Have you ever wondered what the older you would look like? Would you pay someone to tell you that you’ll be smooth-browed and flawless well into your fifties? Or would rather not know that you’re on a fast-track to a face full of sharpei-like wrinkles?
This crystal-ball foresight is longer a fantasy. Finding out how we will age is now within our grasp, with a handful of companies using DNA testing to look at our genes and how our skin cells will age, and proposing strategies on how to prevent the worst of it. One company doing a particularly stylish job of it is GeneU in London. It's the brainchild of Professor Chris Toumazou, who was awarded European Inventor of the Year for his groundbreaking microchip that allows swift DNA testing. The professor decided to apply his innovation to beauty and health, creating a “beautylab on a microchip” which can give you a DNA profiling in 30 minutes and tell you how your skin will age.
When I was in London recently I popped in to the flagship store to have my skin analysed. As soon as I step inside the sleek, slimline shopfront on New Bond Street in Central London I know I’m in for a high tech treat. I’m welcomed in by Abena who takes me downstairs to a waiting area, and offers me a glass of champagne. The staff all wear stylish Star Trekesque silver silk uniforms which were designed by the company's Creative Director, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes. He has also been responsible for the décor of the clinic, which, with it’s space age aesthetic and high tech testing “pods” gives you the impression of stepping into a sixties sci-fi film. I fill out a questionnaire on an Ipad and meet geneticist, Maria Karvela, who will be testing my DNA.
A beautiful Greek girl with exquisite bone structure and an enviable complexion, Maria first heard about Professor Toumazou’s technology via a Ted Talk she was watching late at night with her husband – another geneticist. At the time she was working in the Leukaemia department at a hospital and was intrigued by the technology and its possibilities for use in the medical field. She immediately emailed the professor, asking him if she could have the microchip for diagnosing and treating her patients. Professor Chris responded by telling her that his technology was launching into the skincare market first. While it was not the response she expected, Maria discovered that this move is part of a wider strategy. Rather than taking on the medical industry and major pharmaceuticals at the outset, Toumazou is applying the technology to the more friendly and marketable beauty industry. Maria hopes that by mass adoption and acceptance in the beauty world, this may make the micro chip accessible to pharmaceutical and disease prevention.
“I realised actually how important it is to introduce this kind of technology into this field. This is where the future is going to be,” she tells me earnestly – adding that this is one of the reasons she took the job to be Geneu's resident geneticist. The other, she admits, was purely selfish.
“This brand is a game changer because now I can tell my husband that I’m going to spend money on this serum and he can’t say it’s not going to work because I had my DNA tested!” she laughs.
“Instead of walking into a department store and choosing something because you like the marketing, the packaging, or the colours [this is] about educating the client and informing consumers and then empowering them to make their own choices,” she explains, as she shows me into the “pod” - a little room where I’m going to have my test done.
She hands me a long Q-tip and instructs me to roll it around the inside of my cheeks and gums for a minute. The sample is then put into a test tube and heated to separate my DNA strands, which she then puts into a machine that holds the magical microchip.
Thirty minutes later, we have a reading of my results. Maria has analysed two areas of ageing – how many antioxidants I have (which will tell us how well I repel ageing free radicals) and my propensity to collagen degradation. Maria gives me the good news first. “You have high antioxidant levels.” This is great. But what’s not so great is that in the past I haven’t known that, so I’ve been hammering my skin with antioxidants, thinking it will protect me from ageing. Maria tells me about a study that was done on skin cells that were fed with potent antioxidant, green tea. It found that in too-high doses, it actually caused damage to the cells. Apparently it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Who knew?
My collagen analysis is not so rosy. It’s not terrible – but I have a reasonable amount of degradation. I need to keep an eye on it and really use products that address collagen production.
I’m presented with my customised serum that has been blended according my results. It’s in a very cool looking container (“It won the design award for innovation,” Maria tells me proudly) that looks a bit like a cross between an early Ipod and a high tech hip flask. I pull off the sophisticated magnetic-click lid and see two serum pumps each containing a refill that you can click in and out. The first serum is to address my antioxidant levels – it contains a lower dose of those and instead is pumped photo-protective peptides, hydrating hyaluronic acid and potassium rich ingredients. The other serum will address my wimpy collagen issue with vitamins A, C and C, white mulberry and peptides.
Maria places my serum with its refill cartridges into a beautiful black box and hands them to me in a bag that is as lovely as any of those from the designer stores adjacent to us here on New Bond Street.
“This brand doesn’t stand in front of clients and say, ‘we are going to make you look 10 to 20 years younger!’' Says Maria as we wrap up. "We want to understand how you are ageing and we want to understand what your skin is doing, and by giving you the serum we can try and slow biological ageing. This is the optimum we can achieve without having facelifts or Botox or anything.”
I’ve been using the serum for about a month now, not religiously as I should have, but my skin is looking good. Maria’s right, I don’t look ten years younger but my complexion is satisfyingly glowy, hydrated, clear and even-toned. The price – 600 pounds ($1244 Australian) for the test and two week supply (monthly top ups are 300 pounds) is prohibitive for many, but is a satisfyingly scientific way to approach ageing. Perhaps with mass adoption the price will drop, and hopefully one day soon we’ll see Professor Toumazou’s microchip being used in the medical field, too. For the moment, however, we’re pretty lucky that such groundbreaking technology is available for our faces.
Head to Geneu for more information.
Story by Sigourney