Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bespoke Beauty

GeneU located at 65 New Bond Street, London.
by Delia von Neuschatz

On London's Bond Street, famed mecca of luxury, you will find many coveted items enticingly proffered by the likes of Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and so many more temples to the good life. But did you know that you will also find something much more elusive — the promise of smoother, dewier skin? Yes, there are many lotions and potions pledging to turn back the clock, but not any readily available ones that are customized to your own genetic code.

At the futuristic looking GeneU, tucked near the intersection of Brook Street, you won't find shelves groaning with merchandise or anyone handing out free samples. But you will find what may very well be the future of skin care — products based on the genes that affect your skin's aging process. There are labs here and abroad that provide this personalized service, but they often require a visit to a doctor's office and the results are not available for several weeks. GeneU, on the other hand, delivers the results in half an hour — enough time to grab a cappuccino or get a manicure while you wait.
Dr. Tania Garcia, one of the scientific advisers at GeneU and Sharan Sandhu, Assistant Retail Manager
When I visited the shop on a typical British summer day (i.e. cold and rainy), I was greeted by the young and flawlessly-skinned Dr. Tania Garcia who gave me some mouthwash in preparation for a cheek swab and then proceeded to extract the DNA from my saliva through a chemical purification process. The goal is to detect variations in two genes: one which regulates the rate of collagen breakdown and the other which determines the body's level of antioxidant absorption. She then administered a lifestyle survey asking about my smoking and drinking habits, stress levels, etc. The results of these tests were fed into an algorithm and presto, 30 minutes later I was handed a stylish case with two serums containing the specific dosages of anti-oxidants and collagen required by my genetic make up. The key to the speedy process is a patented microchip developed not by a dermatologist, but by an electrical engineer.
Dr. Garcia beginning the process of DNA purification. The Barcelona native holds a Ph.D. in genetics and oncology.
GeneU's testing kit. For the sake of privacy, test results are incinerated. Only the product recommendations are stored.
Dr. Christofer Toumazou, the chip's inventor, is a professor at Imperial College London with more than 50 patents to his name including one for an artificial pancreas for Type I diabetes and one for a pediatric ear implant. He aims to do nothing less than revolutionize medicine by bringing medical grade technology to the consumer. The goal is to administer the correct concentrations of product. "Too much collagen will damage the skin. You will get collagen overload. Too little and it won't have an impact," explains Dr. Toumazou whose interest in DNA was sparked more than a decade ago by his son's predisposition to a genetic renal disease. He is now working to develop an artificial kidney.
Dr. Christofer Toumazou holding his patented microchip. "Imagine the impact if we can give people not only the right medicine, but exactly the correct amount," he says. The inventor hopes that the chip will eventually be used to rapidly screen for genetic diseases, including cancer. In 2014, Dr. Toumazou won the prestigious European Inventor Award for his lab-on-a-chip technology. A year earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron asked him to speak at the G8 summit.
Rather improbably joining him in the venture is Nick Rhodes, the smooth-skinned 52-year old keyboard player for Duran Duran. Yes, that's right, the 80s new wave band. The two men met by chance several years ago under very glamorous circumstances. They were seated next to each other on a private jet headed to a sheikh's birthday party in Venice. It was then that Rhodes, a long time devotée of make up and moisturizer, encouraged Dr. Toumazou to start his own company rather than just license the microchip technology. "I completely believe in the product and the technology and if you can afford this, it's amazing," says the musician who now serves as GeneU's Creative Director.
Nick Rhodes: "I came up with the name for the brand, and helped form the identity of the company. It was exciting for me – something I'd always wanted to do. I love science and technology but also the arts, fashion and design. I did everything from the adverts, photography, design, branding and in-store design. I was also very involved with the packaging."
Nick Rhodes on his wedding day in 1984. The groom wore the same pink shade of Yves Saint Laurent lipstick as his bride, American heiress Julie Ann Friedman.
Nick Rhodes and Dr. Christofer Toumazou.
The interior of the concept store. The artwork consists of enlarged images of Dr. Toumazou's microchips.
Coralie Dufort, Retail Manager. The silver silk staff uniforms were designed by the creator of Duran Duran's fluorescent suits in its "Rio" video.
The store's lower level lounge houses a lab ...
... in which staff members check for cross-contamination of the saliva samples.
So, just how amazing are the results? Double-blind clinical trials found that GeneU reduces fine lines and wrinkles by as much as 30% in 12 weeks. "You have to be realistic and objective," says Rhodes. You'll never get a product that will give you the skin of a teenager 40 years on. However, I found particularly underneath the eyes, the finer lines have been reduced."
The elegant packaging.
The color options for the award-winning unisex dispensers. According to Dr. Garcia, 30% of customers are men. They are attracted to the product because of the technology.
The antioxidant and collagen serums are contained in two vials. One squirt of each (first the antioxidant and then the collagen) are to be applied twice a day, in the morning and evening. The serums contain collagen, Vitamins A and C, white mulberry root extract, red baron grass and tripeptides - amino acids that improve skin condition and encourage cell renewal.
Not surprisingly, this luxury product comes at a luxury price: £600 or about $900 for the test plus a two week's supply. Then, it's £300 or about $450 per month's supply or £850 ($1,250) for 12 weeks worth of serum. This is what a designer pair of shoes will set you back these days and it won't do anything for your wrinkles (although it may do wonders for your mood).

Don't want to shell out the big bucks or submit to a cheek swab? In that case, our beauty experts at NYSD Beauty and Travel Beauty recommend their best-selling serum, Institut Esthederm's E.V.E Serum Source. Its gel-like texture provides superior moisture and is packed with skin plumping hyaluronic acid among other biomimetic ingredients.

The science has its skeptics, however. "There are more similarities in our DNA than there are differences and most products that you have available now will do great for you even if you don't know your own specific DNA," says Dr. Doris Day, Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center.

As for me, GeneU's DNA test revealed that while my levels of antioxidant protection were very good, the levels of collagen degradation were alarmingly high. So, I've been dutifully slathering on the two serums provided to me after my visit to GeneU and I have noticed a slightly smoother texture to my skin. This is after using them for about three weeks. I've also realized that they make for a very good primer as they give a flawless finish and help my make up stay on all day. In addition, because the collagen serum is quite viscous, I find that I don't need to apply moisturizer on top of it. That was surprising for me because I have dry skin. So, here I am further justifying the cost by eliminating expensive jars of night cream from the beauty regimen.

In the works at GeneU is the expansion of the genetic testing range. Additional genes considered for analysis are those that affect skin conditions like acne, rosacea and cellulite. You want the product, but would rather not hop on a transatlantic flight? You'll be glad to know that the company is launching a home testing service this autumn. Whether you're a fan or a critic of genetically-based skin care products, one thing's for sure – bespoke beauty is the future.
Expert tip: apply serum to damp skin in order to lock in moisture and then take an extra 15-30 seconds to massage it into the skin. Follow with moisturizer.