Do our genes really make a difference to how our skin ages? you ever find yourself looking in the mirror and (half) jokingly say, “I’m turning into my mother!”? Or do you look at two people who are the same age and wonder how they can look years apart? The appearance of our skin, as visible as it is to the world, is very much associated with youth or growing older. And there’s no getting away from it, genetics do have a significant part to play in how ‘well’ we age, so it’s not unusual to see echoes of your mum in your reflection. Of course, genetics are not the whole story…

How important are our genes to our skin?

Scientists estimate that we each have between 20,000 and 25,000 different genes. These genes tell our cells how to make proteins, such as collagen and melanin, which affect, amongst other things, the health and appearance of our skin.

There is no one specific skin gene. Instead, many genes work together to affect individual traits. At the same time, many traits can be affected by a single gene.

Skin conditions such as rosacea and psoriasis tend to run in families and have a significant genetic link. Other inherited skin conditions include albinism, epidermolysis bullosa, ichthyosis and neurofibromatosis.

However, not all genetic skin disorders are congenital or present at birth. Some genetic mutations and anomalies occur as our skin cells age or because of environmental factors such as chemical exposure.

Skin cancer is one condition that appears to result from a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Evidence would suggest that people are more at risk of skin cancer if they have light skin, freckles, moles or a family history of the disease. It is also influenced by sun exposure and living nearer the equator, for example. In the case of skin cancer, something goes awry with the body’s normal process of generating new skin cells. This means that as new cells develop, they grow as a cancerous mass.

But let’s put skin disorders to one side for the moment. One issue that affects us all is the ageing process. We can’t stop it but it would appear that some people have the genetic make-up to slow it down. If your mum looks younger than her age, you may be able to look forward to ageing well too.

If your mum’s skin isn’t standing the test of time as well as you’d like, don’t despair! The good news is that it doesn’t always follow that your skin will age in the same way as your mother’s. In fact, your genes could lean more towards your father and his side of the family. Also, there are a huge number of external factors which influence the health and appearance of our skin and have nothing to do with genetics. These factors can make a huge difference to how your skin ages.

External factors that affect our skin

While genetics are a permanent factor over which we have no control, we can do something about the impact of external factors such as our environment, diet, skin care products and routine, sun protection and lifestyle, e.g. smoking, drug use and drinking.

These are all things that have a massive influence on how well our skin ages. Simple changes such as using natural skincare products with high vitamin A, B and C content or washing our make-up off at night without fail can make a big difference. Giving up smoking will boost your circulation and revitalise your complexion, while wearing sunscreen will play a significant role in protecting you from skin cancer and sun damage.

As much as we love our mums, their skin story doesn’t automatically have to be ours. Yes, we are all dealt a genetic hand by Mother Nature but how we play that hand is down to us.