Detailed information of each region
Fun, easy-to-understand graphics
"Health" option available
Smaller user database than industry leader AncestryDNA
Too many questionnaires
What it’s like to take the 23andMe test
Like any of these tests, sending off my DNA to the testing lab was easy. After receiving my kit, I had to spit a generous amount into a tube and send it off in a prepaid envelope. The only issue I ran into was not being able to drink or eat for 30 minutes, but I survived. My results arrived via email about three weeks later, with updates of my DNA being received and my DNA being analyzed. It was a nice touch and very appreciated.
When you first log into 23andMe and look at your ancestry overview, you're flooded with options to explore, including your ancestry composition, traits, ancestry timeline, DNA relatives list, neanderthal ancestry, and so on. It’s a lot of information to sift through and can feel overwhelming, but I started with the good stuff and looked at my ancestry composition.
What I like about 23andMe
You get detailed, contextual ancestry results
Even before looking at my 23andMe results, I knew my family heritage was a hodgepodge of Eastern Europe, based on what my parents told me as well as the results from when I first took Ancestry.com’s test. My 23andMe ancestry composition confirmed this information in detail. The results are easy to navigate, showing a map of the associated countries as well as a bar graph that breaks down your heritage starting with continental-level results then into more specific regions.
My DNA results show 99.5% European ancestry (and cheekily that I’m “100% Courtney”), which is broken down into 53.8% Northwestern European, 20.9% Eastern European, 10.4% Ashkenazi Jewish, 9.3% Southern European, and 5.1% Broadly European. The remaining 0.5% goes to “trace DNA” with Nigerian, North African, and “unassigned,” which means my ancestors might have intermixed leading to an undetermined region.
These major regions are then broken down even further. For example, my Northwestern European heritage is subdivided into 38.7% French & German, 5.7% British & Irish, 0.2% Scandinavian, and 9.2% Broadly Northwestern European. Each of these areas gets even more specific with the regions and cities. For instance, my French & German section indicates my ancestors potentially came from Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Hamburg, or North Rhine-Westphalia, meaning I don’t actually have any heritage in France, despite the name of the region. However, no percentage is shown for these more precise locations, so it's up to me to do a deep dive into my family history to find any connection to them.
23andMe also does a wonderful job at explaining cultural and historical information about each location while still making a DNA connection. Within my German history, there’s a whole section devoted to my potential relation to Charlemagne, King of the Franks, as well as an explainer on how DNA changed over time to allow us to digest lactose, so I can now consume Belgian chocolate.
Finally, you can see how much Neanderthal DNA you have, which is fun if not all that useful—less than 2% of my DNA is considered Neanderthal, which is impressively more than 29% of other users.
You can make connections with DNA relatives
23andMe also offers a chance to connect with relatives with “DNA Relatives,” and with a database of 12 million customers, you might link up with a long-lost cousin—or at least find a fourth cousin with the same last name as you. While this amount is 6 million fewer than what AncestryDNA provides, it’s still a hefty number.
When you enter DNA Relatives it shows you a huge list of other 23andMe members who share DNA with you, listed by relationship and the percentage of DNA shared. My cousin, who also took 23andMe, is listed as “1st Cousin” and we share 13.77% of our DNA from 44 segments. However, these listed relationships may not be entirely accurate, as 23andMe explains when you click on the profile of a connection. Someone listed as a first cousin could alternatively be a “removed” cousin from different generations or a half cousin who shares only one ancestor.
You can opt to message your new connections and 23andMe does the hard work of building the starting blocks of a genetic family tree, automatically inputting your connections, which is helpful, if that’s your thing. I personally don’t plan to reach out to any second or third cousins, but it's cool to see that they’re there.
You get some fun ancestry-related extras
Looking to plan a trip to get more in touch with your heritage? Using 23andMe helps with that, too. Below all the historical stuff are recommendations about things to do when traveling to said country, including explanations of certain words exclusive to the language, special dishes, traditions, and places to see. It also recommends AirBnBs to stay at, which feels a little like sponsored content to me.
23andMe breaks down your ancestry a bit further with an “Ancestry Timeline” that shows how many generations ago who relatives might have lived in a region, “Parental Inheritance” that shows what heritage your parents passed down to you (this only works if both your parents took a 23andMe test), and “DNA Painting” that show how your heritage makes up your chromosomes. They’re all great features that can help you better understand your ancestry.
What I don’t like about 23andMe
Users don’t all get the same level of detail
People with XY chromosomes can look at the ancient migration paths of maternal and paternal lines independently, but as I’m a female and have XX chromosomes, I was only given info for my maternal line. This isn’t 23andMe’s fault (it’s not really possible from just my DNA to determine which of my Xs came from my mom or my dad), but it’s still a bummer to know I’m not getting as full a picture as, say, my brother might.
The Traits feature is fun but not accurate
Your DNA can also highlight what physical traits you’re likely to have, such as eye color or a widow’s peak, which 23andMe shows you under the trait section. The idea is neat, but I found that the probability of the traits 23andMe suggested I might have were way off. For example, it suggested only a 10% chance of me being blond, and I’m very blond. This happened with several other traits, which turned me off from exploring this feature more in detail.
Lots and lots of questionnaires
Understandably, the company has a lot to gain by asking for information from the users who have shared their DNA. But the invitations to complete them feel endless, and the health-specific data it aims to collect may seem somewhat invasive, particularly if you only opted for the Ancestry + Traits kit and not the Health version (more on that coming).
How is 23andMe different from AncestryDNA?
23andMe and AncestryDNA are very similar. Taking the tests both involve spitting into a tube and shipping it off, I found the heritage results to be nearly identical, and both sites make it easy to navigate through your results. I really don’t think you can go wrong with either, but there are some key differences that can make your decision easier.
One way that AncestryDNA edges out 23andMe is its larger user database—18 million versus 12 million—which theoretically makes it easier to find DNA matches. Each kit has a plethora of users, so to really cast your ancestry net, you may want to take both tests.
As an ancestry site, AncestryDNA digs further into historical ancestral connection, by explaining how your ancestors potentially migrated and other tidbits. This was something I found was lacking with 23andMe.
On the flip side, I personally love the fun aesthetic of 23andMe: It's filled with colorful graphics that break down the complicated world of DNA science. The design overall is user-friendly, and it made me less overwhelmed by complicated information.
What about the 23andMe health feature?
Another potentially appealing feature of 23andMe is its Health + Ancestry Service, which can be purchased in combination with the Ancestry + Traits service for $125.
While the health info is a hallmark feature of 23andMe, we recommend proceeding with caution before taking the test, as some of the information could be concerning and upsetting—like finding out you're predisposed to a certain kind of cancer—and may not be 100% correct.
We suggest instead consulting a genetic counselor, who will have both better tests and training to help you understand the results, if you have particular concerns about health attributes or predispositions you may have inherited.
Is my DNA safe with 23andMe?
As with all DNA kits, there comes a worry with sharing such personal information—your literal DNA—to private companies. Reviewed has previously covered the ins and outs of DNA privacy and, rest assured, 23andMe has a robust private policy detailing what exactly happens with your information. According to the statement, 23andMe uses your DNA data, as well as any self-reported information from the countless health surveys it sends to users, to improve its services and for 23andMe Research, with your consent. The company also states it does not share your data with public databases, insurance companies, employers, or law enforcement.
You should also know that 23andMe monetizes your anonymized medical data with its Health and questionnaire data through the company GlaxoSmithKline, but you have to opt into research participation. As long as you read the fine print, it’s easy to opt out of this participation, choose who sees your data, and even destroy your DNA if you’re that concerned.
The other concern is a data breach, which while uncommon, is still a possibility. 23andMe claims it goes the full nine yards with encryption, high-quality security, and limits data usage, but a security hack is still always possible, meaning your data could be sold or used against you. Again, it’s unlikely, but something to consider before taking the test.
Is 23andMe worth it?
All things considered, I really enjoyed sifting through my heritage with 23andMe. It’s loaded with fun graphics and information about DNA that I found both interesting and valuable. Depending on what you want to use your DNA kit for, 23andMe is still an excellent choice—particularly if someone else in your family has already used it, so your DNA can be compared. If you’re a real family history buff, you can use the ancestry information to enrich your research—or you can just glance it over and be able to tell people what you’re actually made of.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Courtney is an editor and shopper with a passion for finding the best things on the internet. She's a foodie and will talk about the latest batch of kombucha she's brewing to anyone who will listen. She has previously worked for Country Living, Woman's Day, and Our State Magazine.
Checking our work.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.Shoot us an email