According to MIT Technology Review, the number of customers who purchased DNA testing kits exceeded 12 million in 2017. In fact, market research has estimated that the market for genetic health testing could nearly triple — from $99 million in 2017 to $310 million in 2022.
Considering that most DNA kits require a saliva sample to perform an analysis, that’s a whole lot of drool.
Though these kits offer fun facts like whether or not you originate from Neanderthals, they can also include information that offers emotional solace or impacts future choices. Adopted individuals may locate long lost biological relatives, while others might discover if they’re lactose intolerant.
Some might even find they have a genetic variant associated with an increased risk of developing certain health conditions, which can initiate a diet or lifestyle change, or a visit to a doctor.
Yet with all the potential benefits of DNA testing, many consumers are wary of issues surrounding privacy and the security of their personal information. It begs the question: What are these companies doing with personal data that’s arguably more intimate than your social security number?
Genetic information may get shared with or sold to third parties — like drug or insurance companies — for research or business purposes. In this case, it’s easy to see how your genes — the very building blocks of who you are — can suddenly no longer belong to just you.
If you’re considering investing in a DNA test kit, we’ve provided you with the lowdown on six different tests, from price points to privacy policies.
- Price: $99 for ancestry kit; $199 for health + ancestry kit
- Where to buy: Amazon
After you purchase a 23andMe kit, the company will mail it to you with instructions for collecting a saliva sample at home. Once the sample is received by a lab, you’ll get your online results in six to eight weeks.
The ancestry kit gives you a breakdown of your global heritage across 150+ regions by percentages (for example, you may be 28.2 percent Eastern European). It also shows your maternal and paternal lineage. You then have the option to connect with others who have your DNA, in order to share and compare genetic similarities and differences.
Meanwhile, the health + ancestry kit includes the aforementioned features, plus information on what your DNA says about your health, traits, and physical features. For example, you can find out how your genetics influence your:
- risk for certain diseases
- muscle type
- eye color
23andMe analyzes DNA in the saliva sample using a process called “genotyping.” The lab processes the DNA on a chip that reads hundreds of thousands of variants in your genome. Your personalized report is based on these variants.
Quick Genetic RefreshHuman DNA is about 99.9 percent identical from person to person, but small variants make each person unique. Variants can be associated with heritage, health, and physical traits.
In terms of privacy, 23andMe collects and stores your genetic information. However, the company says it’s only identifiable through a barcode — not your name, credit card info, or email address. This reduces the chance of it being connected to you.
While genetic information isn’t shared or sold on an individual-level unless you consent — by completing an online form or checking a box — 23andme does do this on an aggregate-level for business, marketing, and research purposes. (Pfizer and Genentech are two of 23andMe’s business partners, for example.) In these cases, the data is stripped of all personal details.
- Cost: $80 for initial DNA test kit; $19.99 and up for accompanying products
- Where to buy: Amazon
While Helix offers a DNA test kit, it’s more of a marketplace to discover how DNA can influence purchases related to everything from health to fashion. Here’s an example: Did you know you can apparently find the perfect wine based on your genetic taste profile?
Customers can purchase the Wine Explorer product in the Helix marketplace along with the Helix DNA test kit. First, you receive the DNA test kit in the mail and provide a saliva sample for analysis — this is a one-time process. Helix then shares only the relevant genetic data with Vinome, the partner who sells Wine Explorer on Helix’s website. Vinome creates and emails you a customized report with your genetic taste results and wine recommendations.
You can continue shopping for a wide variety of products from other Helix partners, like a food sensitivity test or even socks with your DNA sequence printed on them, using your Helix DNA test kit findings.
It takes Helix between four to eight weeks to analyze 22,000 genes using a process known as sequencing. While genotyping looks at single genetic variants, sequencing views the entire genetic sequence. If genotyping is only reading the headlines, sequencing is reading the whole article. Thus, sequencing can give you more information.
Once Helix sequences and analyzes your DNA, it sends only the necessary data to the partner whose product you ordered. Your results are ready two to five days after this.
- Cost: $89 and up
- Where to buy: Amazon
EverlyWell offers three different Genomics tests. The first is the Food Sensitivity+ kit, which helps you discover your body’s food sensitivities and the impact your DNA has on your ability to digest certain foods — from coffee and coconut, to scallops and peanuts. The Metabolism+ test, helps you discover the relationship between your DNA, hormone levels, and weight. The DHA+ kit reveals how DNA influences the amount of DHA — a key nutrient for infant development — in breast milk.
Gaining access to the information offered through these tests can ultimately help you make more informed choices about everything from diet and exercise to breastfeeding decisions.
Each EverlyWell test kit is sold through Helix. In other words, EverlyWell is a Helix partner company. In order to get your results, a Helix DNA test kit must be purchased and taken along with an EverlyWell test kit.
Each EverlyWell test kit contains a biomarker test: Food Sensitivity+ requires a blood test to measure inflammation, Breast Milk DHA+ asks for a breast milk sample to examine DHA levels, and Metabolism+ examines cortisol, testosterone, and TSH levels via a blood sample. Like the Helix DNA test kit, all can be done from home.
Once the saliva sample from the Helix DNA test kit and the biomarker sample from the EverlyWell kits are analyzed (this takes between four to eight weeks), Helix sends relevant DNA information to EverlyWell. After a few days, EverlyWell notifies you via email that your personalized report — rooted in both the genetic and biomarker data — is ready.
- Cost: $69 and up
- Where to buy: Amazon
The AncestryDNA kit combines DNA testing with online family history resources to determine your genetic ethnicity across 350 regions. It also helps you locate biological relatives by matching your DNA to theirs, assuming they’ve also used the product.
The test answers questions like: What part of Asia are my ancestors from? Do I have Native American heritage? Am I related to a famous historical figure?
Like the process used by other DNA test kits, AncestryDNA does this by analyzing a sample of your saliva. It takes six to eight weeks to generate your results.
AncestryDNA uses a process called microarray-based autosomal DNA testing, which examines your entire genome at over 700,000 locations. Armed with this intel, you can then search for family connections using AncestryDNA’s database of over 10 million users and their results. Customers also have access to Ancestry, the company’s online family history resource that includes genealogy resources like a historical person search, millions of family trees, and over 20 billion historical records — census reports, obituaries, and more — to facilitate research.
You can choose whether or not you’d like your genetic ancestry information to be public for other users to find — it’s up to you if you want unknown relatives to be able to locate and contact you.
Ancestry does collect and store your DNA results, though your DNA sample isn’t stored with any identifying information attached to it, and AncestryDNA doesn’t share any individual genetic information with third parties, like insurance or pharmaceutical companies — without your explicit consent. The same goes for research purposes, though they do disclose user information in an aggregated form for research.
While you can request that AncestryDNA destroy your biological samples, if you have agreed to participate in research, they can’t remove your information from active research projects. That said, they won’t use it for future ones.
- Cost: $59
- Where to buy: Amazon
MyHeritage DNA is a test kit that reveals the ethnic groups and geographic areas you originate from, based on 42 regions. The test kit requires a cheek swab — no spit or blood — to analyze your DNA, which can be collected from home.
Once received by a certified lab, scientists first extract your DNA from the cheek swab sample. Then, they transform this biological information into digital data. Similar to 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA uses a chip to analyze your genome and identify variants. This enables the company to determine what they call your “ethnicity estimate,” which breaks down your geographic heritage by percentage.
It takes three to four weeks to view your results online. In addition to discovering your ethnic origins, this test also compares your DNA to others to help you find relatives and ancestors — but only if they’ve used the product and have requested their information be discoverable. You have this option with your data, too, and can make your information as private or as public as you wish.
MyHeritage has tools to help you build family trees and conduct additional research using birth, marriage, and death records, as well as newspapers. You can even hire a researcher.
MyHeritage DNA stores users’ genetic data, but says these details are secured and protected through multiple layers of encryption. This means there’s no personal information attached to the data. If you consent to allowing MyHeritage to use your genetic information, the data is only used for research purposes and shared on an aggregate — not individual — level.
You can ask the company to destroy your DNA results and sample at any time.
- Cost: $99
- Where to buy: Living DNA
Living DNA uses a cheek swab sample to uncover your heritage and ethnicity. It takes 10 to 12 weeks to process and customize your results using the DNA sequencing process. With your results, you can see a breakdown of your ancestry across 80 regions (if you have British or Irish heritage, you can see where you originated from within each country), as well as your maternal and paternal lineages.
In addition to being available online, Living DNA gives users the option to have their results printed into a personalized coffee table book and sent to them.
Let’s talk security and privacy: Living DNA says it securely stores and encrypts users’ genetic information using barcodes rather than personal information to identify samples. Living DNA doesn’t use genetic data for any purpose without your consent (other than what’s needed for the test).
Living DNA does not sell your personal information. The company does, however, share your information with genetic experts who work to improve the product. But each of these third parties are required to protect your information and only use it when providing services to Living DNA. If you wish to close your account and discard your DNA sample, Living DNA will comply.
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English Taylor is a San Francisco-based women’s health and wellness writer and birth doula. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Refinery29, NYLON, LOLA, and THINX. Follow English and her work on Medium or on Instagram