23andMe vs. Ancestry: Which Service Is Best for You?

By Kat Tretina
December 03, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Ancestry and 23andMe are leading at-home genetic testing companies, processing over 30 million DNA samples combined.
  • Both services offer health and ancestry reports, allowing you to learn about your heritage and any potential health issues you are genetically predisposed to.
  • Depending on the service and DNA testing kit you choose, the cost ranges from $49 to $399.
  • If you opt for one of the service’s health screening kits, you may be eligible for Flexible Spending Account (FSA)/Health Savings Account (HSA) reimbursement.
  • Both companies are well regarded, with customer reviews for each emphasizing the service’s value and quality.

Millions of people are choosing to learn more about their health and their history with at-home DNA testing.

An at-home DNA test can:

  • Answer questions about your family heritage
  • Help you create a family tree
  • Show you the geographic locations where your ancestors lived
  • Connect you with relatives
  • Help determine your genetic risk of developing certain diseases
  • Identify whether you may be a carrier for inherited illnesses
  • Offer insight into hereditary personal traits and wellness issues

While many companies offer at-home genetic testing, Ancestry and 23andMe are the most well-known. Together, they have processed over 30 million DNA samples, providing customers with detailed information about their genetic traits, health, and ancestry. 

While there are similarities between the two services, they have different areas of expertise. To help you sift through all the info and figure out which DNA test kit is a best fit for you, Health consulted with genealogists, geneticists, and genetic counselors, conducted in-depth research on each company and the science behind their testing, and read hundreds of customer reviews.

Read on to learn what makes each service unique. 

23andMe vs Ancestry DNA Testing: Major Differences

When planning to purchase a DNA testing kit, you might be torn between services. Ancestry and 23andMe are two of the most popular genetic testing companies in the country, offering services that allow you to trace your ancestry and learn about your health risks by submitting a simple saliva DNA sample. How do you know which to choose?

Genealogist Marc McDermott offered Health his advice on how to decide between the two. "In a nutshell, it boils down to asking yourself what goal you want to achieve with a DNA test," says McDermott. "Ancestry and 23andMe are both great if you just want a basic ethnicity report. Ancestry is the better option if you're looking to connect with family members and build your family tree. 23andMe is the go-to for health testing."

Once you've determined the outcome you hope to achieve with testing, consider that these two companies’ services differ in five key ways: 

1. Ancestry Reports

Both Ancestry and 23andMe use mitochondrial DNA (the DNA mothers pass on to their children), autosomal DNA, and sex chromosomes to create your ancestry and health reports. 

While neither Ancestry or 23andMe report often on the size of their databases, it’s estimated that Ancestry’s database has over 18 million samples, making it significantly larger than 23andMe’s database of 12 million samples. 

There are two main benefits to Ancestry’s larger database:

  • Improved accuracy: The accuracy of at-home genetic testing for ancestry is dependent on the number of DNA samples services have to compare.  With more samples, Ancestry can offer greater accuracy and more specific information. 
  • Increased chance of matching with relatives: Because Ancestry has more samples than 23andMe, you have a better chance of connecting with relatives through DNA matching. 

2. Health Information

One of the benefits of using an at-home DNA kit is getting detailed information about your health. Services like Ancestry and 23andMe offer health screening tests that inform you about your risk of developing certain diseases. They can also tell you if you are a carrier of some conditions that possibly be passed on to your children. 

If you purchase 23andMe’s Ancestry+Health kit, you’ll get access to over 150 personalized reports. The kit’s reports detail how your DNA can affect your chances of developing some diseases, including type 2 diabetes and celiac disease. With its carrier reports, you can learn if you are a carrier of more than 40 genetic conditions, including Bloom syndrome and cystic fibrosis. 

23andMe has developed FDA-authorized pharmacogenetic reports, helping you determine how your body might react to some commonly prescribed medications. The company's pharmacogenetic reports include clopidogrel (used to treat heart conditions), and citalopram, which is used to treat some forms of depression. While this feature is not yet available for purchase, the company has released the feature to a select group of existing customers, and it is expected to be widely available for purchase in the future.

Ancestry also offers health testing with its AncestryHealth service. Its health test isn’t as robust as 23andMe’s, as Ancestry only produces approximately 25 reports. Ancestry does use its health test to see if you might be a carrier for some diseases, but it only reports on three genetic conditions: cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs Disease.

3. Genetic Professional Availability

When you receive your genetic health report, the information can be overwhelming. Having adequate access to genetic professionals can help you better understand your reports and get expert suggestions for next steps. 

23andMe encourages customers to consult genetic professionals or health professionals to discuss your results, but it doesn’t provide access to them through its services. 

By contrast, Ancestry has extensive educational resources. You can get information from board-certified physicians and genetic counselors, and even send questions to a genetic counselor through the app. 

4. Timing

When it comes to processing your DNA samples, 23andMe has the edge over Ancestry. Ancestry typically takes six to eight weeks from the time it receives your sample to provide you with results.

With 23andMe, you can get your results within three to five weeks. If you opt for the VIP Health+Ancestry, you can get your results even faster because it includes priority lab processing.

5. Trial Options

Using Ancestry or 23andMe to find out about your background can be expensive, so you might be interested in trying out the services before buying. Unfortunately, 23andMe doesn’t have free trials for new customers. Ancestry does allow free access for 14 days to its Genealogy Service, which you can use to learn about your family tree, without providing a DNA sample. 

The free trial doesn’t include access to any information about your health or connect you to relatives sharing your DNA. It only uses information based on the data you input.

Customer Reviews

Both Ancestry and 23andMe have good reputations among customers. The majority of the customer reviews for both companies tend to focus on the great value, impressive product quality, and excellent customer service. 

While both companies are rated highly on Best Company, Ancestry has a higher overall score. As of November 2020, it had a 9.9 score out of 10 based on its user reviews, cost, and time in business. 

23andMe’s overall score was 8.3 out of 10 as of November 2020. 

Which Is Best for You? 

When comparing Ancestry vs. 23andMe, it’s important to keep in mind that these two services specialize in different areas. The answer to which kit is best for you is dependent on whether your primary goal is learning about your health, or tracing your heritage. 

If You Want Detailed Health Information: 23andMe

If you want to learn more about your risks of developing certain diseases or the odds of passing on health conditions to your children, 23andMe is a better choice than Ancestry

23andMe has a greater range of health conditions that it tests for than Ancestry, and the company also tests for more gene variants.

If You Want to Learn about Your Heritage: Ancestry

If you want to learn more about your heritage and family tree, Ancestry is a better option than 23andMe. It has a larger sample base, which can provide you with a more accurate result and increase your chances of connecting with relatives. Its services use your maternal and paternal lines to pinpoint your heritage, even offering percentage breakdowns of your ethnicity estimate. 

Choosing a DNA Testing Service

Both Ancestry and 23andMe are established companies with excellent reputations. If you’re looking for information about your health or heritage, either company can help you. 

It is important to keep in mind that all DNA testing services have limitations; however, this is particularly true when it comes to health screenings. They don’t test for all genetic variants, and there can be false positives. For this reason, before making any changes to your health regimen, including exercise or adjusting your medications, it is advised that you talk to your doctor about your DNA test results.

Kat Tretina is a journalist and copywriter with expertise in personal health and personal finance. Her content has been featured on sites such as Everyday Health, HuffPost, Forbes, Investopedia, and Credit Karma. Kat calls Orlando, Florida home.