What's Behind Flawless Skin? We Asked a Dermatologist

BIDMC Contributor

NOVEMBER 20, 2018

Vitamin C serum, micro algae jelly, revitalizing moisturizer, acne therapy mask… there are endless products in the market that promise to erase wrinkles, shrink pores, lighten scars… give you perfect, glowing skin. According to data compiled by the U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey, 1.35 million Americans spent $500 or more on skin care products in a three-month period in 2017.

Great skin in a jar? Maybe. But there are other important factors that influence how our skin looks and behaves. Like genetics.

Genetics play a key role — though not the only role — in our skin's appearance. Human bodies have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes that are made up of DNA. These genes determine everything about us — including skin. Genetics determine skin type (dry, normal, or oily), many skin conditions, and even wrinkles.

When it comes to aging, there are two important factors at play. "One, the genes you are born with affect how you age. And also which genes turn on and off over time" says Alexa Boer Kimball, MD, a researcher and the chief executive officer at Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Second, what you are exposed to and what you do also affects your skin."

Sun damage, pollution, drinking, smoking and too little sleep can add years to one's face. So does stress. A study found that divorced women appeared 1.7 years older than their twin. Besides lines and wrinkles, stress can also induce acne and psoriasis that affect skin's appearance.

So, is there a secret to youthful, healthy skin? A study published by Dr. Kimball in 2017 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, showed that certain proteins found in women who appeared younger than their chronological age were similar to those in women who were actually younger in age.

"We were testing whether the genes being activated in people who had younger appearing skin showed different patterns than average aged people," she says.

In women who appeared younger than their age, Kimball saw increased activity in genes associated with cell repair and turn over, response to environmental injury, and those important to the fundamental components of the skin — all of which can impact the appearance.

While we have no control over genetics, we do have control over the choices we can make — wearing sunscreen, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy, avoiding sugar, exercising and giving up/not smoking. Topical retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids promote cell turnover and can fight acne and signs of aging. Bottom line: a good skin care regimen along with a healthy lifestyle is the best way to beautiful skin.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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