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How our DNA will break radical new ground for beauty, health and lifestyle brands

Sophie Maxwell, Futures Director

Some of the most exciting consumer-facing innovations, championing this desire for products formulated exclusively for the individual, are taking place in the health and personal care space and are the result of techniques created through new easier access to consumers’ individual DNA. But what could the implications of engineering ourselves ultimately be?

Today’s consumers are increasingly demanding brands that are centred on answering their individual needs and wants, strengths and weaknesses – and radical breakthroughs in science and technology are increasingly making the answering of these demands much easier and more specific.

In the healthcare sector we are seeing diets being tailored by nutritionists around biological profiles, while in the beauty sector our genes have first been mimicked and are now being sequenced using new techniques to create optimised solutions inspired for the first time directly by their consumer. The Genomics revolution is upon us, and we are only just beginning to explore its potential and understand its implications…

But more of this later. In the immediate future, access to our DNA has opened up a new world of direct connection between brands and their audiences where a reciprocal relationship is created thanks to the sharing of their most vital information from consumer to brand. And as a result, brands are becoming holders of the most valuable information possible; their consumers’ genetic blueprints, the ‘code’ of their lives.

These advances are increasingly raising certain questions. Are both brands and consumers prepared for the commercialisation of this kind of powerful information? What are the implications of having DNA stored and readily accessible? What data privacy challenges could it lead to for individuals? DNA is data, but this data is our own genetic blueprint. Maybe the ultimate question is, just how much information we are prepared to handle at this point in time – and whom we want to share it with? After all, this comes at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of guarding our data.

But while this realisation is understandably increasingly incurring caution, at the same time the wealth of information our DNA holds also opens up indisputably thrilling possibilities and opportunity. The beauty and wellbeing sector has always been defined by aspiring to ideals and today those ideals revolve around helping us become the best possible version of ourselves, with an increasing desire to discover new types of information about ourselves so we can use it to optimise ourselves at every level.

Today, as the knowledge around our DNA becomes more accessible, innovation is becoming further refined and targeted. Whereas brands like Chanel (Le Lift), Estee Lauder (Re-Nutriv) and Lancôme (Genifique) anticipated the behaviour of our genes via ‘gene expression’, this generation of technology has enabled a direct connection to them.

A recent boost to the application of DNA came from the technological innovation that specific DNA information can now be transferred and stored on microchip via mouth swab for the first time in a technique created by Professor Christofer Toumazou for premium skincare brand Geneu in London’s Bond Street. Similar methods are also being used by Australian skincare brand SkinDNA and DNAfit Life Sciences, a diet and wellbeing brand whose collaboration with bespoke food delivery brand, Pure Package, has enabled it to supply ready made food parcels to ‘equip both dieters and athletes with an extra edge’.

So, as our genes now inspire and inform a new level of optimised solutions, brands will need to find their own relevant and achievable ways to infiltrate this highly desirable and specified space. For those brands looking to translate the optimisation concept on a more mass scale success will lie in creating and then converting a far deeper level of connection with consumers, more specifically understanding how access to highly detailed consumer profiling can facilitate a greater level of personalisation than we could have previously imagined or certainly have experienced.

Pearlfisher’s Futures studio imagined this world ten years ago through ‘ONE,’ a concept which imagined a bespoke unique and individual fragrance created using our DNA to identify and amplify the individuals pheromones. Today, as we look to DNA as inspiration for a future of truly tailored offerings, what are the true implications for the use of DNA, and where might they end?

Scientists who understood DNA’s powerful potential created regulations around DNA manipulation as long ago as 1975. But progress is being made in undeniably positive ways through recent gene-editing techniques like Crispr, which has been used to reverse mutations that cause blindness and to stop cancer cells from multiplying. These new advances also allow us to enter into the territory that previously raised red flags, going way beyond the scientific consensus agreed in 1975 and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights. But by introducing the ability to cross boundaries in life-science – i.e. edited human embryos, designer babies, genetic mutations –we may be so blinded by the opportunities this new science offers, that we may not be aware of the adverse consequences until it is too late.

Ultimately how far we will go and how complicated this issue will become remains to be seen. As health and lifestyle sectors continue to create new generation genomics-inspired brands and services, we are now commercialising DNA in ways that were hard to imagine even 10 years ago.

Looking toward the next fifty is where things will get really interesting. Where we take this technology will be largely dependent on the scientific laws that will be passed between now and then (in some part to protect us from the possibilities of our own invention.) The pivotal issue will be whether we continue to be satisfied by optimising the genes that nature gave us or, if the next frontier will be ‘fixing’ our genes, engineering future generations and ‘sequencing’ ourselves and our descendants to new levels of perfection.

Sophie Maxwell is discussing the power of Personalistion and what it means for the future of optimised beauty at Cosmopak in New York on 16th September.

Originally published by PSFK

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