Maybe, like me, you’ve got less-than-glowing skin. Maybe you’re trying to deal with your breakouts, dark spots, dull complexion or loss of tone—all by using the flavor-of-the-month brand/ingredient/skin care tool (love you, rose quartz roller). Finally, maybe none of the products you’ve heard about from your friends or read about on a trusted website are really doing the trick. That was my predicament, but I’d be damned if I was going to spend countless hours finding a dermatologist and driving to their office, only to fork over hundreds of dollars for a quick consult. After all, it’s not as though my face was full of pustules that needed emergency seeing to.
Instead, I did nothing and my skin continued to look like one big meh-shrug emoji. So when I heard about Curology, the $20-a-month skin care subscription service where you chat with dermatologists on your computer, I was curious. This San Francisco tech start-up is on a mission to give people all over the country access to affordable and customized care from skin doctors. I discovered the three-year-old brand via its Insta feed, where upbeat inspo and dewy faces won me over. That, and the ease of the service they promised.
To start, I answered a skin care quiz that was something like 15 questions (which, btw, was way faster than the never-ending forms you get when you see a new doctor). The questions were about my skin care regimen now (erratic), any meds I’m on and what’s stressing me out about my face (uneven tone, large pores, dryness). Then I took left-, right- and forward-facing snaps of my face with my phone, uploaded, hit send and forgot about it.
Ten days later, I got a little box with three products. A cleanser, a moisturizer and (the hero of the bunch) a lotion with some prescription ingredients mixed into it. (I was frankly relieved not to have a bunch of different products for various parts of my face.) I also got an email introducing me to my assigned dermatologist, a San Diego–based clinician who, in a note, explained that he’d prescribed a custom leave-on lotion I was supposed to apply before bed. It had 5% azelaic acid to lighten dark spots and smooth skin texture, 2% tranexamic acid to calm redness and 2% niacinamide to reduce wrinkles and improve skin elasticity.
I was supposed to apply the moisturizer nightly, and the active lotion a few nights a week at first. During the day, I was just supposed to wear the moisturizer. Easy peasy. The morning after I first applied the custom lotion, my skin was already tighter and glowier, with more of an apparent change than when I’d used any over-the-counter preps. The second time I used it, I felt a little bit of tingly discomfort on one side of my face that went away when I applied the moisturizer.
Two weeks later, I had a quick check-in with my assigned derm, who asked if I was experiencing any irritation (not really), seeing any results (smoother, less red skin) or having any other issues. I was told to keep using the lotion; I’d have another check-in at ten weeks since my skin care needs might change by then due to anything from hormones to weather.
Was this digital direct-to-consumer scheme too good to be true? I ran the ingredients in my custom lotion by an experienced aesthetician, thinking she would pooh-pooh the idea. Instead, she was familiar with all the active ingredients and intrigued by the company, along with its $20-a-month subscription model, saying that my skin looked great and that she was all for bringing profesh medical skin treatment to the masses without the expense and inconvenience of driving to a doctor’s office.
That was a couple weeks ago, and my skin is now looking luminous and smooth. Of course, now my neck is looking a little wan by comparison...but I look forward to bringing that up with my Curology dermatologist at our upcoming check-in.