hand holding DNA sequence

DNA personalization: the future of beauty and health products

DNA personalization of beauty and health treatments will be the future norm. Just like the internet changed our lives in the last 20 years, genomics, the science of studying DNA, will drastically change how we live in the future.

Lucas Wartman, doctor and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, provided a first glimpse of the benefit of DNA sequencing. Wartman has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) since his last year in medical school, where ALL is often fatal for adults. In 2011, Wartman relapsed for the second time and no one in the world has ever recovered from a second relapse of ALL. Running out of both treatment options and time, Wartman’s colleges at the Washington University suggested to try sequencing Wartman’s entire genome and see if they can pinpoint the cause of his cancer. The first human genome was sequenced in 2008, but sequencing an individual’s entire genome was still no easy feat. Luckily, Wartman had access to the university’s 26 sequencing machines. After several weeks, scientists was finally able to find the culprit. By another chance of luck, Pfizer, the drug giant, happened to have a drug that targeted this exact problem. After taking the drug, Wartman’s situation improved and the cancer has not returned since.

The benefits of DNA sequencing extends well beyond the treatment of cancer. Obviously not everyone have access to dozens of sequencing machines, but technology is advancing quickly and you will be surprised at what is already available for consumers. In this article, we will explore the use of DNA sequencing to personalize beauty and health treatments.

How DNA tests work

DNA is the underlying molecular code of human beings. It controls everything from your hair colour, talents, and immunity to diseases. While environmental factors also contribute to your physical and internal characteristics, for example exercising to gain muscle strength, your DNA still determines how effective exercising might be. Because each individual is unique, understanding their DNA means we can personalize products and routines to get the most effective and efficient results.

Many companies are already jumping on board this trend to provide personalized beauty and fitness products. They offer a simple DNA test where:

  1. A test kit is sent to the individual
  2. A saliva sample is collected by the individual (using a swab)
  3. The saliva sample is sent back to the analysis lab of the company
  4. Company does analysis of the DNA sample, usually only for a few select genes
  5. A report (and sometimes customized products) is sent back

picture of mouth swab for dna testing

These tests are not as expensive as you think, most kits range from $100 to a few hundred dollars depending on the complexity of the analysis.

In the below sections, we give a few example companies that are already on the market. Keep in mind that since these products are still in early stages, make sure to research in advance on the services they offer before committing and remain critical of the results. Happy DNA testing!

Personalized skincare example


Background: UK based company that is one of the early adaptors of DNA testing for skincare

Focus: DNA test and products focus on protection against skin aging

What: DNA test complemented by a lifestyle profile, only looks at 2 genes that contribute to:

  1. antioxidant protection
  2. collagen breakdown

Product: personalized serums based on DNA results and lifestyle profile with varying concentrations and active ingredients

Cost: £89.00

Website: www.geneu.com


Personalized weight loss and fitness example

DNA Testing Canada

Background: Canadian company that provides comprehensive testing and results for diet and fitness

What: Diet and Fitness Optimization Testing. Through saliva swab DNA test, testing through unconventional samples available for additional cost.

Product: Comprehensive report on diet and fitness related genes, what they mean, and relevant advice. A sample report is available on their website here. Quite an interesting read.

sample DNA testing result

Cost: $669.00

Website: dnatestingcanada.com/product/diet-and-fitness-optimization-testing/

bottles of essential oils

Why you should start using tea tree oil in your skin care routine today

Always on the hunt for acne treatments, this week I will explore tea tree oil, why it works, how to use it, and review some products that I’ve experienced so far.

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil (TTO) is the essential oil obtained from the leaves and branches of the Australian narrow leaved paperbark (Melaleuca alternifolia). Numerous studies have been done on the effects of tea tree oil, largely on its antiseptic effects. In other words, tea tree oil is used to treat wounds and skin conditions, preventing microbial infections. [1]

Due to the antiseptic effects, tea tree oil is most commonly used to treat skin disorders such as acne. [2] Other uses include skin inflammation, wounds, athlete’s foot, lice, mouth odour, cold sores – all because of TTO’s ability to kill bacteria and disinfect.

Treating acne with tea tree oil

Clinical studies found that the same concentration (5%) of tea tree oil is less effective than benzoyl peroxide (BP), a compound commonly found in counter medication for acne treatment. However, tea tree oil resulted in significantly less side effects such as scaling and dryness. [3] So if you are someone with a light acne condition or have sensitive skin, TTO might be for you.

How to use TTO? Tea tree oil can be found in many skincare / makeup products today – I will review some of the tea tree products from Body Shop below. You can also make a simple skin mask by mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with honey.

Read the labels. Check the labels for any tea tree oil product you use. The concentration of tea tree varies even in clinical studies. A 5% concentration is used in the study above for acne treatment, higher concentrations may be used for other conditions. Never ingest TTO!

Body shop tea tree oil products review

I heard of the Body Shop tea tree oil line even before I got into skincare. So during the sale season, I decided to pick up the tea tree targeted gel, the night lotion, and the drops of youth sleeping mask.

Body Shop Tea Tree Night Lotion Bottle

Tea tree blemish fade night lotion – I have been using this consistently for a month now. I like the packaging and the lotion is fairly hydrating which I love. This product does have a distinct smell, which some might not like, but I actually don’t mind because it feels like I’m doing something useful. My acne condition seems to be getting better with this product, and I definitely haven’t had any adverse effects. So I will continue using it hoping to completely calm down my face.

bottle of tea-tree-blemish-gel

Tea tree targeted gel – a concentrated gel for blemished skin. Comes in a mascara like packaging with an applicator tip. It’s very convenient to carry around and easy to apply. However, for $12 you only get 2.5 ml of product. Personally, I felt I was running out of product quickly and the gel was watery. Not recommended unless you are looking for something super portable.

For both of these products, the actual tea tree oil (written as Melaleuca alternifolia oil) is only the 8th ingredient listed. More prominent ingredients include calophyllum inophyllum (or Tamanu) seed oil, willow bark extract, honey. While tea tree oil is definitely present in the formula, in the future it will be interesting to explore the exact concentration.


Drops of youth bouncy sleeping mask – A product that ABSOLUTELY surprised me that I LOVE. Although reading the ingredients list while writing this post I realized this product totally isn’t part of the tea tree line. I was just naive enough to assume because they all have green packaging. T_T Anyways, the marketed ingredient is actually stem cells from edelweiss, a scarce flower found in high altitude mountain ranges.

2 edelweiss flowers on mountain sooo pretty…

The product is a white gel of heavy consistency and smells amazing. I cover my face with this mask as the last step of the night routine and my skin feels completely hydrated. The best part, I wake up in the morning with fresh, radiant skin that is not dry or oily. If that’s not enough, the product comes in a heavy glass container which feels super great to hold – I’m definitely keeping it after I’m done with the mask.


[1] TEA TREE OIL: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions And Warnings – Webmd“. Webmd.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

[2] WHO Monographs On Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 2: Aetheroleum Melaleucae Alternifoliae“. Apps.who.int. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

[3] Carson, C. F., K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews 19.1 (2006): 50–62. PMC. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.


splashing water

Types of toning water and the science behind them

Toning water is a skincare product that is both simple and mysterious. It’s also the first makeup/skincare product that I’ve used a complete bottle of since my immersion into beauty. In this post, I will share some of the different toning waters I’ve tried, what they are, what effects they have, and why they make (or doesn’t make) a difference to your skin.

collection of toning waters

1. Avene thermal spring water

avene thermal spring water bottle

The all star product of the Avene family. Recommended by a drug store beauty staff  to my mother and ended in my hands. Honestly this was one of my first skincare products and I had NO IDEA how to use it. So I just sprayed it on my face after wiping my face and expected it would hydrate my skin. Instead, my skin felt even drier and it soon found a spot on the counter that I never touched. Awhile later feeling the need to investigate, I read the label more closely and realized you are actually supposed to “wait a few minutes, and then pat dray“. As a proud scientist, I was very ashamed of myself for neglecting a simple natural process – evaporation.

graphic on evaporation of water molecules

Water evaporates from the skin. In the same way that sweat evaporates from the skin, leaving you feeling a little cooler. So spraying water onto the skin, no matter how great the product is, will not hydrate the skin. From my personal experience, use a cotton pad to apply toning water for deeper hydration and use your cream or next product quickly to prevent evaporation loss. (This is also why you never want to leave a mask on your face until it’s dry!)

Final note, and this is true for most toning waters, toning water is simply – well – water. So don’t expect it to do anything magical. It’s also only good for short term hydration and will not make your skin more hydrated naturally. But if you just enjoy using the product, like me, go ahead!

2. MUJI toning water for sensitive skin

MUJI is a Japanese home goods and fashion chain that started making it’s way to North America. MUJI brand is “no brand” and focuses on quality and simplicity of their products. I am a huge fan of their stationary and home goods, but I digress. The MUJI skincare line is actually very good for the price range, and they have an especially good line for sensitive skin type

bottle of MUJI toning water

I am so strangely in love with the feel of this plastic bottle…

The toning water for sensitive skin is one of the first MUJI skincare products I bought last summer while in Beijing (also loveee their face cleanser!). Compared to other toners, for example, the Avene thermal spring water, the MUJI water feels a little thicker and therefore stays on the skin longer. Personally I like gently patting it on my face at night or making a quick and cheap water mask. If you have sensitive skin, you have absolutely nothing to worry about with this product.

3. Medicated Sekkisei (by Kose)

Another Japanese brand, and very very popular product. (I will save the background for another post, because these brands are quite complicated.) The medicated sekkisei series is renowned for it’s whitening effect on the skin and has won numerous awards in Japanese beauty. Although some have critiqued it’s higher alcohol content. Sekkisei roughly translates to snowy skin, so medicated sekkisei is essentially a product that gives you clear, white, moist skin with medicinal ingredients.

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS. If Avene and MUJI are 7/10s on my toning water list, this is 9.5/10 – only because scientists don’t like to be 100% sure. Use this water and lotion combination put my acne situation in control within 3 months. My face felt clearer. And this is the only product, so far, that makes my skin feel totally different after application. AND LASTS! OMG!

The only downside, it’s hard to get in North America (in Canada especially) and that hikes the price tag up. I bought both the toner and the lotion together for <$60 in Japan, and on Amazon it’s $50+ for just the toner alone. T_T

5. Skin Intelligence pH skin normalizer

First of all, you are probably wondering what pH skin normalizer is, and what it actually does. Back in grade 7 chemistry class, you might remember dipping small strips of litmus paper that turns blue or red when you dip it into liquid solutions to measure the pH. The skin also has an optimal pH level, around 5, which is slightly acidic. This slight acidity helps protect the skin and being way off can cause serious damage overtime.

graphic of healthy pH level of skin at around 5

This particular pH skin normalizer I use from Skin Intelligence* was a travel sized spray that I tried out a while ago. It’s marketed to contain herbal ingredients to help maintain a healthy pH.

I didn’t notice any immediate effects, however, I was not using it consistently and my skin was in okay condition. That being said, I really liked the feel of product, lighter than the MUJI toner but heavier than the Avene one. The mist is also very fine, which makes the application process super enjoyable and fast.

6. Caudalie micellar cleansing water

This product is not really a toning water. As the name suggests, it actually a cleanser, and a makeup remover, and a moisturizer, all in one. Sounds too good to be true. So I decided to try it out.

Micellar water has actually been around for awhile. Initially invented to help the French avoid their harsh water supply. Micellar water contains micelles, a aggregate of amphiphiles, or a cluster of molecules that are both water loving and fat loving. This means micelles are dissolved in water, but attracts oil and dirt from the skin. The product should remove makeup, clean the face, and also leave the skin hydrated at the same time. Perfect for traveling.

Personally after a couple of uses of the Caudalie micellar cleansing water, I have no doubts its makeup removing abilities. Foundation and eyebrow products come off easily with a quick wipe so that’s pretty amazing. Although my skin don’t feel dry after using the product, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of no rinsing though – since I’m so in love with my current cleanser. So my next goal will be testing with just the micellar for a night and see what happens! Stay tuned.


*FYI, we may get a small benefit from the sale of this product. Love Wendy. Get more details here.