genetics and your skin

how big of an impact do your genes actually have on the health of your skin?

Some things just run in the family! Whether you’ve inherited bowleggedness, curly hair, or something else entirely, the genes passed on to you from your family obviously have an impact on your physical health and appearance. But exactly how much of a say do they have? 

Genetics determine and regulate cell production, meaning they tell your body to produce new skin cells when old ones die. Many skin issues come as a result of the rate at which the body produces skin cells; if new cells are produced too quickly, they can clog pores and cause inflammation, and if new cells aren’t produced fast enough, the skin will have more difficulty repairing itself after damage or trauma.

When it comes to the role that genetics play in your skin, there is a lot of debate about nature vs. nurture. How big of an effect can topical treatments and a healthy diet have on skin that’s genetically inclined to show early signs of aging? Or skin that is genetically predisposed to acne or inflammation?

Research on this topic continues to progress, but here’s what we know so far.

signs of aging

Certain visible signs of aging such as sagging or looseness in the skin are dictated by your genetic makeup. Simply put, some people’s genetics allow their skin to easily bounce back from sun exposure, free radical damage, or other stressors, while others are less resilient.

A 2009 study at the Case Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology surveyed 65 pairs of identical twins and came to the conclusion that up to 40% of skin-aging factors are non-genetic. They found that external factors like UV exposure, sunscreen use (or lack thereof), smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and the like had a huge effect on skin aging, as illustrated by the visible differences in the appearances of identical twins.

Another study, conducted from 2007 to 2009 at the Case Western University, surveyed 79 pairs of twins, in which only 1 twin smoked, or 1 twin had been smoking for 5 or more years longer than the other. The twins who smoked showed far more noticeable under eye bags, premature wrinkles, and the like; they appeared visibly older than their counterparts. 

Essentially, identical twins with identical genetic makeup appeared drastically different in age depending on how they chose to live their lives. So, although genetic predispositions might make visible signs of aging more or less likely, research indicates that healthy lifestyle choices can make a difference.

acne

Research also indicates that acne and what causes it is, to a point, genetic. Your genetic makeup plays a huge role in the amount of sebum that your skin produces as well as how it adapts to acne-causing bacteria, stress, and hormonal changes. However, acne can also be caused by external, non-genetic factors, like humidity, pollution, pore-clogging makeup, etc. 

A study conducted at the Department of Dermatology of the Hull Royal Infirmary, which utilized both identical and non-identical twins as subjects, found that identical twins produced sebum at “virtually identical” rates, although the severity of their acne varied. They concluded that although sebum production is determined by genetics, external and environmental factors still had a sizeable effect on the frequency and extremity of breakouts.

Another study, conducted at London’s St. Thomas’ Hospital, studied more than 1500 pairs of twins with the aim of determining how big of a role genetics played in the formation of acne. Within this sample, 81% of acne was caused by genetic factors and the remaining 19% was caused by external or environmental factors. However, the study’s sample consisted of only women, indicating that research on this topic must continue.

the takeaway

Essentially, although genetics obviously and certainly play a huge role in the occurrence of acne and visible signs of aging in the skin, healthy lifestyle choices like wearing sunscreen, abstaining from smoking, staying hydrated, and avoiding inflammatory foods, can have an impact as well.

Being genetically predisposed to show premature signs of aging or develop acne does not mean that you’re doomed to deal with them forever - making healthy lifestyle choices and taking care of your skin play an important role in your skin’s health too. 

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