Best DNA testing kit 2020: Unlock the secrets of your past

The best DNA testing kits can reveal fascinating insights into your heritage, history and even your health

best DNA testing kit: 23andMe
(Image credit: 23andMe)

More people than ever are looking for the best DNA testing kit to get unprecedented insight into their genetic coding. These DNA kits are typically super easy to use, can be done at home, and reveal a ton of fascinating information. Over the past few years, this market has boomed. In the early days, you could unlock secrets about your ancestry, but today's best DNA tests go even further, with some delving into things like personal traits and genetic health risks.

Best DNA testing kits: Quick links

If you're curious about what you could learn from a DNA testing kit but have been but off by the price tag, bear in mind that these kits often get some excellent discounts around yearly shopping events. Amazon Prime Day (13-14 October 2020) is a great time to pick up one of the best DNA testing kits for a bargain price, as well as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Our dedicated price widgets will pull in the cheapest prices around, including any offers, to ensure you don't miss a deal. 

If you're not quite sure what these tests are and how they work, you'll find more information at the bottom of the article. If you're already clued up, read on for the top DNA testing kits available right now.

The best DNA testing kits to buy now

Best DNA testing kit: 23andMe

(Image credit: 23andMe)

1. 23andMe

The best DNA testing kit and service on the market

Reasons to buy
+Super detailed insights+Health results provided+Fantastic dashboard+Constantly updated

One of the first DNA testing kits on the market and still one of the best, 23andMe boasts more than 10 million users and provides a thorough, detailed analysis of your ancestry, health and much more. There are two services to choose from: Ancestry + Traits focused on your ancestry composition and provides information about your DNA relatives, while Health + Ancestry service covers all of the ancestry results, but also personalised health insights. For a full look at what's on offer, head to our 23andMe DNA review

The thing we love most about 23andMe is all of the detailed data you receive about your genetic make-up is presented in the form of easy-to-understand visuals. Many of these are colourful, interactive and also come with plenty of explanation to make the process of combing through all your DNA results fun and easy, rather than overwhelming.

In terms of ancestry, you're presented with interactive elements to see how you’re made up of different ethnic backgrounds and where they’re likely to have come from. You can see this data in a pie chart, on a map, view it as a timeline or even see how your results affect your chromosomes. You can also view your maternal and paternal lines (or just maternal if you're a woman), as well as how many Neanderthal variants you have in comparison to everyone else who had their DNA tested. A customisable and easy-to-use messaging system makes it easy to connect with relatives (you can, of course, opt out of this bit). 

If you opt for the Health + Ancestry set, you can also find out more about your health. For example, it'll tell you about any health predispositions (for things like Type 2 Diabetes), as well as carrier status reports for genes that can cause health issues. It'll also reveal any predisposed wellness characteristics – for example, if you have the genetic muscle composition of an elite athlete, or you're predisposed to weigh more than average. 

Another advantage to 23andMe is that the company continues to update the service long after you’ve taken the test, adding in new health information and reports every few months – and that's a really nice surprise, especially if you're on the hunt for distant relatives.

Best DNA test AncestryDNA

2. AncestryDNA

The best DNA testing kit for tracking relatives

Reasons to buy
+Best for family tree-building+Easy-to-use+Lots of resources

Ancestry has long been one of the most popular websites for genealogy services in the world and hands-down the best place to start building your family tree online. Back in 2012, the company launched AncestryDNA – an extra service to provide you with a personal DNA test that could add your genetic data to your family tree, making it more accurate and connecting you with living relatives. Head to our AncestryDNA review for more detail on this service. 

Like 23andMe, you send off a saliva sample for the AncestryDNA test, then receive your results within a few weeks. AncestryDNA is all about providing information about (you guessed it) your ancestry. That means you won’t get any health data, information about genetic traits, or really deep ancestral data (like your Neanderthal percentage). However, what you do get is access to the huge AncestryDNA database size of more than 15 million users. This means you're more likely to get accurate information, be able to connect up with relatives, and, ultimately, build an awesome family tree.

The AncestryDNA test is particularly useful if you already have an Ancestry account and family tree data added, because it'll seamlessly supplement what you already know and add in some fascinating data. Alternatively, if you're interested in starting a family tree from scratch, then it's a great place to begin.

You'll also find out information about your ethnicity, and there are some neat ways to visualise that information, as well as the option to dig deeper and find out more about how your genetics compare to the native population. If you're an existing users of the Ancestry service, or are especially interested in family history, this is the best DNA testing kit for you. 

Best DNA testing kits Living DNA

3. LivingDNA

The best DNA testing kit for extra detail

Reasons to buy
+Powered by a network of DNA experts+Focuses solely on ancestry

UK-based LivingDNA may have only been around since 2016, but it's backed by plenty of scientists and research groups all around the world – and that makes it one of the best DNA testing kit options for thorough, accurate genetic testing that focuses solely on ancestry rather than health.

LivingDNA promises twice the detail of other DNA tests, thanks to its network of DNA experts. It traces your family ancestry to 80 different regions all over the world, and goes way, way back in history to tell you when your distant relatives were likely to have journeyed from Africa to Asia, Europe and the rest of the globe.

Like AncestryDNA, LivingDNA also has some useful family tree features, which it'll populate for you based on your data and using smart machine learning tech – all of which means it's less hassle for you. And like 23andMe, LivingDNA will also show you how your father and mother's lines stretch back (though if you're female you're only able to see your mother's line).

One of the only cons of LivingDNA is that some users report the test can take up to 10 weeks to return results: that won't bother those who want a thorough test and don't care how long it takes, but it is a while to wait in comparison for the three or so weeks that some competitors offer.

It's also worth bearing in mind that because LivingDNA isn't one of the most popular tests to date, the pool of users is smaller – so you may find fewer relatives than you would with other services. That said, for the features and polish it does offer, it's definitely one of the best DNA testing kits around.

Best DNA testing kits MyHeritage DNA

4. MyHeritage DNA

The best DNA testing kit for those on a budget

The MyHeritage DNA testing kit is one of the cheapest DNA testing kits available, but still provides interesting insights about your ancestry. As we cover in our MyHeritage DNA testing kit review, this service maps ethnic groups and geographic regions that you and your ancestors are likely to have originated from.

As you might expect from the price, it's one of the more basic tests you can buy: you don't get the health data that 23andMe offers, for instance, or any deeper ancestral analysis. But MyHeritage DNA does get the job done if you're primarily interested in where you likely came from, and you want to connect with distant relatives at the same time.

You can use your MyHeritage results to go on and create a free family tree if you want to, which has some useful features, or you can opt-in to DNA matching, which matches your info up with people who you're related to. Bear in mind that, like LivingDNA, this service has fewer users than the likes of 23andMe and AncestryDNA, so you're likely to get fewer matches as well.

Best DNA testing kits FamilyTree DNA

5. FamilyTree DNA

The best DNA testing kit for digging into detail

One of the most serious and detailed genealogy-focused options on our list of the best DNA testing kits, FamilyTree DNA is a little different to the rest because you need to select which kind of test you want. There's the Family Ancestry kit, which is an autosomal DNA test that analyses the mixture of DNA that's passed on from all your ancestors: this is good for an overview of your family line going back about five generations, so while it's not as in-depth as the kits below (or kits from other companies), it's still a great starter kit. You also get info on your ancestors' geographic origins, plus an opportunity to connect with living relatives.

Then there's the Paternal Ancestry Kit, which analyses YDNA – that's the DNA that only males have, and that's passed from father to son. This provides information about where your paternal line came from (going back about 25 generations or sometimes more) and how they moved around over time, and it's a fantastic way of connecting with people of the same surname.

Finally you have the Maternal Ancestry Kit, an mtDNA test that analyses DNA passed on by mothers to their kids, whether male or female. This provides information about where your paternal line came – again it goes back 25 generations or more, and tells you where your ancestors came from and how they migrated over time.

FamilyTree DNA is the only DNA testing kit here that allows you to select all three tests individually, giving you ultimate control (try checking the website to see if there's a deal on all of them together, though this will only work for men though – sorry ladies).

Your results are going to vary depending on which kit you go for, but you'll get a detailed map that explores the geographic origins of your family and your maternal or paternal line, a graph of your personal ethnic breakdown, a migration map that shows how your ancestors moved from region to region, and tables of genetic matches.

Like the rest of the kits, you can contact others who have similar genetic information to you, which means you can connect with distant relatives with the Maternal and Paternal kits, and living relatives with the Family kit.

If all of that sounds confusing, it's because FamilyTree DNA is one of the most comprehensive and detailed DNA testing kits around: it's an appealing option for those who take their genealogy research seriously, and want some thorough results to dig deep into.

Best DNA testing kits DNAFit

6. DNAFit

The best DNA testing kit for health and fitness

DNAFit is a little different to the other DNA testing kits listed here, because it focuses on how your DNA can reveal insights about your health and fitness: the best foods, drinks and nutrients you need, the sort of exercises you should be concentrating on, any food sensitivities and intolerances, and so on.

In other words you can optimise your diet and your exercise regime to best match the genetic coding you were born with. Tests are done on a saliva swab and DNAFit promises you'll get your results back within 10 days, which is a quick turnaround.

If you've already got results back from 23andMe (one of the other entries in this best DNA testing kit list), you can use these with DNAFit as well – in this case you only need to pay £39 for the extra analysis on top.

We'd say this is well worth looking into for those who want to maximise their wellbeing using DNA testing. Whether you want to lose weight or gain muscle, DNAFit can help, and the whole process is very straightforward. On the most expensive plan you get food and drink recommendations from a personal dietician to get you started.

People who've used DNAFit certainly seem to have positive things to say about it, from the simplicity of the language used, to the breadth of information you get back. If you're hunting for the best DNA testing kit, definitely keep this one in mind.

How do DNA testing kits work?

Although there are some slightly different methods from DNA kit to DNA kit, most DNA testing kits have the same initial set-up process.

That involves answering some standard questions over the web, then ordering a kit, collecting a sample (usually of saliva, but sometimes of blood), registering your kit, sending it back to be analysed, and finally awaiting your results online after analysis has taken place.

One of the most important parts is registering your kit before you send it off: all of the entries in our best DNA kit buying guide require you to do this, and you won’t get your results back if you don’t. This ensures that the sample you’re sending back is definitely yours, and that nothing gets messed up at any point in the sending and testing process.

Registration also protects your privacy too, so that your name won’t be associated with your sample. Of course you will need to sign in with your name and details on the service’s website to access the results, but your DNA sample, the results, and any associated data stored with them will be assigned a unique reference number or barcode rather than your personal details.

Once your kit has been sent off, most companies will email you to tell you it's been received and will be processed. From there, the processing can usually take between two and eight weeks, after which you'll receive an email and then be able to log in to view your results.

Best DNA testing kit

Some DNA testing kits focus on ancestry first and foremost

What can DNA tests tell you about your ancestry?

Most of the best DNA testing kits focus on helping you discover more about your ancestry. It’s worth noting that men and women will get back different ancestry results. Women who have the XX chromosome are only able to trace back their maternal line, whereas men with the XY chromosome can trace back both their maternal and paternal lines. So, if you're a woman and have a brother, it's worth asking them to take the test too so you can find out more.

Most of the tests then show you details about your ethnicity, which is usually accompanied by a map that presents different countries, and sometimes even regions within countries, where your ancestors are likely to have lived.

Best DNA testing kit

DNA testing kit processing can take a couple of months

Best DNA testing kit: What can DNA tests tell you about your relatives?

Because most of the DNA tests concentrate on charting your ancestry, it means you have the option to view and contact relatives – both close and distant – using the services.

In fact, most continually search for DNA matches, so even years after you’ve had the DNA test and received your results, you can still get notifications that second, third or fifth cousins have also added their data too. This means a DNA testing kit becomes a gift that keeps on giving long after the initial buzz of getting your first round of results has worn off.

How this works differs from service to service, but you can decide what you do with these notifications about new relatives, and how much information your relatives can see about you. Some services allow you to share full profiles, others lock your information, and you'll find a lot of customisation options along the way.

If you're looking to connect with distant relatives, build on your family tree, or are just really curious, these ongoing matches can help. On the other hand, if you wanted to do the DNA test for other reasons, you have control over who can contact you and find out about you and your DNA. Some of the services, like AncestryDNA, allow you to link this information about your relatives with family tree software packages too.

Best DNA testing kits

You'll get your DNA testing kit in the post.

Best DNA testing kit: What can DNA tests tell you about your health?

A few of the DNA tests on the market, primarily 23andMe, reveal information about your health – from traits like hair colour and tasting preferences, through to more serious genetic health risks, like the likelihood to carry the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes (associated with a risk of certain kinds of cancers).

Before you purchase a DNA testing kit for health and genetic health risk reasons, you need to read the small print. In some parts of the world, 23andMe doesn’t provide this information, whereas in the UK and US, it does. You’ll just need to ensure you purchase a test that covers Health + Ancestry, not just Ancestry.

If you're shopping for the best DNA testing kit because you're keen to find out more about your health and less about your ancestry, it might be worth looking into a different kind of health testing kit.

For example, Thriva is an at-home finger prick blood test that you send off in the same way you do with a DNA test, but rather than genetic risks and ancestry data, Thriva will reveal information about your iron levels, liver function, folate levels and much more.

Best DNA testing kits

Make sure you do your research when finding the best DNA testing kit for you.

Things to know before you buy a DNA test

Getting an at-home DNA testing kit may sound fun and fascinating – and it often is, to find out where your ancestors might have come from, connect with relatives and discover more about your health. However, it's also worth considering some of the cons of uncovering more about your genetic coding too.

For starters, DNA testing kits can reveal results that are surprising or worrying (see multiple press reports of people finding out their lineage was very different to what they expected after sending off their saliva in a DNA test). And when it comes to genetic health risks, you might find you have a gene associated with a serious condition, like breast cancer or Alzheimer's. Some testing kits (like 23andMe) keep these results locked unless you ask for them, but even so you could be in for a shock.

That means you need to prepare yourself for your results and consult a doctor straight away if you're worried about them: a doctor will be able to tell you how likely you are to develop these conditions, and may send you for further tests to get more conclusive results. With a lot of the genetic health risks, they're just that, risks – so just because you have a gene associated with a particular health problem, it doesn’t mean you actually already have it (or ever will).

Another thing to consider is privacy. Right now all of the major companies offering the best DNA testing kits have strict privacy policies, and take pains to assure users their data is secure. That said, if you're concerned about privacy and wouldn't want your genetic data to fall into the wrong hands one day, the only way to 100% avoid that is not to take the test in the first place.

If you're happy with those risks though, and understand the implications of finding out more about you and your DNA, it's time to pick the best DNA testing kit – but as there are so many on the market, which DNA testing kit should you buy? We're here to help you decide which DNA kit is right for you.

Best DNA testing kits: Should you buy a DNA testing kit?

If you're interested in learning about your ancestry and ethnicity, DNA testing kits are a fine idea, especially if you're keen to connect with relatives, add more detailed information to your family tree, or just find out more about you and where your descendants come from.

If you're more interested in health, look for a DNA test kit with integrated health testing – like 23andMe, for instance. Alternatively, you could purchase a separate health test altogether if you're less interested in who your great-great-gran was and more concerned with how your health and body are doing right now.

We don't want to be scaremongers, but again it's definitely worth thinking about whether a DNA test is for you. All the companies on this list have strict privacy controls in place, but we can't guarantee that'll always be the case. Remember that some of the results you get might surprise you – especially those about your ancestry or your genetic health risks.

That said, if you're curious, prepared, and have the cash to splash on finding out more about yourself, the best DNA testing kits are mostly fascinating and fun, providing you with a great insight into your ancestry. They also make fantastic gifts for people you think might be interested in learning more about their genetic coding.