I Used a Customized Serum for a Month—Here’s How It Went
It takes personalization to the next level.
Updated Feb 10, 2020 11:37 AM
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You don’t have to be best friends with a lab-equipped dermatologist or a potion-making expert to nab a product made precisely for your unique skin. Now, Atolla, a new brand founded by two MIT grads who worked with dermatology expert Dr. Ranella Hirsch, MD, FAAD, makes it possible to order a personalized concoction straight to your front door—no need to waste time in a waiting room.
After you sign up on the Atolla website, the brand sends you a Skin Health Kit full of testers that you’ll use to gauge hydration, oiliness, and pH—but don’t stress: It’s way easier than your seventh-grade science exams. At the end of the evaluation, you’re assigned your own skin ID and given an ingredients list for your own personal serum that the brand sends you in the mail. After about a month, you’ll retake that same test and your formulation will shift depending on any changes. “The platform is set up like measurable experiment that keeps getting smarter over time,” says Meghan Maupin, who cofounded the brand with Sid Salvi. “This means we can identify the cause of a skin issue and create a personalized solution that adapts to the way your skin changes.” So how does it work? We put Atolla to the test.
Testing is super-precise
One morning, before applying my usual skincare routine (so as not to skew the results), I took my Skin Health Kit, opened up the corresponding quiz on my laptop, and completed the first two phases: moisture and oil testing, which, simply enough, just required me to press testers against different parts of my face for about 10 seconds each. Then, I compared how those testers looked with a few diagrams presented to me on screen. The result? My skin is just slightly on the dry side and not very oily at all, as I had expected.
Next, things got a little more technical with a pH strip test, but even that was beyond easy: All you have to do is dip the strip in a packet of liquid, and then hold it to your cheek for 20 seconds. Then you compare the colors of the strip to a scale on-screen. Last, I tested two of four vials of liquid against the back of my hand, just to see what I preferred; the one I picked ended up being the consistency of the product I was sent. Finally, I was given a brief analysis of my skin and presented with a list of ingredients my custom serum would include: hyaluronic acid, Irish moss extract, tamarind seed, and vitamin B5 for hydration plus green tea leaf extract for an antioxidant boost. About a week later, I received it in the mail.
Incorporating with your routine is easy
Testing your skin for what it needs the most is one thing. But Atolla goes a step further by taking into consideration the products you’re already using to figure out where there might be gaps in your routine—and it was clear that I needed a hydrating serum so that’s what I received. It also notes any prescriptions you might be on that can affect your skin, whether that’s an acne medication or birth control.
The best thing about a custom serum is that it’s just one more thing you can add on to your routine—no need to give up the cleanser or moisturizer you might already love. Plus, because it’s packaged with a precise month’s worth of product, you can feel good knowing that you’ll actually finish it instead of letting it sit around and lose efficacy.
And the results are clear
Your complexion changes depending on so many factors—location, stress level, diet, and more. This is why Atolla’s subscription service includes a test every month. “Overall, our goal is to use technology to get you exactly the right ingredients at exactly the time you need them,” Maupin says.
As I neared the end of my month, I got an email telling me it was time to test my skin again, so I opened up the packet that had arrived with the serum. Overall, not too much changed—my pH was different by a tiny amount, and I was just a little more hydrated than before, but that was to be expected: It takes about a month for your skin cells to turn over, and I was taking the assessment before the full month was complete. My new formulation was about the same but with a greater concentration of hyaluronic acid—since my skin seemed to be reacting well to it, I could try something a little more potent.
Now, with my second bottle due to arrive in about a week, I’m close to hitting the end of my supply—and the only thing more satisfying than finishing a product is knowing that I’ll have a fresh one in my hands in no time.
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