We’re all familiar with the influence of genetics on our physical attributes. Our hair color and texture, the shape of our eyes, and the width of our noses are all determined by the genes we inherit from our parents. But what about our skin health? Is clear skin genetic?
Short answer: yes! Just like your DNA plays a role in your overall health (like your predisposition to certain conditions), it also impacts your skin’s health.
But while genetics may play a significant role in determining whether you have clear skin, several other factors affect it, too. Here, we'll cover the ways your genes affect your skin’s appearance, as well as how other factors like your diet, your environment, and even your current skincare practices all play a role.
A pigment called melanin (which also controls the color of our hair and eyes) determines the color of our skin. Melanin is formed by special cells called melanocytes, which are located in the outermost layer of the skin. The type and amount of melanin produced by these cells, as well as its distribution, is determined by our genetic makeup.¹ That’s how our skin color is inherited from our parents.
Our skin's sensitivity may also be influenced by genetics.² Some people are born with skin that's more sensitive than others, which may make them more susceptible to irritation and allergic reactions. A genetic variation affecting the skin's barrier function can make the skin more permeable to irritants and allergens.
Numerous twin studies have shown that the genetic contribution to acne susceptibility is high, with heritability consistently estimated at around 80%.³
Your surroundings and your lifestyle can have a big impact on your skin health. Luckily, some of these factors are in your control.
Ultraviolet radiation produces free radicals that cause oxidative stress and damage to the skin.⁴ The damage can lead to skin problems like inflammation and early signs of aging, called photoaging. That’s why sunscreen is a non-negotiable aspect of a solid skincare routine. It protects your skin from harmful UV rays, helps prevent sun damage, and reduces your risk of skin cancer.
Particulate matter (aka particle pollution) and chemicals can penetrate the epidermis and have negative impacts on skin health, including acne, aging, dermatitis, and eczema. Various forms of air pollution, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and others, can be absorbed through the skin or via hair follicles and sebaceous glands.⁵
Lifestyle factors—such as diet, stress levels, sleep, and smoking habits—can significantly impact your skin health. Diet plays a crucial role in skin health. A diet that includes lots of omega-3s and low glycemic index and glycemic load foods has been linked to better skin health and a reduced risk of acne.⁶ Smoking can also cause wrinkles, age spots, and dull skin. Poor sleep⁷ and high stress levels⁸ may also have a negative impact.
The best way to understand how to treat your skin—whether you’re dealing with acne, rosacea, or any other skin condition—is by talking to a licensed dermatology provider who may prescribe clinically-proven ingredients to tackle your skincare concerns. But don’t underestimate the benefits of a proper skin care routine. We recommend a three-step routine that’s easy to follow:
Wash your face morning and night with a gentle cleanser suited to your skin type.
Treat your skin at night with active ingredients that target your skin concerns.
Moisturize with a hydrating moisturizer of your choice.
Protect your skin with SPF 30+ sunscreen every morning.
Along with a healthy lifestyle, a good skincare routine can help you work towards healthier skin, no matter what’s in your genetics.
You know your skin best—but when it comes to finding the best treatment for your skin concerns and goals, it’s often helpful to call in the experts. That’s where Curology comes in. Founded in 2014, Curology is a skincare service that makes it easier to get access to licensed dermatology providers who can answer questions you may have and may also prescribe personalized treatments containing clinically-proven ingredients to tackle acne, rosacea, and the signs of aging.
To get started, you just have to take a short quiz and take a few selfies. If Curology is right for you, a licensed dermatology provider will work with you to create a treatment plan to get you on the path to clearer skin*—no matter what’s in your DNA.
One of the main reasons some people have clear skin is that they have established a skincare routine that's appropriate for their skin type and have been consistent with it. Genetics, environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle choices also play a significant role in the appearance and health of a person’s skin.
Some people may be predisposed to having clearer skin or to certain skin conditions due to their genetic makeup. Genes can make a person more susceptible to certain types of skin damage, such as sun damage or sensitivity.
It's true that acne often runs in families. If one or both of your parents have a history of acne, it may indicate that you’re genetically prone to developing acne as well. That said, you can help counteract this by sticking to a routine that's right for your skin's needs!
Clear skin is possible if you follow a skincare routine tailored to your unique skin type.
What works for one person might not be as effective for another, and clinically-proven ingredients can be particularly beneficial if you struggle with acne.
Naik, P.P. and Farrukh, S.N. Influence of Ethnicities and Skin Color Variations in Different Populations: A Review. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (March 2022).
Farage, M.A. Understanding the Sensitive Skin Subject to Achieve a More Holistic Diagnosis. Cosmetics. (2021, September 2).
Mitchell, B.L., et al. Genome-wide association meta-analysis identifies 29 new acne susceptibility loci - nature communications. Nature. (2022, February 7).
Bernerd, F., et al. The damaging effects of long UVA (UVA1) rays: a major challenge to preserve skin health and integrity. Int J Mol Sci. (2022, July 26).
Puri, P., et al. Effects of air pollution on the skin: A review. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology. (2017, n.d.).
Baldwin, H. and Tan, J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. (2020, August 3).
Schrom, K.P., et al. Acne Severity and Sleep Quality in Adults. Clocks & Sleep. (2019, December 6).
Jović, A., et al. The Impact of Psychological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. (July 2017).
Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.
*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.
Donna McIntyre, NP-BC