Then there are brands, like Curology, which use the expertise of medically-trained providers (doctors, physician assistants), to create unique formulations that target breakouts, fine lines, and other skin concerns. Similarly, there is Docent, which employs medical doctors to assess a makeup-free selfie and vanity shelfie before shipping your skin prescription.
Machine learning is even being used to improve the subscription box model. “We use data to connect customers to products that work and curate high-performing skin-care routines that they never would have assembled on their own,” says Katrina Moreno Lewis, founder and CEO of Kura Skin, a quarterly subscription box that offers a complete, bespoke routine — from cleanser to sunscreen — that starts at $99 or can be purchased as a one-off.
Quickly and effectively calming redness, fading melasma, and beating breakouts with the help of technology sounds like a dream, but this data-driven trend brings up important questions. First, can an at-home quiz really unlock the secret to healthier skin?
“Self-reported data has limits,” says Corey L. Hartman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham, Alabama, explaining that the very language we use to describe our skin concerns is up for interpretation. “There aren’t very many specific parameters or criteria for some of these terms that we put a lot of credibility on.”
For example, he says the reason why medical papers don’t use the terms “dry,” “oily,” or “combination” is that they mean different things to different people. “These are things that we talk about in beauty spaces and marketing, but in terms of real scientific data, there’s nothing that’s tied to that, so what does it really mean?”
Another question to consider is how our personal health data is being stored and used. Margaret Foster Riley, a health privacy expert and professor of law at The University of Virginia, raises a few red flags about this growing trend. “Sometimes you’ll see companies will assert that they’ll never sell or use your data improperly but what’s unclear is what happens in a succession context,” she says, noting that your data might not be protected in a bankruptcy or acquisition (both common with startups).
Then there are potential long-term risks: “A lot of people [who willingly provide their data to companies] are young and healthy and not thinking of the impact that might be with health insurance or, even in some contexts, employment,” Riley adds. “They go into it willing to share everything, then, later on, they recognize that if things come out they may have an obligation to share it with a long-term care company or a life insurance company and they weren’t thinking about that at the time.” It gets more complicated when more-in depth tests are involved, a natural progression of the trend we are undoubtedly going to see increasing.
Take Veracity Selfcare, the New York City-based startup’s process starts with a $149 mail-in spit test, but unlike genealogy companies like 23andMe that look at DNA, it’s checking hormones — like estrogen and testosterone — and pH levels. “Our test results give women real insights into the state of their hormones and offer solutions that will improve their skin health, from skin-care products and ingredients they should use to diet and lifestyle recommendations tailored to their unique biofactors,” says founder and CEO Allie Egan.
Right now, the tech is geared towards women, but Egan says they plan to expand to men in the future. “We focus on women because we test estrogen and progesterone, which are female dominant hormones, but have had men take the test,” she says. “In the future, we’ll be able to provide more customized insight for men.”
For example, if Veracity’s test shows low estrogen levels, which could mean decreased collagen production, its algorithm would then prompt the website to recommend a collagen-boosting serum or something from its own line of products, like its Bioevolve Serum for $85 or Bioevolve Moisturizer for $75.