Curology Review: Is "Personalized Skincare" Legit?

Curology Review: Is "Personalized Skincare" Legit?


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Curology is a skincare brand that’s all about personalization. Consumers fill out a quiz on the brand's website describing their skincare goals and current skincare issues, and Curology suggests custom-formulated products.

But is personalized skincare backed by science, or is this just clever marketing? Do Curology’s products contain research-backed ingredients for improving skin quality and appearance? Do they contain any questionable additives? And how do real Curology customers rate and describe the aesthetic effects of the products?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more, as we review clinical studies to share our thoughts on whether or not personalized skincare is legitimate.

We'll analyze the ingredients in four of Curology's best-selling products (Lip Balm, Moisturizer, Acne Cream and Anti-Aging Cream) based on clinical studies to give our take on whether or not they're likely to be effective, and whether or not they're healthy.

We'll also feature unsponsored customer reviews of the brand including before-and-after images.

Is Personalized Skincare Legit?

Personalized cosmetics are becoming increasingly popular (with brands like Function of Beauty even selling personalized shampoo), and it’s not surprising from a marketing standpoint.

A brand that sells a customer a personalized product is likely to have a much more loyal customer than a brand selling a standard serum that any customer can purchase. Personalized products feel more scientific because there’s typically a quiz and a "custom" recommendation.

But is personalized skincare backed by legitimate medical research?

The answer is that it depends on the customer's goal.

We don’t believe that someone seeking an anti-aging effect is likely to benefit from personalized skincare, because most of the factors that negatively affect and age skin are consistent across skin types. 

No matter what your skin type, UV damage will degrade your skin. No matter what your skin type, biological aging will degrade your skin.

There are well-studied compounds such as hyaluronic acid which are clinically shown to reduce the signs of aging when applied topically, and these are likely to be effective regardless of an individual's skin condition or age.

However, when it comes to treating specific skin disorders, individualized skincare can be useful. A patient diagnosed with rosacea will require a different set of active ingredients than a patient without any skin conditions.

But this type of individualized treatment already exists. If a patient goes to a dermatologist and gets diagnosed with a skin condition, they will receive recommendations for products which help to treat or manage that skin condition.

And we believe it would be a much better option to see a dermatologist and receive truly individualized advice based on medical testing than to receive personalized products from eCommerce companies based on online tests.

There are some cases where personalized skincare may benefit consumers without diagnosed skin conditions.

A medical review of the benefits and drawbacks of personalized skincare, published in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology journal, found that personalized skincare may optimize aging outcomes based on custom sunscreen formulations.

People have different levels of melanin in their skin, and may require different strengths of sun protection based on their melanin levels. Personalized skincare may optimize this process in a way that a standard sunscreen brand couldn’t.

Overall, we believe that personalized skincare may provide some minor benefits, but at the current stage of clinical research we do not believe it will provide significant benefits or that it's worth an increased cost.

Curology explains their custom skincare process in the video below from their YouTube page:

Curology Moisturizer Review

Curology The Moisturizer ingredients

The ingredients in Curology's moisturizer, called "The Moisturizer," are shown above.

Glycerin was shown to hydrate the skin and support skin barrier repair in a medical review published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Sorbitan olivate and cetearyl olivate may have synergistic effects in naturally hydrating the skin (meaning the combined effect of both is greater than the individual effect of either), according to a 2019 clinical trial.

Sodium hyaluronate is one of the most well-studied anti-aging ingredients, and is clinically shown to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as we documented in our Global Beauty Care review article.

Overall, we consider this product likely effective for skin moisturization, and its formulation has substantially improved since we initially published this article.

Upon our first publication, The Moisturizer contained two synthetic preservatives that we consider to be unhealthy when used in combination, however, both of these have since been removed.

Now this product contains no inactive ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy. 

A YouTube creator named Alyssa Beth claims that Curology's moisturizer caused negative changes to her skin quality in a review:

Curology Lip Balm Review

Curology Original Lip Balm ingredients

The ingredients in Curology Original Lip Balm are shown above.

Jojoba seed oil and beeswax are natural emollients which should improve and prevent dry skin.

Hyaluronic acid is clinically shown to both reduce wrinkles and “rejuvenate” skin.

Phenoxyethanol is the only inactive ingredient in this formulation that we consider to be questionable from a health perspecitve.

As we documented in our VouPre review article, this preservative is clinically shown to be toxic to human cells, at least in a test tube study.

The scented versions of this lip balm contain fragrance and flavoring ingredients like d-limonene and flavor that we consider to be questionable from a health perspective, so for consumers set on purchasing Curology's lip balm, we recommend the Original formulation.

Overall, we consider Curology Original Lip Balm likely to moisturize the lips and somewhat likely to have an anti-aging effect, but we don't currently recommend this product due to the inclusion of phenoxyethanol.

Mind Body Green Lip Balm is our top healthy lip balm pick.

This product has the healthiest formulation of any lip balm we’ve reviewed. Like Curology's lip balm, it contains hydrating natural ingredients like sunflower seed oil and shea butter, but is free of phenoxyethanol.

Real People Try Curology

A YouTube creator named Kim Nguyen has a review of Curology after 12 days of use that includes before-and-after images.

She discusses if the brand helped reduce her acne:

A YouTube creator named Dani Smith used Curology for four months and included many before-and-after images in her review:

Curology Acne Cream Review

Curology acne cream ingredients

Curology's acne cream is custom-formulated, and the product page on the brand's website states that the formulation “can include tretinoin, azelaic acid, clindamycin.”

Tretinoin is a prescription vitamin A derivative which is one of the most commonly prescribed acne treatments.

It’s effective for treating and managing acne, as shown in a 2008 meta-study that analyzed data from many clinical trials on tretinoin and acne.

The study authors concluded that "the currently available evidence justifies the use of topical retinoids in most types of acne and during maintenance treatment."

Azelaic acid is also effective for treating acne, and may have secondary benefits to skin.

This compound is clinically shown to have an anti-aging effect, as we documented in our Agency Skincare review article.

Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic. It's effective against acne for short-term use, because acne is primarily bacterial in nature.

A medical review published in the Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy journal found that this ingredient was one of the most effective topical antibiotics, but that it had questionable long-term viability due to increasing bacterial resistance.

And the above-linked review was published in 2007, which means the bacteria have been adapting for 15 years since.

Overall, we consider Curology Acne Cream likely to be effective given that the brand uses research-backed active ingredients.

Because this product is custom-formulated, and we can't review the inactive ingredients, we don't currently recommend it.

Anti-Aging Cream Ingredient Review

Curology's anti-aging cream product page states that the formulation “can include tretinoin, niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and more.”

In the previous section we found that tretinoin was effective for treating acne, but it appears that it may be effective for reducing signs of skin aging as well.

A medical overview on the use of retinoids in skin aging states the following: “Amongst the retinoids, tretinoin possibly is the most potent and certainly the most widely investigated retinoid for photoaging therapy.”

Topical application of tretinoin seems to block the degradation of collagen in skin. Collagen is the core structural protein in skin which degrades over time as humans age.

The researchers found that tretinoin caused a “clinical improvement” in photoaged skin, suggesting it does have anti-aging effects.

Niacinamide is another very well-studied anti-aging ingredient.

As we discussed in our Rodan and Fields reviews article, clinical studies shown that niacinamide reduces the appearance of wrinkles and improves skin structure. It also has a favorable safety profile.

Tranexamic acid may be effective against skin aging, but more research is likely needed.

We identified an animal study which found that this ingredient prevented photoaging of the skin caused by UVB light.

There is also an in vitro (test tube) study which concludes that tranexamic acid “has potential” as an anti-photoaging agent.

All of the ingredients used in Curology's Anti-Aging Cream have some research backing for anti-aging effects, but we find the medical backing for tranexamic acid to be weak.

We cannot recommend Curology anti-aging cream without seeing the full list of inactive ingredients, but we consider it likely to be effective based on the active ingredients that the brand highlights. 

Our Clean Skincare Picks

There are skincare products containing ingredients shown in clinical trials to be effective for reducing wrinkles and improving skin quality.

Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum is our top anti-aging serum.

It contains hyaluronic acid which was described as a "skin-rejuvenating biomedicine" in a medical review due to its ability to reduce wrinkles and signs of facial aging. 

Momentous Collagen Powder is our top collagen supplement.

Collagen supplementation was shown in a medical review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology to reduce visible signs of skin aging as well as improve skin elasticity and skin hydration.

HYDRAGLOW by CLEARSTEM is our top moisturizer pick.

It features bakuchiol as an active ingredient which was described in a 2014 clinical trial as "clinically proven to have anti-aging effects."

All of the products recommended in this section are entirely free of ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy.

Real Customers Review Curology

Amazon is a better resource for honest customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion.

At the time of updating this article, Curology's most-reviewed product on Amazon is Gel Face Moisturizer (which has the same ingredients as The Moisturizer which is confusing to us).

This product currently has 29 total reviews, and an average review rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Hillary" who gives the product a 5/5 star rating, and who claims it's effective for combination skin:

"I have combination skin and I have to be extra careful when using moisturizers. I easily break out and get too oily. This one is just right!"

The top negative review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "beverly gillaspie" who gives the product a 1/5 star rating, and suggests it was ineffective for treating dry skin:

"I was in hopes this would help my extremely dry flaky skin on face it only makes it worse."

Curology currently has an average review rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars on Facebook.

Curology currently has an average review rating of 3.52 out of 5 stars on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website, and the company responds to the majority of customer complaints, which is a sign of a high-quality brand.

Pros and Cons of Curology

Here are the pros and cons of Curology in our opinion:

Pros:

  • Formulations contain many research-backed ingredients
  • Reasonable prices
  • Great branding
  • Moisturizer should improve skin moisture content
  • Moisturizer formulation improved since our initial review
  • Lip balm should hydrate lips
  • All Acne Cream active ingredients should be effective
  • All Anti-Aging Cream active ingredients should be effective

Cons:

  • Lip balm contains phenoxyethanol
  • Inactive ingredients in custom formulations aren't easily accessible
  • Personalized skincare may be a waste of money
  • Doesn't appear clinically tested
Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Curology makes well-formulated products at a reasonable price, which is a combination we don't often come across in Illuminate Health cosmetic reviews.

Curology Lip Balm contains active ingredients that are clinically shown to hydrate skin and to have an anti-aging effect, but it also contains a synthetic preservative we recommend avoiding.

Curology The Moisturizer is the most impressive formulation that we reviewed in this article.

The brand dramatically improved this formulation since our initial review, and now it contains multiple research-backed active ingredients and no inactive ingredients that we deem to be unhealthy.

We're unconvinced of the efficacy of personalized skincare beyond the potential for sunscreen tailored to melanin levels in skin.

While personalized skincare certainly has a future, we haven't seen clinical evidence that it's effective based on the state of research today.

We would recommend that patients seeking solutions to skin issues like dry and flaky skin or rosacea seek the consult of a dermatologist rather than use skincare solutions based on results from online quizzes.