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23andMe DNA kit review (2021) – is it worth the money?

Updated on November 22, 2021
Written by
Joel
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23andMe delivers a trove of details about your personal genetics along with your deeper Ancestry.

As a result, this top DNA testing agency also looks for genetic health threats, as well as your carrier standing for several conditions. It’s perhaps the most well-known, at-home genetic test, named after the 23 chromosomes in a normal human cell.

Below is our master review of the 23andMe DNA kit.

Like many of its competitors, 23andMe employs the oldest technology, called SNP genotype testing. SNP, short for single nucleotide polymorphism, is the spelling variations of DNA.

For $199, 23andMe examines about 690,000 predetermined SNPs. These SNPs, also known as mutations, can both directly lead to specific diseases and indirectly contribute to various health risks. 

Read more about inherited disease here, and what a genetic test can reveal.

For $199 and a simple saliva sample, 23andMe examines about 690,000 predetermined SNPs.

23andMe Company Details

23andMe has a lot going for it, racking up some decisive advantages over their competitors:

  • The first and largest DNA collection company in the world
  • The only consumer DNA collection company that is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • The first company to offer autosomal DNA testing for ancestry
  • The only consumer DNA company to offer BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variant testing for breast cancer risk

Quick facts:

Sample CollectionSpit tube
DNA Testing TypeAutosomal, mtDNA, YDNA (all 3)
Speed6-8 weeks (mine took 16 days)
Privacy ProtectionStrong
23andMe logo

How much does 23andMe cost?

What is in the box?

The 23andMe DNA kit contains the following:

  • DNA saliva collection kit with stabilizing liquid lid attached
  • Instructions
  • Lid for collection tube
  • Collection bag
  • Return shipping box and label

Send in steps

How to send in 23andMe Kit

  1. Register your kit - If you already have an account with 23andMe, you should be able to enter your 14 digit activation code reasonably quickly. If you don’t have an account, you can create one and add the activation code easily.

  2. Do not eat or drink for 30 minutes.

  3. Spit into the collection tube until it reaches the fill line to complete the saliva sample. This line is deceiving – there is a false bottom to the collection tube; it requires less liquid than it looks.

  4. Close the funnel lid. This will break the seal and allow the stabilizing liquid to mix with your spit.

  5. Take the funnel lid off, and screw on the cap. Shake for at least 5 seconds.

  6. Put it in the collection bag and seal it.

  7. Finally, put it in the return box and put it in the mailbox.

Privacy

Your data is relatively secure with 23andMe.

Recently, 23andMe made the honor roll for privacy and security. 23andMe complies with GDPR, which means they are held to a high standard for privacy in Europe.

If you are particularly worried about it, you can use a pseudonym when registering, so the company doesn’t know who is taking the test.

23andMe has stated that they have received requests from law enforcement 5 times, and each of those times, they denied the request and did not give the requested data to law enforcement. 

Given the uncertainties that can arise around genetic testing, security has been a pillar of their business and is guaranteed to their 3 million customers.

Competition

23andMe’s main competition is:

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Living DNA Mother line traced

While 23andMe is the only FDA-approved DNA test kit and the only one to offer Health + Ancestry information. 23andMe also looks at your maternal haplogroups and offers information on your paternal lines.

Another more thorough DNA testing service is Nebula Genomics.

According to Nebula Genomics, its whole genome sequencing produces 10,000 times more genetic information than both AncestryDNA and 23andMe.

But all this extra data comes at a cost, with Nebula Genomics DNA test kits costing around three times as much as 23andMe’s cheaper options.

The results

After processing your DNA, 23andMe sends you an email with your reports:

Email 23andMe sends to welcome you

Once inside of your reports, there are 2 main places of interest: Ancestry and Health.

Ancestry

Historical Ancestry

23andMe offers 39 Ancestry reports. You can see your estimated genetic breakdown, complete with a map. It’s important to realize that these are estimations and not your exact ancestry.

Breakdown of 23andMe kit's DNA (where your DNA comes from).
My Results in 2019
23andMe DNA kit review (2021) – is it worth the money? 9
My results in 2021

Other reports of interest include:

  • The neanderthal report (how much of your ancestry can be traced back to Neanderthals)
  • Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups (following your maternal and paternal lines and their stories)
  • Your DNA family (where your connections are and some of their traits)
23andMe's different trait percentages.
My results in 2019
23andMe DNA kit review (2021) – is it worth the money? 10
My results in 2021

These reports are interesting for surface-level glances, but you can also dive into the research on how they determine items like this. For many people, these results will be nothing more than novelty and are primarily based on surveys of 23andMe customers.

Connections

Like AncestryDNA, 23andMe will look for DNA matches amongst its other members, but only if you opt-in. In the event you decide to utilize this attribute, which 23andMe calls DNA Relatives, you can receive e-mail alerts about possible connections and what their relationship to you may be.

You can turn on open sharing to make certain particulars, such as your full name, accessible for other members. Should you leave this off, other users will need to send you an exchange request.

You must have a display name; however, anonymous participation is no longer accessible, though initials are allowed.

Family relations that are shown by 23andMe.

You can add them as a connection and send messages if you want. 23andMe has the 2nd largest database (behind Ancestry.com), estimated at around 9 million.

Health

One of the items 23andMe is famous for (that other DNA testing companies don’t offer this) is their health reports.

This includes:

  • your genetic risk factors
  • disease risks
  • health conditions

23andMe had to receive FDA approval to do this, and specific tests are not shown without the user taking a tutorial.

Historically, trained doctors received and interpreted these results, and something like BRCA1/BRCA2 (genes that have been found to increase someone’s chances of developing breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer) variant detection can be shocking to consumers.

Moreover, it’s important to understand these variants don’t necessarily mean that you will end up with these diseases, only that you test positive for one of the variants.

It’s best to share your results with your doctor, as results should be confirmed before taking any actions.

23andMe offers the following health reports:

Genetic health risk reports powered by 23andMe research.

Health predisposition

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Sample Health Predisposition Reports

These are the reports that could have a bearing on your health later in life. Among other things, risk prediction for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes, as well as 9 other predispositions.

These results are some of the most actionable outcomes from a 23andMe test without requiring follow-up with a medical professional. Therefore, predispositions can be combined with a family history of the disease to develop educated lifestyle choices.

Carrier status screenshot for 23andMe DNA kit review

Carrier Status

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A portion of the reports you get from Carrier Status

These are genetic variants that won’t affect your health, but could be something you pass on or have passed on to your children.

23andMe tests for 44 of these.

This can be especially helpful for those planning to become parents or those having trouble conceiving. If positive for specific significant carrier mutations, follow-up should be pursued with a medical professional.

23andMe DNA review wellness screenshot. Find out how your DNA may affect your body's response to diet, exercise, and sleep.

Wellness

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Reports included in the wellness section (including my results)

The reports with the most real-life application, these can give you insights such as:

  • if you can process milk (lactose intolerance)
  • genetic weight
  • sleep
  • caffeine
  • several other reports

While many of these results may not surprise you, it may be interesting to know from where they arose.

This section can be especially helpful for those struggling to find their perfect diet or exercise regimen.

Explore the genetics behind your appearance and senses.

Traits

23andMe DNA kit review (2021) – is it worth the money? 14
Sample reports in Traits

This is certainly the most fun report (in my opinion). These reports tell you if you are likely to go bald, smell asparagus, your wake-up time, and tons of other interesting reports.

It’s another largely novelty feature, but it is interesting to explore which strange traits might be genetic.

Downloadable raw data

Another considerable advantage provided by 23andMe is the ability to download the raw genetic data from your test.

These are the notated mutations that underlie the reports and predictions seen above. For many people, this will be an uninteresting and overwhelming jumble of letters and numbers.

However, if you’re one of those people that want to jump down the rabbit hole of personalized health, the information contained in the raw data will be priceless.

23andMe DNA kit review (2021) – is it worth the money? 15

23andMe provides all the materials for exploring the science and discussion surrounding specific mutations.

While some companies only use proprietary indicators for the variants they test, 23andMe delivers in the format of rsID number. In other words, these are universal identifiers that can be cross-referenced against research studies and comprehensive databases. SNPedia, in particular, is a continually growing resource that links scientific findings to their respective rsIDs.

As new research is completed, the pages are updated to reflect the latest results and correlations.

What to do with raw data

This universal application allows for frank discussions with genetic counselors or medical professionals. Similarly, it also allows for comparing and sharing your genetic data without requiring brand-specific notation or tools.

This freedom has also given birth to brand new forums and communities on the internet. As a result, many are taking to the net to fill gaps in their knowledge, ask for guidance, and share their particular findings.

This informative feature ensures that you will always have access to your genetic data, regardless of the state of 23andMe in the near or distant future.

Even more, with the constant flow of new information surrounding SNP research, you will always have the key to understanding the implications and relevance of new findings.

Read where to start with your raw data.

Usefulness/Accuracy

A question on many people’s minds – is the information you get from taking these tests accurate or useful?

23andMe allows you to change the confidence level while giving you your ancestry, so you can adjust how accurate the information it provides is.

This is as useful as you want it to be.

For someone like me, this was an interesting test, but certainly not life-changing.

Someone who was adopted and didn’t know their parents might attribute different levels of usefulness to the information – it’s subjective.

The usefulness of the health info is a different situation. If you have predispositions, you should discuss these further with a licensed doctor – this could be beneficial information. Even according to 23andMe itself, in its terms of service, the company states that its results are for educational, informational, and research purposes only.

They’re not meant to provide medical advice and are no replacement for professional medical tests.

In the end, the wellness info could have varying levels of usefulness for different people.

If, for instance, you took the DNA test and learned you processed caffeine slower than average, you might stop drinking coffee after 12:00, and it could change your life for the better. However, you have control over what you do with the information 23andMe provides.

Overall

23andMe DNA Kit Review

23andMe delivers a trove of details about both your personal genetics along your deeper Ancestry.

Joel

23andMe DNA kit review (2021) – is it worth the money? 16
Ease of Use
Ancestry Information
Health Information
Speed of Updates
Speed of Results
Privacy Protection

Summary

23andMe is an easy "Buy" Recommendation from us. 23andMe represents the best value for your money. Along with a plethora of health guidance, genetic screening, and novelty tidbits, a 23andMe DNA test is an excellent starting point for genetic testing.

4.6

Pros

  • New health reports continually added if you opt-in
  • Fun and intriguing interactive capabilities
  • Strong privacy protection
  • Ability to download raw DNA data
  • Nothing is hidden behind a paywall

Cons

  • Health-related info isn’t always actionable
  • Some of the features are still in infancy and aren’t always useful
23andMe logo

As the first, biggest, and most well-known direct-to-consumer DNA testing company, 23andMe represents the best value for your money.

Along with a plethora of health guidance, genetic screening, and novelty tidbits, a 23andMe DNA test is an excellent starting point for genetic testing. However, even given its strengths, it is still a fantastic idea to supplement or follow these tests with in-person hereditary genetic counseling and regular doctor visits.

The Ancestry results are comparable to Ancestry.com, and for a little bit more, you can access the Health service, which is probably one of the more exciting portions. Even more, 23andMe also doesn’t try to push a pricey monthly fee on you to access other parts of the service.

Above all, the site is simple to use, and help is easy to access. I found the whole process a great deal of fun. But, if you want to incorporate your results with a family tree, you'll need to look to AncestryDNA, or export your DNA account and utilize another genealogy support.

How do other vendors compare to 23andMe?

While 23andMe is a great DNA test, some competing vendors offer different results or more in-depth analysis in certain categories. 

One such example is AncestryDNA. While the two tests are quite similar, the DNA databases of AncestryDNA are far larger than 23andMe’s. This gives you the chance to catch more potential family members and create a more detailed family tree. Additionally, AncestryDNA’s family tree builder is a bit better.

On top of being one of the cheaper options, MyHeritage also includes a better family tree builder and is more ideal for those in Western and Eastern Europe or those of Jewish ancestry. FamilyTreeDNA has the largest Y-DNA and mtDNA databases in the world and can trace down both Native American origins and Jewish origins more efficiently. Nebula Genomics offers more complete DNA sequencing and provides much more genetic information.

Does 23andMe have a subscription cost?

No, unlike the services offered by MyHeritage, 23andMe does not have a regular subscription cost.

Does 23andMe include shipping?

No, if you want one of 23andMe’s DNA collection kits mailed to any shipping address, you’re going to have to pay for it. 

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Joel
Content Contributor
Joel is a writer that loves exploring DNA, at-home health, and optimizing my health. He believes that the democratization of home health is in its early stages.
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