February 3, 2023

Which DNA test kit should you get?


Some 26 million people had taken an at-home DNA test as of late 2018. That number could be as high as 100 million in the following 24-month period if the MIT Technology Review’s predictions are right.

Success stories like finding your birth mother after 47 years or discovering that you’re related to a president would make anyone consider adding a DNA test to their bucket list.

Though DNA kits have become increasingly popular gift items year after year, direct-to-consumer DNA testing is still a pretty new concept — one that people may not fully understand. Is it accurate? Is it safe? Is the hype worth it? Apprehension about DNA test kits are sure to make some people hesitate — and that sucks, because finding out the who, what, and where that made you into the person you are is way too awesome to pass up. 

Here’s what you need to know.

How does DNA testing work?

You know the drill: Request a kit, swipe the inside of your cheek with the provided cotton swab, send it back, and get your results in a few weeks. What type of results (or the level of detail in those results) depends on the type of testing your kit provides:

Autosomal testing is the most basic and most popular means of genetic testing, commonly known as the family finder. Autosomal DNA tests look at 22 pairs of chromosomes not involved in determining a person’s sex. It is used for cousin and distant relative matching as well as mixture percentages, or your ethnic mix (as shown in the percent pie charts from commercials), plus common genetic traits, like heritable diseases and hair type.

While autosomal testing shows who your relatives are, remember that this is a mix of both sides and doesn’t necessarily identify which side of the family they came from. 

mtDNA testing uses mitochondrial DNA to trace your mother’s lineage. These are the DNA strands passed down from mother to child. There’s very little chance that these could be altered, so your direct maternal line can be traced back quite far. 

Y-DNA testing focuses on the Y chromosome and traces your father’s lineage. These are the DNA strands passed down from father to son in the paternal line. It’s important to note that only males can use a Y-DNA test directly — but women can usually connect their DNA profile with a father, brother, or other male relative to get these results.

mtDNA and Y-DNA tests can trace back anywhere from 20-100 generations, while autosomal tests max out at five to eight previous generations. 

Health screenings and trait analysis are the next iteration of DNA tests, jumping from just a few options (23andMe was the only reliable one for a while) to more popular kits offering some sort of look into genetic health risks and medical issues. These use your genetic markers to pinpoint potential illnesses or diseases you may be at risk of inheriting, as well as how your risks compare to other people of your age, race, and gender. Traits like hair and eye color, earlobe type, cilantro aversion, or male hair loss may also be a part of the test, providing insight into the physical and sensory genes that make you unique or genes that you’re likely to pass to your children.

It’s important to remember that while all of this data can be fun, in now way should it take the place of regular doctor visits and the kind of reliable testing that happens in a medical testing.

DNA testing pools get more robust by the year

If you tried an at-home DNA kit a few years ago and weren’t satisfied with the vague results, you may get better answers the second time around.

DNA companies are continuously expanding their pools so they have more data to compare: In 2019 alone, 23andMe added 1,000 new regions and 30 new Ancestry Detail reports. AncestryDNA updated its ethnicity estimates with new regions in Europe, the Americas, Oceania, and South Asia and a reference panel of over 40,000 samples.

These expansions lead to more granular reporting, like more precise differentiation between geographic neighbor areas that may have previously been lumped together.

Despite the growth, most at-home DNA tests are still widely euro-centric. The shortcomings when it comes to reference populations for people of color, results of polygenic risk score tests for non-European people, and employment diversity are slowly being addressed by companies like 23andMe, but there’s still no super reliable kit dedicated to typically non-white populations. (The AfricanAncestry kit is an option, but receives mixed reviews. More on that below.)

Which DNA test is the most accurate?

It’s hard to say which DNA test is the most accurate. Different DNA companies have different strengths and weaknesses, and discrepancies between results don’t automatically mean one test is skimping. One company may have a massive reference pool from hundreds of thousands of different regions — giving you a better chance of getting a well-rounded report of all possible ancestors — but that broadness could gloss over nitty-gritty details. A competing company may hone in on a specific region and be able to provide a wealth of detail about that region, but customers would need to have a previous inkling about their ancestry to choose such a specific test in the first place.

Do at-home DNA tests protect your privacy?

Some people can get freaked out by the idea of a profit-driven company having access to one of the most sensitive pieces of data that could exist about a person. It’s a valid concern — DNA companies potentially making money off of your personal information doesn’t sound great.

It’s crucial to remember that genetics data gathered by mail-in testing kits isn’t classified as official medical health data, which means it isn’t protected by HIPAA regulations. A company’s privacy protocol — what info it collects or keeps, how much control you have, and how to delete data — could be ambiguous (not necessarily ill-intentioned, but we digress), so tear that privacy policy apart before moving forward with a test. Many permissions operate via opt-in consent, so your returned cotton swab will be taken as a hard “Yes, this is fine.” 

However, in 2018, Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and others pledged to obtain separate “express consent” before sharing your info with outsiders. 23andMe is open about its partnership with pharmaceutical mogul GlaxoSmithKline to streamline drug development and Ancestry was previously working with Google Calico to study human longevity. In most research studies, any identifying information like names or addresses are stripped.

Which DNA test is best?

What — or who — are you looking for? The best DNA kit all depends on how you want to anatomize your lineage. Here are the best DNA test kits for every curious mind:

150+ reports on genetic health issues and carrier statuses • 1,500 geographic regions and constantly growing • Signed on to get express consent for third-party sharing • User-friendly app and digestible results
Reports of unresponsive customer service • Still not great for African and East Asian populations
The industry’s first FDA-approved health screenings is also increasingly competitive in the geographic region front.


A consistent top seller, 23andMe is ever-evolving and covers health and ancestry in a digestible manner.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
    Autosomal, mtDNA, Y-DNA, health, traits
  • Wait time:
    2-4 weeks
Called 23andMe as a nod to each person’s unique set of 23 chromosomes, 23andMe was the first kit in this lineup to offer the big four: health screenings and autosomal, maternal, and paternal testing. Competitors have since caught up on paper, but 23andMe’s consistent growth in terms of regions and ways to evaluate health make it eternally hard to beat.
23andMe’s FDA-cleared health screenings can give valuable information about risk of genetic and chronic illnesses (like BRCA1/BRCA2 or Type 2 diabetes), carrier status (like 29 variants of the CFTR gene associated with Cystic Fibrosis or the GJB2 gene associated with hearing loss), and lifestyle-impacting wellness genes (like the one that triggers more weight gain with a diet high in saturated fat). It’s all packaged into some 150 reports that can be connected into the new Family Health History Tree. These can provide you with an important heads up about any checkups you may want to schedule, but obviously can’t give a guaranteed view of your future health.
According to the site, 23andMe uses samples from over 1,500 geographic regions to nail ancestry breakdowns down to the 0.1 percent. A huge January 2019 update began to address 23andMe’s blind spot: African and East Asian populations. (The test previously provided just three subgroups in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.) A Neanderthal Report was introduced in April 2020. 
There isn’t much bad to say here, but a main theme among negative reviews seems to be janky customer service. It’s fine more often than not, but customers need to trust that they’ll get answers if their test is overgeneralized or not back on time.

Great for adopted individuals finding biological family • Signed on to get express consent for third-party sharing • DNA database from over 15 million people
No separate maternal/paternal test • Small East Asian genealogical pool • Many features require a subscription
If you’re looking to connect with relatives, Ancestry’s monster online family tree is your best bet.


A seamless process from start to finish with a massive genealogical pool and the highest chance for finding family.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
    Autosomal, traits
  • Wait time:
    6-8 weeks
AncestryDNA has been around for a long time and it’s bigger and better than ever.
The reason Ancestry is able to connect so many people is its mammoth genealogical pool. Since 1996, it has built a reserve of 15 million DNA sets (and counting) from more than 700,000 locations in over 1,000 ethnic regions. It’s the best kit for detailing immigration patterns or tracking down biological relatives. Results also never go away and can be viewed indefinitely, as long as you keep up your subscription. 
As a top competitor should, Ancestry also offers a slightly more expensive kit that gives information on 18 inherited traits and attributes that can tell you why one kid has red hair and one doesn’t — or who gave you that gene that makes you hate cilantro.
Ancestry does not offer separate mtDNA or Y-DNA tests, so if you’re looking for direct tracing of your mother or father’s line or results more specific to your maternal or paternal side, AncestryDNA may not be able to give those details. People of East Asian descent may find AncestryDNA frustrating due to a small reference sample and ambiguous results, though Asian regions were expanded in 2019. In the same 2019 update, Ancestry organized its broad North and South America regions into 11 categories including Indigenous Eastern South America, Indigenous Cuba, and Indigenous Americas-Mexico.

Fastest results behind 23andMe • Affordable entry to autosomal testing • Yearly subscription tiers for more interaction with your results • Signed on to get express consent for third-party sharing
Small number of regions tested • No separate maternal/paternal tracing
If you’re not in the DNA game to contact newfound relatives, MyHeritage is a great option that won’t break the bank.


The coveted pie chart and a user-friendly website make this kit a breeze for budget-conscious beginners.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
  • Wait time:
    3-4 weeks
If your curiosity peaks at the breakdown of the ethnic areas you hail from, a purely autosomal test like MyHeritage avoids extra costs for putting you in touch with a database of distant relatives.
MyHeritage streamlines every part of the direct-to-consumer test process, from cutting out parental tracing (not necessary for the breakdown of your ethnic background), to uploading raw data, to getting results back within a month. Understanding genetic results is made easy with an animated walkthrough. From there, you can link an online family tree or try to connect with its nearly four billion family tree members. If MyHeritage finds possible relatives, you’ll get an email.
Those speedy results are based on a pull from 42 graphic regions, most being European (not a lot, but definitely not nothing, especially for the price). Though its geographic blanket has stayed static for the past few years, the company has matured in one major way: As of May 2019, MyHeritage offers a health package composed of 11 genetic risk tests (including late-onset Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), three polygenic risk tests, and 15 carrier status reports. One caveat: You have to have already taken the autosomal MyHeritage test to upgrade to the Health Kit.

Extremely thorough report on medical predispositions • Medical and nutrition counseling • Free automatic updates forever • Highlights how your body handles certain medication
Small number of ethnicity regions • No connecting with relatives
Where TellmeGen skimps on ancestry, it makes up for in a deep dive into inherited risks and medication effects.


Hypochondriacs can narrow down concerns to raise to a doctor with this investigation into risks and medication.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
    Autosomal, health, traits
  • Wait time:
    4-6 weeks
Alternate bestowment: The best test for hypochondriacs. Worrying about a mystery condition can be debilitating, and any warnings you can get offer such peace of mind. No DNA test’s health screenings can diagnose everything or replace real doctor visits, but tellmeGen‘s deep dive into risks and inherited traits can provide crucial insight for anyone wanting to be proactive about wellness.
No other test pulls apart your medical history, identifies traits, or predicts possible future complications quite like tellmeGen. Your DNA is compared to over 550,000 markers to see how you fare against 125 different illnesses, as well as pinpoint any monogenic illnesses inherited through family members. Results are meticulously organized into a four-part Health Map: diseases broken down by symptoms and risk factor compared to the average person of your race, age, and gender, inherited conditions, pharmacological compatibility (how your body handles certain medication), and traits.
Transparency is a priority: The site gives exact names of the technology used, provides lab certificates, and explains the encryption process for those worried about privacy. Aside from mentions of lack of ancestry breakdowns (which tellmeGen’s site is totally honest about), the kit hails stellar Amazon reviews and countless mentions of accurate results.
TellmeGen is technically also an ancestry test, but not a reliable one. Just 70 ethnic groups make up the database so far, and regions in the Middle East and Asia are particularly limited. Obviously, connecting with relatives will be a bust.

Can decipher whether a relative is from maternal or paternal side • Many options to contact database matches • Can upload outside info
All tests must be done separately • Online results need to be modernized • Occasionally grants data access to police
FamilyTree DNA peels apart maternal and paternal lines in immense detail, but each kit is sold separately.


Genealogy buffs will get the most out of their saliva with the best maternal and paternal tracing around.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
    Autosomal, mtDNA, Y-DNA
  • Wait time:
    6-8 weeks
Not satisfied with your results from a beginner-level DNA test? FamilyTreeDNA is a no-brainer if you’re looking for serious genealogy, as it’s been said to be the only kit that can decipher whether a relative is from your mother or father’s side of the family.
This is not your average mtDNA and Y-DNA analysis, folks. To justify paying for each test separately, FamilyTreeDNA claims that its comparisons of 500 STR (short tandem repeat) markers, or specific segments of DNA that people share, and 150,000 of SNP (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) make them able to find what ancestors a specific population has in common. Past direct familial connections, FamilyTree delves into early migration patterns that genealogy or anthropology enthusiasts won’t find elsewhere.
Options to contact database matches are great, making this one of the best tests for adopted individuals to connect with biological relatives.
The most disappointing thing about FamilyTreeDNA isn’t the fact that each test has to be conducted separately. It’s one of the only big-name direct-to-consumer DNA companies that didn’t join the promise to obtain express consent from users before sharing information with outside groups. Despite a seemingly-straightforward (ambiguous?) privacy policy on the main landing page, a statement on case-by-casing sharing of data with law enforcement is tucked away somewhere. In 2019, the company admitted to sharing genetic info with law enforcement without proper disclosure.

Maternal and paternal tracing on the cheap • In-depth into the British Isles • Can upload outside info
Long wait time • Meh Amazon reviews
LivingDNA is making serious strides toward a top spot by offering detailed family trees at a fraction of competing prices.

Living DNA

A 3-in-1 knockout at a doable price, this is the easiest way to trace both parents’ lines.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
    Autosomal, mtDNA, Y-DNA
  • Wait time:
    8-10 weeks
If you definitely want all three tests but don’t need quite need the advanced reporting of FamilyTree DNA, LivingDNA offers powerful insight into all familial lines for less than $100. It’s a particularly valuable choice for people who are most interested in UK regions like the British Isles.
Living DNA offers mtDNA and Y-DNA tests in the basic kit with no extra charge — enough said. It pulls info from more than 80 geographical regions and 650,00 genetic markers going back 80,000 (!!!) years, making them able to provide pretty substantial detail when it comes to your pie chart —especially for the price. 
In February 2019, Living DNA closed a huge gap in the competition by (finally) adding a matching service to connect with found relatives. The free service is called Family Networks, and though it won’t yet have the numbers that AncestryDNA does, it’s promising to at least have the option. The company is constantly conducting surveys, testing new features, and adding new regions, which you can find in the news section.
With samples from more than 80 regions, LivingDNA’s test coverage is pretty vast for the price — but it still won’t be able to pinpoint origins as specifically as test with 300 or more (especially when it comes to coverage of Native Americans). Essentially, it’s clean cut way to get that maternal and paternal tracing without paying for frills. Living DNA also has some of the slowest turnaround times, though wait time recently decreased from 10-12 weeks to 8-10 weeks.

Highest samples of indigenous African ethnicities and DNA out there • Unique breakdown by tribe • Excellent customer service
Most expensive test by far • Tests may be inconclusive due to small gene pool • Site isn’t very user-friendly
The only DNA test to hone in on African tribes, AfricanDNA is slightly wonky but praised by a few celebrities.


The kit made by POC for POC narrows its sights on indigenous African genetics and ties to modern-day Africa.

  • Tests:
    Autosomal, mtDNA, Y-DNA
  • Price:
  • Wait time:
    6-8 weeks
AfricanAncestry is the only test on the market that focuses specifically on African regions. Maybe you’ve heard of it — considering it’s gotten shoutouts from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Erykah Badu, and the late Chadwick Boseman. It’s not the most robust test in terms of a general sample pool, but dives deep into the few areas it does cover.
Up to 2,000 years of African heritage is baked into AfricanAncestry’s pool. The company tests over 200 African ethnicities and 33,000 indigenous DNA samples from 40 African countries, offering the potential to trace back to individual tribes like Fulani, Tikar, or Hasa. Both men and women can trace their maternal roots with the MatriClan test and men can trace their paternal line with the PatriClan test — both sold separately. There’s also an option to analyze a deceased person’s DNA.
Shelling out $300 for a single test — one that doesn’t even cover genetics on the basis of health or disease risk factors — is a steep request for a sample pool this sparse, as it gives a lot of leeway for results to be inconclusive and requiring a do-over. Some reviews mention that their results were overgeneralized, but like any DNA test, satisfaction is subjective. The site does let you know that accuracy plateaus at 85%, and though 33,000 DNA samples isn’t huge, it’s much better than what competitors can offer. 

Partners with institutions like MayoClinic • Kits customizable to sports, diet, or heart health • Signed on to get express consent for third-party sharing
Not the place to buy an ancestry test • Expensive for surface-level results • Lacks a large comparison database
A unique, wellness-focused take on DNA testing that loses momentum with imprecise ancestry analysis.


This DNA-based health and fitness advice will be fun for the wellness- curious, but not for serious genetics seekers.

  • Price:
  • Tests:
    Autosomal, traits
  • Wait time:
    4-12 weeks
DNA testing can be used for more than education on the past — it can draw a roadmap for better health-related choices in the future. 
Popular DNA testing companies like 23andMe are already using DNA to tell customers a story about potential health risks or the asparagus pee gene. But Helix is using whole-exome sequencing to take advantage of the wellness boom in a different way. Customers choose their kit based on where they want to self-optimize: HeartStart covers cardiovascular health, MyTraitsSport looks at the best gym routines for your body, Diet GENius aims to give diet advice based on what micros and macros your body reacts the best to. 
Remember that these reports aren’t the same as seeing a doctor or dietician — Helix isn’t diagnostic and doesn’t claim to be. (CNET’s Angela Chen calls it genetic astrology.) Should you give up distance running if Helix says that sprints would work better for you? Of course not. But if you’re lost on your wellness journey, the sensitivities and strengths spotlighted by your genetic markers could help to fine-tune your exercise, eating, and sleep habits.
Helix doesn’t hide its third party relationships. In fact, its non-ancestry kits were designed specifically with outside app integration (like using MyFitnessPal, but with an app that has your DNA info). According to the site, Helix’s end-to-end approach to population genomics platform is helping health care providers and research institutions “deliver scalable, 
low-cost genomic medicine.” (A partnership with MayoClinic is one of the most recent endeavors.) Helix has agreed to the same requirement for express consent that 23andMe and Ancestry did.

Best pet DNA tests

No, buying a DNA test for your pet is not extra. As our loyal companions, they deserve a better answer than “IDK, just a mix” when someone asks what breed they are.

Just like humans use DNA tests to piece together their family tree, get an ethnicity breakdown, or learn about medical predispositions, pet DNA tests offer information about your pet’s family history, breed mix, and risk of health issues. They’re an especially handy tool for parents of rescued fur babies and super-mixed mutts. (Just remember that these tests are not a replacement for vet visits, but could flag an issue to bring up to a vet.)

Like the human cheek swab process, an at-home pet DNA test is as easy as swabbing the inside of their cheek — if you can get them to cooperate, that is.

Outstanding customer service • Stellar Amazon reviews • Tons of genetic markers • Included health and disease test
Potentially long wait time
Precise health screenings and maternal and paternal tracing make this test nearly as in-depth as tests for humans.


Spending as much as 23andMe’s test costs gets you a full look at your dog’s familial and medical history.

  • Breed tests:
  • Wait time:
    3-7 weeks
  • Health screening:
  • Wolf and coyote test:

You trust only the best for your Good Boy or Good Girl. The people at Embark care about your dog just as much as you do — it tests both the maternal and paternal line of your dog, going all the way back to great grandparents.
Embark’s test spans 256 quadrillion genes and all of the dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, as well as assorted street dogs and the gray wolf. The health test (no separate purchase necessary) screens for more than 190 genetic health conditions.
Let’s also discuss the stellar customer service: Unlike when you take your pet to a giant vet office and they want you to get in and out as fast as possible, Embark makes it obvious that they want the best for your pet. If something worrisome shows up in the health screening, they won’t just send an envelope to your house that says “Surprise, your dog is dying.” Instead, they’ll reach out and break the news like a doctor would, and then talk you through the options.

Breed database absolutely destroys that of competitors • Optional genetic disease screening • Fast return time • Particularly good for breeds originating outside the U.S.
Low number of genetic markers • Sometimes contradicting results
Pinning down a mutt’s breeds is often a shot in the dark, but this robust collection of breeds is your best bet.

Wisdom Panel

A massive pool of breeds to test for makes it possible to discover the makeup of even the most confusingly mixed mutts.

  • Breed tests:
  • Wait time:
    2-3 weeks
  • Health screening:
  • Wolf and coyote test:

Let’s say that your dog is a mysterious mix, and you know that mom, dad, and extended family definitely weren’t purebreds, either. Compared to the competition, Wisdom Panel’s testing pool of 350 canine breeds is the most comprehensive available in at-home kits. Accuracy falls behind when it comes to genetic markers, but the addition of the Mexican street dog, coyote, and wolf could give answers if you think your dog’s breed is uncommon in the U.S.
Remember, if your dog is a mutt and both of his parents were mutts, the chance of finding the exact percentages of each breed can be slightly limited, and something like “51% mixed breed” may come back if some older grandparent genes can’t be untangled. 
Compared to Embark, Wisdom Panel tests for fewer genetic markers. Breakdowns of your dog’s familial line or what traits or diseases they may inherit likely won’t have a lot of depth.

Only reliable at-home DNA test for cats right now • Great Amazon reviews • Health screening could be helpful for foster parents
Wildcat index is kind of worthless • Database is pretty small
Cats have long been left out of pet DNA tests, but this lone kit is decently exhaustive and beloved on Amazon.


Cats and their peculiarities are what cat people love so much — but what breeds give them such personality?

  • Breed tests:
  • Wait time:
    4-6 weeks
  • Health screening:
Coining itself the world’s first at-home cat DNA test, Basepaws is here to put some respect on the cat person’s name. The test conducts comparisons to four main breed groups and 21 individual breeds. Basepaws cannot confirm your cat’s pedigree, but might be able to tell you if your weirdly-agreeable cat actually does have ragdoll traits or if its reserved personality is linked to some Russian Blue. A fun chromosome map visualizes where each piece of your cat’s genetic code relates to those breeds.
If you’re down to pay an extra $50, your results will include a checklist of health markers that your cat possesses (or not). The health test draws on 39 genetic mutations that correspond to 17 common feline conditions and diseases, like risk of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and retinal degeneration. This could be a godsend for cat foster parents who are dealing with feral cats or neonatal kittens.
Results should be back within four to six weeks, which is pretty standard. The hardest part of the whole sha-bang might be getting that cheek swab without being clawed to death.