Innovative skincare products which undo your previous skin sins and repair past damage mark a new era of anti-ageing - but are antioxidants redundant?

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Anti-ageing methods have long been based on trying to replicate our skin’s natural defences, be it boosting depleting levels of youth-giving collagen or applying creams rich in amino acids. But the latest products that promise to keep skin looking younger have been born out of Nobel Prize-winning research which is based on an even deeper understanding of how our skin works, harnessing the power of the most exciting skincare ingredient known to date: DNA repair enzymes.

In a nutshell, skin damage (and the subsequent signs of ageing on the surface) is caused by DNA damage, which occurs naturally as we age as well as when we’re exposed to UV light and pollution, among other things. Until now we’ve been relying on SPF to protect us, along with anti-ageing heroes such as antioxidants to reduce the effects of age and environmental aggressors. But there’s only so much they can do - especially when you factor in the research that shows sun damage continues for up to three hours after exposure, making using a good sun cream only half the battle.

And what of past damage? Skincare experts have long warned us that even if you slathered yourself in SPF50 every day for the rest of your life (and by all means do), you couldn’t undo those previous years of sun exposure - and it’s this kind of damage that can lead to skin cancer. So although protection remains the key for both younger-looking and healthier skin, it’s how we repair the damage, past and present, which has caught the interest of the world’s leading skincare specialists - and their discovery of DNA repair enzymes is now making its way into our everyday beauty products.


Dr Ronald Moy, a pioneering research scientist and dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, has created DNA Renewal, a range of skincare that uses these enzymes to rejuvenate the skin. But how does it work? "DNA repair enzymes work like a seamstress,” Dr Moy tells me. “They find damaged DNA, cut it out and then patch it with undamaged DNA.” It sounds so simple, but its effects are impressive; one anecdote that Dr Moy likes to share is of when his wife had burnt her back sunbathing. A researcher at heart, he swiftly applied his cream containing DNA repair enzymes to just half of the burnt area and sure enough, the redness had cleared within an hour and disappeared by the next day. Of course, protection will always be essential in preventing skin damage (“The best defence is a good offence,” maintains Dr Moy), but now, for the first time, we can reverse the effects of UV exposure.

Now, for the first time, we can reverse the effects of UV exposure

As with most skin-reviving ingredients, we already have DNA repair enzymes in the body - but of course, they deplete as we age, and we lose them at a faster rate once we reach 30 (just as we need them the most… thanks, Mother Nature). So can topping these up keep wrinkles at bay?

"DNA repair enzymes work to reduce wrinkles and spots, since those signs are physical manifestations of DNA damage,” explains Dr Moy. Even better, unlike some other potent anti-agers (Retin-A, we’re looking at you) which can cause irritation, DNA repair enzymes are suitable for all skin types, as Dr Moy explains. “The ones we have in our formulas are supplementary repair enzymes to help support the natural process, derived from marine material like plankton and algae. Since they occur naturally in everyone, it works no matter the skin type."


Don’t think you’re exempt if you’re under 30, though - in fact, Dr Moy believes using these power ingredients at a younger age will create better results; and as well as the sun it’s sugary foods, alcohol and stress that can contribute to underlying skin damage. "Even if you're young or lucky enough to have no visible signs of damage to your skin by the sun, pollution or ageing, the fact is that we all have DNA damage. In fact, in a lot of cases DNA damage is accumulated when you're younger but doesn't show up until decades later because of your body's decreased ability to fight damage. By supplementing from a younger age, you are essentially helping to minimise your accumulated damage over time."

So far, so miraculous - but it’s important to note that not everything can be fixed, as Dr. Frauke Neuser, Olay Principal Scientist, tells me. "We have two types of DNA in our cells. The first is the DNA in the cells’ nucleus, this can be rebuilt and repaired; the second is the DNA in the cells’ mitochondria, which cannot be repaired. The DNA in the cells’ mitochondria functions like a record of all the UV damage you accumulate in your life."


There’s no arguing that the research around DNA repair enzymes is groundbreaking - but what about all those years of investing in antioxidants to combat ‘oxidative stress’? Is it time to put down the chia seeds and resveratrol ? Dr Moy is sceptical of their benefits. "Antioxidants are about a 50-year-old theory that we've since made improvements on - instead of potentially mopping up DNA damage, we now know that we can attack damage head on. Retinoids kind of fall in the same boat. I used to be a huge proponent of retinoids myself and I still think that they are great, but the industry is lagging behind. What science has found is that growth factors [another ingredient in Dr Moy’s skincare] are actually a way more effective and significant improvement on retinoids."

Skincare expert and celebrity facialist Debbie Thomas isn’t ready to hang up that 50-year-old skincare just yet, and notes that even lasers can’t undo all damage, so prevention will remain the closest thing to a cure. "I think there is a place for all ingredients - different skin types and skin issues will require different approaches. However, these newer enzymes and growth factors do seem to have the edge when it comes to repair; you can only get healthy skin if it is able to repair itself effectively."

Dr Neuser believes they still have a place in our routines. "Antioxidants, retinoids and other well studied and clinically proven anti-ageing ingredients such as peptides and niacinamide, still have an important role to play in skin care. Skin ageing is such a complex, multi-factorial process that any single ingredient would not be able to offer all-around optimum protection and results."

Antioxidants are big business - but does that make it a marketing issue? Dr Moy certainly seems to think so, which is why it may take a while for the newer science to reach the masses via high street products. "I think eventually DNA repair enzymes will end up being universally used. Right now, I think a huge barrier is that the industry has perpetuated the antioxidant discussion to such an extent it's almost impossible to redirect the conversation in a new way, because that conversation represents decades and millions of marketing dollars."


It’s not just the enzymes that are putting a spotlight on our DNA - more and more skincare companies are launching with an offer of tailoring their products to your personal genetic code. But can they really work?

"I believe the biggest opportunity when it comes to this field is the deeper understanding of how small differences in gene and DNA structure affect skin ageing in different groups of women,” muses Dr Neuser. "This would help to predict how you will age and prevent it from happening, or least slow it down before you can see visible signs. Can a genetic test (combined with lifestyle analysis) group women by different ageing patterns? For example, will you suffer more from wrinkles, or age spots or sagging? If you will suffer more from wrinkles, at what age will they appear, where on the face and how severe will they be? Olay is working in a research partnership with the world’s leading personal genetics company 23andMe to answer these questions, with the vision of creating more personalised products based on advanced diagnostics."


What’s next in the world of anti-ageing? Dr Neuser thinks DNA will play a huge role, but not necessarily in regards to repair enzymes. "Predicting how people will age before the signs of ageing are visible, and preventing the problems before they occur; to do this we need a deeper understanding of how small differences in gene and DNA structure affect skin ageing in different groups of women. Genetic testing will play a huge role in this and we already have some of this in personalised medicine."

Dr Moy believes it’s the science of the formula that matters, and the future will require brands to be smarter about what goes onto our skin. “What's most important about the skincare routine you're using is the efficacy and delivery system of your ingredients. I think gene creams will be the key in the future of anti-ageing; as a whole, our bioengineering capabilities and understanding of the body and chemicals has grown so much that I think the big players in the industry will need to reevaluate the ‘filler' ingredients they've been using."


While the anti-ageing market will no doubt be flooded with those looking for younger, brighter skin, DNA repair enzymes have preventative qualities too, putting them at the forefront of research into skin cancer treatment. “There is proof in [DNA repair enzymes] working to prevent actinic keratosis (which are the precancers) and, in the case of the 2001 Lancet Journal study, it showed a significant slowing in skin cancers in patients with xeroderma pigmentosum, which bodes well for its effect on skin cancer in the general population,” says Dr Moy. Now that’s worth a spot in our skincare regime.

Where to buy

Dr Moy’s DNA Renewal range is available on Cult Beauty , from £17.50

Priori Cellular Recovery Serum with DNA Enzyme Complex,  £92

Neova DNA Total Repair,  $99

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