Human health is an incredibly complex interplay between internal and external factors. Starting at conception, our genes map out the structures and processes that will determine our health for a lifetime. But, even in the womb, we are also exposed to an enormous variety of environmental factors that affect every part of our bodies. Let’s enter the exposome. 

What is the Exposome?

The term “exposome” was first proposed by cancer epidemiologist Christopher Paul Wild in 2005. Wild was attempting to account for the fact that genetics account for only 10-30% of all disease incidence, and there needs to be a systematic way to account for other factors. The term “exposome” is intended to complement the term “genome”, which refers to all the complex internal, biological factors that determine health and disease: “exposome” refers to all the complex external, environmental factors. In other words, the exposome is everything that affects your health that is not genetic. 

According to Wild, the exposome consists of three overlapping domains:

  1. The general external environment, including the urban environment, education, climate, and social factors
  2. The specific external environment, including specific contaminants, radiation, and infections, along with lifestyle factors like diet, physical activity, and substance use
  3. Specific internal factors such as metabolism, hormones, gut biome, oxidative stress, inflammation, etc. 

As researchers have adopted the concept and continued work in the field, a fourth domain has been added to the exposome, consisting of the prenatal environment, including maternal health, metabolism, and nutrition. 

The Exposome and Beauty

French skincare brand Vichy Laboratoires understands the complexity of exposome and health and beauty. The company offers premium skincare and anti-aging products, along with an expert skin analysis tool and professional advice. Their products are formulated with mineral-rich volcanic water from the Auvergne region of France, which naturally helps to protect skin from exposure to UV rays, pollution, and stress. 

Vichy Laboratoires knows that these exposome factors like pollution, nutrition, and climate account for up to 80% of all skin aging, and has built an international and multi-disciplinary medical board to research the exposome. This medical board focuses on specific research areas, education, and product formulation that protects skin from external factors. 

In fact, Vichy Laboratoires awards a grant to support research in the skin exposome, promoting clinical research and greater understanding.  

How is the Exposome Measured? 

Because the topic is so incredibly complex, and includes such a vast range of factors, it may not be possible to measure or model a complete exposome. However, several research initiatives are aimed at a better understanding of the exposome. 

  • In Barcelona, The Centre de Recerca en Epidemiologia Ambiental was created in 2005, to research and understand environmental factors that affect human health. They specifically focus on applied research aimed at developing health protection policies in respiratory, cancer, childhood, air pollution, water pollution, and radiation. 
  • At the Imperial College London, the School of Public Health researches Life-course Epidemiology and Exposome, in partnership with various European projects and study groups. Their focus is on the EXPOsOMICS cohort, measuring air pollution and water contamination, and LIFEPATH, measuring the impact of social inequality. 
  • In the US, the Centers for Disease Control has identified three priority areas for further research, including studies in molecular epidemiology, developing biomonitoring techniques, and investment in new tools and technologies to measure internal and external exposures.
  • Finally, Exposome-NL is a Dutch consortium of scientists from different disciplines, universities, and medical centers, engaging in research, education, and collaboration, while developing large-scale infrastructure for exposome research. 

Scientists have proposed a massive, collaborative, global exposome project, akin to the Human Genome Project, but such a project does not yet exist. 

At one time, mapping the human genome must have seemed impossible. And yet, with persistence and determination, and global collaboration, we were able to sequence the over 3 billion base pairs that make up the human genome, and medical science will benefit from this research for decades, if not centuries.

The Human Exposome Project, if it were to happen, would likewise inform generations of research and understanding, and benefit the health of all mankind. Companies like Vichy Laboratoires, who research, innovate, and support the research of others, continue to enlarge our collective understanding, and prove that health and beauty are one and the same. If you want the talent to be at the forefront of research, building a stronger, more beautiful, healthier world, contact grapefrute to help make it happen.