How the study of epigenetics could help reverse skin aging


“How genes function can depend on environmental influences,” Dr. Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor in the department of dermatology and skin science at the University of B.C., says. “Epigenetic signals are a class of molecules, which can amplify or dampen the activity of a gene.

“Understanding how these molecules work in maintaining our systemic health but also how skin ages, may provide us with better understanding of how skin cells can be repaired over time.”

Li says epigenetic is an “emerging and evolving field” in dermatology.

“Current advances in epigenetics in dermatology are still in its early stages; that is, the data is often not directly and widely translatable to real-world patient care, yet,” Li says. “I am excited at the prospects of how further understanding of anti-aging markers in the skin may help us identify and use certain skin-care ingredients to possibly alter the trajectory of skin aging in humans.

“Greater understanding of how genes are expressed in the skin that affect its restorative and reparative functions may help develop interventions to enable us to look as young as we feel, despite our chronological age.”

While advances linking the two fields remain in the early stages, according to Li, the impact of external factors on skin health is nothing new.

“Environmental and behavioural factors certainly can 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, dull tone 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 furthering the link between epigenetic research and anti-aging skin care.

Speaking via video call from Toronto where she was meeting with the media for the relaunch of the brand’s Premier Cru collection, Mathilde Thomas, co-founder of the brand, delved into the topic of epigenetic research specifically linked to skin aging.

Like a light switched on and off, she explained, environmental and behavioural-linked changes to genes can be reversed. Whereas changes to genetic code are irreversible.

“If your genes are ‘off’ that means they are no longer going to boost your proteins of youth like collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid,” Thomas says. “And these are what really helps plump the skin and moisturize, and that help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.”

The company has worked closely with researchers at Harvard Medical School for nearly a decade exploring the topic.

“We’ve been working with Dr. David Sinclair, who is a specialist in epigenetics,” Thomas says of the renowned 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 did a publication last December in Nature where they proved that they were able to rejuvenate the marked genes, removing the marks. Like a scratched CD, they would polish it.”

In the article, jointly supervised by Sinclair, the researchers note that aging is the “accumulation of epigenetic noise” that in turn effects gene expression, “leading to decreases in tissue function and regenerative capacity.”

Focusing on two enzymes, TET1 and TET2, they were able to identify a “record of youthful 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, we were not able at Caudalie to use the same molecule used for the publication, which is alpha-ketoglutarate, because it is not authorized for use in cosmetics,” Thomas says.

So, the Caudalie team set about screening “hundreds of molecules” to find one that would yield the same results — a boost to the TET enzyme — unearthed in the study.

“Our research team in the heart of the Cosmetic Valley in France, they found a molecule called Honokiol from magnolia,” Thomas explains of the molecule, which is obtained by an eco-extraction process. “And when this is combined with grapevine Resveratrol, it’s going to double the TET enzyme we have within our body.”

The natural phenol was the easy part of the equation, as grapes sit at the centre of the 26-year-old brand’s ingredient offering stemming from the company’s origins in Bordeaux at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, the winery estate belonging to Thomas’s family.

Through their research, Caudalie and Harvard University co-patented a TET8 Technology.

“We called that the TET8 Technology, TET because it boosts the TET enzyme times two, and eight because it’s going to work on eight signs of aging,” Thomas says. “It’s going to correct wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots, radiance and also firmness, elasticity, hydration and it’s going to re-plump.”


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