in the Department of Dermatology and Skin Sciences at the University of British Columbia, says. “Epigenetic signals are a class of molecules that can amplify or attenuate the activity of a gene.
“Understanding how these molecules work in maintaining our systemic health, but also how skin ages, can give us a better understanding of how skin cells can be repaired over time.”
Li says epigenetics is an “emerging and evolving field” in dermatology.
“Current advances in epigenetics in dermatology are still in their infancy; that is, the data is often not yet directly and broadly transferable to real-world patient care,” says Li. in the skin may help us identify and use certain skincare ingredients to possibly alter the trajectory of skin aging in humans.
“A better understanding of how genes are expressed in the skin that affect its healing and restorative functions may help develop interventions to allow us to look as young as we feel, despite our chronological age.”
Although progress linking the two fields is still in its infancy, according to Li, the impact of external factors on skin health is nothing new.
“Environmental and behavioral factors can definitely influence the health and vitality of our skin,” she explains. “These external elements can lead to skin damage and signs of premature aging, in the form of wrinkles, dullness and dyspigmentation, as well as the development of skin cancers.
“Examples of positive factors include sun protection, physical activity/exercise and a balanced diet. Examples of negative factors include sleep deprivation, stress, and pollution.
french brand Caudalie is among the companies at the forefront of the connection between epigenetic research and anti-aging skin care.
Speaking via video call from Toronto where she was meeting the media for the brand’s relaunch First Raw Collection, Mathilde Thomas, co-founder of the brand, looked into the subject of epigenetic research specifically linked to skin aging.
Like a light on and off, she explained, environmental and behavioral changes in genes can be reversed. While the modifications of the genetic code are irreversible.
“If your genes are ‘turned off’, that means they’re no longer going to boost your youthful proteins like collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid,” says Thomas. “And those are what really help plump the skin and hydrate it, and help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.”
The company has worked closely with researchers at Harvard Medical School for nearly a decade to explore the topic.
“We worked with Dr. David Sinclair, who is an expert in epigenetics,” says Thomas of the famed biologist, Harvard professor, and author of the bestselling book Lifespan: Why We Age — and Why We Don’t Have To. “Dr. Sinclair and his team have published last December in Nature where they proved that they were able to rejuvenate the marked genes, removing the marks. Like a scratched CD, they were polishing it.
In the paper, co-supervised by Sinclair, the researchers note that aging is “the accumulation of epigenetic noise” which in turn affects gene expression, “leading to decreased tissue function and ability of regeneration”.
By focusing on two enzymes, TET1 and TET2, they were able to identify a “record of young epigenetic information” that could lead to improved tissue function and even regeneration.
When Thomas heard about the latest developments in the field, she was excited and inspired by what she calls the “incredible” results.
“But, at Caudalie, we were unable to use the same molecule as that used for the publication, which is alpha-ketoglutarate, because its use is not authorized in cosmetics”, explains Thomas.
So Caudalie’s team set out to screen “hundreds of molecules” to find one that would give the same results – a boost to the TET enzyme – discovered in the study.
“Our research team in the heart of Cosmetic Valley in France, they found a molecule called Honokiol from magnolia,” Thomas says of the molecule, which is obtained through an eco-extraction process. “And when that’s combined with the resveratrol from the vine, it’s going to double the TET enzyme that we have in our bodies.”
Natural phenol was the easy part of the equation, as grapes are central to the 26-year-old brand’s ingredient offering stemming from the company’s Bordeaux origins at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, the winery owned to Thomas’s family.
Thanks to their research, Caudalie and Harvard University have co-patented a TET8 technology.
“We called it the TET8 technology, TET because it stimulates the TET enzyme twice, and eight times because it will act on eight signs of aging”, explains Thomas. “It will correct wrinkles, fine lines, spots, radiance but also firmness, elasticity, hydration and it will plump up.