Here's How A Custom Skin Care Company Works

by Alexa Tucker

When it comes to effective skin care, there are literally hundreds of ingredients out there — and as you might remember from math class, the possible combinations of them are pretty much endless. From over-the-counter to prescription formulas, organic options to potent chemicals, it seems like there's a skin care solution for everyone.

However, sometimes one-size-fits-all skin care just doesn't cut it, and the mixing and matching of products can be time consuming, expensive, and exhausting. Or, maybe you're just not sure what ingredients work best for your biggest skin concerns.

As a bit of a skin care junkie, even I have trouble sorting through the endless pool of products to find what works best for me, buzzy ingredients or not. So when custom skin care company Curology asked if I wanted to give their solution a go, I jumped at the chance. The promise? They'll pack everything your skin needs into a single bottle to streamline your routine and make it more effective.

Here's how it works: You fill out a questionnaire on the Curology website, giving details about your skin type, your history with acne, and what products you use or have used in the past. You also take some up-close photos of your skin from different angles.

It also asks you to describe your biggest concerns and your skin goals. While there's a focus on acne problems, I'm relatively lucky these days when it comes to breakouts, save for the occasional hormonal spots on my chin and jawline. I'm after solutions for a couple of other things: First, my uneven skin tone thanks to rosacea, which is unfortunately very challenging to do anything about, so I went in with eyes wide open there. Second, my clogged pores, because while those charcoal nose strips are ridiculously satisfying, I feel like the results don't really last for me.

I added in the notes along the way that retinoids (vitamin A derivatives that help promote cell turnover) had worked well for my acne in the past. I also like that the ingredient reveals smoother, brighter skin now, and prevents fine lines and wrinkles later on.

The questionnaire part took about 20 minutes, and then the answers were sent off to an on-staff dermatologist who'd concoct the ~magic formula~ for my skin.

After about an hour of anticipation, I got a message from my virtual derm explaining my new skin care formula. This was one of my favorite features — the ability to message back and forth about anything else you want to mention or concerns with the ingredients.

I didn't have any changes, though. I was game to try what she had recommended, even though I wasn't all that familiar with the ingredients: azelaic acid, clindamycin, and niacinamide. (They're mainly available by prescription, and rather than over the counter). She also noted that she was holding off on the retinoid I'd mentioned because the ingredient can aggravate rosacea, but I could let her know if I felt strongly about having it in there. (I didn't.)

After I gave the go-ahead, the bottle arrived about a week later, and I was ready to set aside my usual products to give it a try. "I'd recommend temporarily stopping (for a week or two) any benzoyl peroxide, BHA (salicylic acid), AHA (glycolic acid, lactic acid, or similar), and physical exfoliators such as rotating brushes while your skin gets used to the new medication," my Curology derm told me in her first message.

The product was a cream consistency, and smelled faintly of Play-Doh. (Not in an unpleasant way, considering prescription skin care products don't always smell as divine as OTC products — just an observation.) It went on smooth and absorbed nicely, which is always a plus.

Over the next week of using the product, I noticed that my pores were beginning to look a little clearer, which was exciting. What thrilled me more, though, was that the ingredients actually did a pretty good job of relieving some of the redness from my rosacea, if only temporarily.

Of course, after just a couple weeks of use, before-and-after photos don't show a massive difference. But regardless of whether other people can tell or not, I notice a difference, and that's what counts. I'll continue using it for a few months and see what happens.

Plus, as you order new bottles, you have the option to send more photos to your derm and reassess the formula if there's anything you'd like to change. It feels a little like you've got a standing monthly dermatologist appointment without the time commitment or price tag — Curology costs $19.95 a month, and the prescription formula is supposed to cover all of your skin care bases (with the exception of cleansing).

While I probably won't give up the rest of my favorite skin care products altogether, the bottle has definitely earned a spot in my rotation (along with my favorite glycolic acid moisturizer and overnight vitamin C mask). After giving Curology a shot, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who's looking for a more effective or simpler skin care routine that's tailored just for them (without the derm bill).