This Science-Y New Skin-Care Subscription Can Predict What Your Skin Needs

Photo: Getty Images/ svetikd
In the world of skin care,  it often feels like we're playing catch-up. We only hydrate our skin after it starts to feel dry, or treat our pimples after they've popped their pesky little heads above the surface. In other words, we wait for our skin to tell us what it needs, and then we find a product to fix it. But a new line of subscription, customized serums, called Atolla, is about to flip that idea on its head.

The brand—which launched on August 13th—uses data about your skin health, history, and lifestyle to develop a custom serum to keep you glowing... and predict any sorts of issues that might pop up before they happen. "Think of fitting your skin as being fitted for a couture gown—you can buy some lovely things off the rack, but for the ultimate fit, something that is made just for you cannot be beat," says the brand's co-founder dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, MD. "The current strategy to look for products made for the masses can be quite successful, but there is nothing better than understanding the specific issues and concerns that are your own, and then addressing with something tailored to fit." And Atolla's doing it in a whole new way.

What serum customization looks like

The concept of customized skin care is hardly new—over the last few years, dozens of brands have popped up and made it possible to personalize pretty much every aspect of your routine. But Atolla's approach is different. In addition to an exhaustive questionnaire that asks you about everything from your skin type to your lifestyle habits, which is fairly commonplace in the custom skin-care game, Atolla also has its customers undergo a series of physical tests. They send you a kit that allows you to test your pH and moisture levels of your skin using small strips of paper in order to figure out what, exactly, your skin needs from its products. (BTW—it's a lot less involved than it sounds, and takes less than two minutes to get done.)

So, with Atolla, your customized serum is based on both self-reported skin traits and measurable skin data for a more clear, accurate understanding of your skin's condition. Taking it even further is the fact that the brand has you retake the diagnostic every month. "Unique to the Atolla model is that your formulation adapts each month with your skin changes," says the brand's co-founder and COO Sid Salvi. "It's not just customized once; it continues to be customized to suit your skin's needs." Per the website, each individualized serum "contains ingredients in the dosages that will do the most for your skin at that time." Since your skin is constantly evolving, so too is your formula.

The test helps determine your "skin sequence," which is what the brand uses to put together your formula. The five digit code reflects your top skin concern, your skin sensitivities, and your oil, moisture, and pH levels. While Atolla's system measures various other unique aspects of your skin, they found that those are the factors that are most representative of your skin health. To give you an idea of what this sequence looks like, let's say your number is B-2573:

  • The first letter represents your top skin concern, which in this case is "B" for breakouts.
  • The first number represents your oil score, normalized (scale from 1-9): A "2" means low oil compared to everyone else in their database.
  • The second number represents your hydration score (scale of 1-9): A "5" corresponds to average hydration compared to everyone in their database.
  • The third number represents your pH level (scale of 4-7): 7 is alkaline.
  • The fourth and final number corresponds to sun sensitivity on the Fitzpatrick index (1-6): 3 means that you burn and then tan.

... Pretty cool, right?

Predicting your skin's behavior

With all of these dynamic, personalized factors in place, the brand not only addresses what your skin is dealing with right now, but also to predict what's going to happen to it over time—like when the seasons change, you're in the midst of your stressful season at work, or you move to a city with a lot more pollution—and give you a serum to help. "We use data science to constantly find patterns, allowing us to make accurate predictions about your skin," explains the brand's co-founder and CEO Meghan Maupin. "For people looking to take care of their skin, understanding how their diet, lifestyle, and routine is affecting their skin health is key to being preventative—so they know not only what to use, but also what not to use." Atolla works with all of this info to preemptively adapt your serums before anything flares up, which hasn't been done yet in the customizable beauty world.

The idea is that the more data the brand has from your skin—and from all of its customers' skin—the better it can use that data to develop your perfect personalized serum. Dr. Hirsch points out that in medicine, both subjective opinions and objective data go into diagnostics for the best possible treatment—so their goal is to do the same for your skin health to "precisely optimize the products we make for you." And in addition to personalized ingredients, users can also choose the texture of their serum—the kit comes with four small samples so you can figure out which one you like the most—because if you have a serum you actually like putting on your face, you'll be more apt to use it regularly.

The serums have hero ingredients like hydrating hyaluronic acid, exfoliating salicylic acid, and dark spot-fighting ascorbic acid, which are uniquely mixed with natural carriers like avocado oil, squalene, and rosehip seed oil. When I went through my own diagnostic (which, it’s worth noting, left my jaw dropped on the table because of the way it physically tested my skin pH and moisture), the serum that was suggested to help my dry skin issues included a mix of hyaluronic, vitamin B5, and squalene... which happen to currently be three separate serums that are already in my regimen.

Aside from the fact that using a single serum with everything your skin needs will save you time and shelf space, it will also save you money. A subscription to Atolla will run you $45 a month, which is a whole lot less than the $200+ that I'm currently investing to use the same ingredients. And after placing my first order, I can't wait for it to arrive.

Another new brand we've been obsessing over? Ghost Democracy, which will save you hundreds on some of your favorite ingredients. And this Cold Brew Eye Serum will make you feel like your peepers just downed a large iced latte—aka awake.

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