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Molecular Biology, Gene Expression, and the Prospects for Personalized Cosmetics

Written by Howard Epstein, PhD, Director of Technical Services – EMD Performance Materials Corporation

Introduction to Gene Expression

Just prior to the initiation of The Human Genome Project (HGP) that began in 1990 (1990-2003), publications in the press predicted that with the sequencing of the human genome, cures for many of the diseases of man would be discovered. The reality is that a large part of the early work was devoted to the development of more efficient techniques to elucidate the genome. The goal of the project was to analyze the structure of human DNA and determine the location of all human genes. DNA from model organisms other than human were studied to provide comparative information to understand the functioning of the human genome. Initially it was too costly to sequence whole human genomes. For this reason, the investigators decided to study sites on the genome where many people have a variant DNA unit. This project called HapMap focused on cataloging common variants found in European, Asian and African genomes. (For more information see;

Gene Expression and the Cosmetics Industry

Since the conclusion of the Human Genome Project, studies of DNA variation have enabled genetic testing that can show a predisposition to a variety of illnesses.

Genetic testing has expanded to the cosmetics industry for evaluation of ingredients that can be optimally paired with consumers based on a gene analysis of the individual.

Currently one typically formulates for the average consumer, the aim of personalized skin care is to match each person with a formulation that will work best for that individual. To formulate personalized products, one needs to consider how variations in our genes influence our skin. Consider genetic variations that contribute to height, hair and skin color. It is known that different skin types respond differently to radiation including UVB UVA and blue light. While not completely understood, biological pathways that are responsible for these variations are constantly being identified.

Two example patents/patent application are;


Factors from the environment, our diets and lifestyle also influence our health and skin and the genes that interact with these influences need to be considered as well in formulating personalized products. Environment, diet and lifestyle have an influence on each person’s epigenetically- controlled gene expression. Many of these genes are identified, knowing how epigenetic gene expression may be modified by alteration of diet, lifestyle and targeted care. Epigenetic changes can help determine whether genes are turned on or off and influence the production of proteins in certain cells. The mechanism of epigenetics ensures that one’s DNA is not necessarily their destiny.

Safeguarding Personal Genetic Information

Safeguarding of personal health information is of the upmost concern. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) enacted in 2008 was intended to protect Americans from discrimination based on their genetic information in both health insurance and employment. The Act prohibits health insurers from engaging in genetic discrimination.


Dr. Howard Epstein is Director, Technical Services for EMD Performance Materials Corporation, an affiliate of Merck, KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. He was a scholar in residence at the University of Cincinnati department of dermatology and received his Ph.D. in Pharmacognasy from the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio during that time. Howard has authored chapters in various cosmetic technology textbooks including Apply Topically, and a chapter in the Manual of Gender Dermatology. He was editor of the Journal of Cosmetic Science and authored and edited various chapters in Harry’s Cosmeticology, ninth edition recently published. Howard has extensive experience in the cosmetic industry, formulating for Estee Lauder, Maybelline, Bausch & Lomb and KAO brands. Howard has six formulation-related patents and currently serves on the editorial board of the dermatological journal SKINmed, representing the cosmetics industry to dermatologists.




"Content provided by EMD Performance Materials. Examples, images, and references are provided for informational purposes only. The information is the opinion of the author and its appearance in this blog is not considered an endorsement by the SCC.  SCC makes no representation, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability or completeness of any information contained therein."