Exploring theories, potential opportunities of gene-matched cosmetics

May 1, 2012

A new marketing concept is to design boutique cosmetics that complement the genes of the consumer. The idea builds on the current genomic approach to cosmeceutical research where gene expression is being used to study the effect of ingredients on the skin.

Key Points

Q Is it possible to design a cosmetic to match a patient's genes?

Problems arise when extrapolation is made from one individual gene in one cell turning on at a molecular level and the appearance of the skin. The behavior of many, many, many cells must be influenced for the skin to undergo a change observable by the cosmetic user. It actually is unknown how single genetic changes translate into appearance changes.

A buccal mucosal swab may also be submitted supposedly with the consumer's DNA, but how this is processed and analyzed is subject to controversy. There have been some Federal Trade Commission inquiries into this process.

Sequencing the genome of an individual is expensive, and specific markers for certain skin conditions are still beyond the reach of current technology. Designing cosmetics to meet specific genetic needs may still be more marketing hype than practical reality.

Q How effective are the new at-home blue light devices for treating acne?

a: Several devices have been introduced into the at-home market for treating acne. Some of the devices simply use resistive heating to warm the acne lesion. While corporate studies show a reduction in acne lesion healing time by two days, it is hard to do a controlled study of acne lesions because they heal without intervention.

These heating devices claim to speed acne lesion healing, but they are not preventative. This is in contrast to the blue light devices that do not claim to speed acne lesion healing, but prevent the development of new acne lesions. Blue light energizes the porphyrins in Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) organisms and kills the bacteria that may be responsible for acne, however, newer theories of acne etiology indicate that the P. acnes may be a bystander and not an initiator of acne. This may explain why blue light does not cure acne.

It has been demonstrated that blue light can improve acne, but the home use devices have some challenges. The devices are to be used with goggles similar to those used in tanning booths, which provide limited vision. The device must be stroked over the face for prevention and held over the individual acne lesions for treatment. It is estimated that this procedure takes 30 minutes for each side of the face, making total treatment time around one hour. Of course, this may vary depending on the number of acne lesions, the size of the face, the severity of acne, the size of the blue light aperature, and fluence of the light device.

Most device studies have demonstrated results similar to topical benzoyl peroxide. Home blue light devices are a newcomer to the over-the-counter acne treatment market, and further data accompanied by design improvements may be forthcoming.

Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., is a Dermatology Times editorial adviser and consulting professor of dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. Questions may be submitted via email to zdraelos@northstate.net
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