Beautiful skin based on your DNA? Austin doctor says yes.

Dr. Ruthie Harper will tell you that beautiful skin starts from the inside out, and it’s all about your DNA.

The Austin internist, who specializes in nutritional medicine and beauty and skin care, has a new line of skin care products that is individualized based on your DNA.

Using a cheek swab that can be done by you at home or by the staff in Harper’s office at West 39th Street and Medical Parkway, Harper can tell a lot about your skin’s natural tendencies.

Looking at single-nucleotide polymorphisms — SNIPS — on the swabs, 15 key genetic markers have been identified that tell the skin’s genetic predisposition in five categories:

Collagen formation: Is your skin prone to wrinkling, sagging, acne, rosacea or poor wound healing because of a breakdown in collagen?

Sun protection: How does your skin handle the effects of sun exposure?

Antioxidant protection: Does your skin defend against free radical damage?

Glycation  protection: Is your skin heavily influenced by glucose in the blood, causing heavy wrinkles and folds, accelerated aging, cracking and thinning, uneven texture, redness or an inability for the skin to repair itself?

Inflammation control: Does excess inflammation cause your skin to prematurely age or deteriorate?

A few weeks after a cheek swab, Harper gets the results back in her medical practice and can determine whether you have high, medium or low priority in each of the five categories and what should be done.

Then Harper formulates a skin regime that is chemically safe and fragrance-free based on your factors.

Each person’s regime includes a cleanser, toner and moisturizer. Then, serums are added to address risk factors. After that, Harper recommends specific SkinShift supplements.

Harper’s philosophy is that the skin is an organ, and she’s offering a targeted approach to make that organ healthier.

The products are not inexpensive, though they are all on sale this month and in June. The skin swab test sells for $299; cleanser, $35; moisturizer, $55; the serums, $75; toner, $29; and the supplements range from $28 to $45.

Harper says SkinShift is worth the price because it is designed for an individual’s skin, and you’re not throwing away money on unnecessary products.

“Women go to the drugstore and think, ‘That’s going to work for me,’ ” she says. “I would be willing to bet that a large percentage of women have $299 worth of product that they have bought that did not work for them.”

Harper says the line appeals to a variety of ages, from teens on up, and to both men and women, but her typical client is a woman 35 or older.

She says women can look 10 to 15 years younger without needing surgery.

Both Harper, 51, and her 19-year-old daughter have had their skin factors analyzed. And because it’s based on genetics, not age, her daughter actually has more risk factors than Harper has.

So, how did an internist get so interested in skin care?

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Harper was working as an emergency room physician in New Orleans. She noticed that of all the patients she was treating, “nobody ever gets well. Why is that?”

She started researching biochemical pathways on a cellular level.

“Traditional medicine is about things that are not functional,” she says. “How do you get to the functional part?”

She started working with food and supplementation and saw her patients improve.

Her research continued even after she moved to Austin in 1995 to work at Seton in the emergency room.

By 1999, she left the emergency room to start her health and wellness practice. A year later, the patients she was seeing who became healthier were asking for her to fix their skin as well.

She started her first skin-care line, Nutrition for the Skin, and then sold it. She’s also formulated shampoos and other products for specific beauty companies.

With the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, Harper began to look at health and wellness and how it relates to DNA, leading her to develop SkinShift.

Her goal is to be at the forefront of technology and continue to adapt her products to improved technology.

Skin care is just one of the ways our DNA will play out in our future health, she says.

“We’re going to see it play out in every aspect of medicine,” she says. “We’re going to have very personalized medicine.”

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