Of specific interest to scientists is genomics - the study of gene activity or “expression” - which describes how genes function, interact with one another and respond to environmental stimuli. In contrast to genetics (which focuses on the sequence of genes and takes more of a static snapshot), the study of genomics looks at genes as a dynamic system to create a catalogue of gene activity patterns. Previously, genes or proteins could only be analyzed individually. With advanced scientific tools such as multi-array gene chip technology researchers can now monitor tens of thousands of gene changes in hundreds of subjects in a single experiment.
A particular area of focus within genomics, for skincare brands like Olay, is the process of skin aging. A recent clinical study run by Olay / Procter & Gamble and Dr. Alexa Kimball, Professor of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School / Massachusetts General Hospital, examined changes in skin appearance and gene expression patterns of women in nearly every decade of life – from their 20s to their 70s – and across ethnicities – Caucasian, African, Hispanic and Asian. Initial results from this Multi-Decade and Ethnicity (MDE) study were presented at the World Congress of Dermatology in June of this year, and highlighted two interesting findings.
First, the study identified a group of women whose perceived skin age was significantly younger than their real age, and found unique gene expression patterns that those women have in common. The affected genes are responsible for a range of molecular pathways, including those involved in cellular energy production, cell junction and adhesion processes, skin and moisture barrier formation, DNA repair and replication, and anti-oxidant production. While we all have these genes in our skin, how strongly they are expressed is distinct in these “exceptional skin agers.” These patterns are not entirely due to the genetics of the exceptional skin agers – we know they can be influenced by environmental factors, lifestyle choices and even skincare habits as well. It is exciting to think that the genes that make up the unique gene expression patterns may hold the key to successful skin aging, and that understanding why they are acting differently in these women – nature and nurture – could enable Olay researchers to help more women achieve skin that looks ageless at any stage of life.
Second, the study revealed distinct gene expression “tipping points” that occur in different decades as we age. For example, gene expression linked to the production of natural antioxidants in skin starts to decrease already in our twenties. The expression of genes responsible for skin barrier formation and function on the other hand doesn’t decline until the fifties. These type of data can certainly help researchers develop more personalized skincare products for women at different ages and life stages.
What’s next? Olay scientists are working with genotyping and DNA sequencing technologies to learn more about genes and gene variations associated with skin aging and how they differ between people. These efforts will help to inform the ultimate frontier for beauty: truly personalized skin care.
About the Expert
After gaining a masters degree in chemistry from the University of Karlsruhe (Germany), Frauke completed her PhD at the University of Hanover (Germany), working in the areas of biotechnology and fragrance / flavour chemistry. She joined P&G in Health Care Research & Development in 2000, where her research focused on understanding the needs and desires of consumers around the world and translating this understanding into breakthrough technical solutions.
After five years in Health Care Frauke transferred to P&G Beauty and has since worked across hair and skin care categories, on brands such as Olay, Pantene and Wella. Frauke is now Principal Scientist & Scientific Communications Leader for Global Skin Care and Olay, and her role spans many areas of research, ranging from Clinical Studies Design and Methods & Claims Development all the way to Communication Development and Market Research. Her scientific expertise areas include cosmetic chemistry, skin & hair physiology, and skin care technology development.
Frauke is also an active member of the German Society of Chemists and the British Society of Cosmetic Chemists. She has written several peer-reviewed publications, contributed scientific articles to trade magazines, and authored book chapters for cosmetology text books. She represents P&G Beauty at press and industry events as well as scientific and dermatology conferences.