Curology is a skincare brand that’s all about personalization. Consumers fill out a quiz on their site detailing their skincare goals and current skincare struggles, and Curology puts together a custom-formulated serum. They also sell other skincare products such as sunscreen and lip balm.
But is this level of skincare personalization actually backed by science, or is it just clever marketing? And do Curology’s products contain effective ingredients? Do they contain harmful additives?
These are the questions we’ll answer in this article as we review medical research on personalized skincare, and review every ingredient in Curology's most popular products: their acne cream, their anti-aging cream, their lip balm and their moisturizer. We'll share real user reviews of the products including before-and-after images and explain whether we recommend them.
Is Personalized Skincare Necessary?
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 product created.
But is personalized skincare backed by legitimate medical research?
The answer is that it depends on the patient’s goal. We don’t believe that someone seeking an anti-aging skincare product 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 proven to reduce the signs of aging when applied topically, and these are likely to be effective regardless of a patient’s individual skin condition or age.
However when it comes to treating specific skin disorders, individualized skincare is likely to be useful. A patient diagnosed with rosacea will require a different set of skincare 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 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 create better aging outcomes based on custom sunscreen formulations.
People have different levels of melanin in their skin, and ethnicity is a proxy for these levels. Patients may have needs for 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 medical research we do not believe it will provide significant benefits, and we do not believe it’s likely to provide any benefits to patients without skin conditions who are seeking anti-aging products.
Curology explains their custom skincare process in the video below from their YouTube page:
Curology Before and After
One of the most popular before-and-after videos of a real user trying Curology comes from a creator called “Kim Nguyen.” She tried Curology for 12 days to see if the products would help her acne:
Another YouTube publisher called “Dani Smith” used Curology for 4 months and provided many before-and-after images. This is probably a timeline that’s more likely to show results. Acne can take time to treat effectively, and most medical studies on acne treatment are at least 3 weeks long:
Curology Lip Balm Review
Curology’s lip balm contains some effective hydrating and moisturizing ingredients. Jojoba seed oil and beeswax are both natural emollients which will improve the condition of dry skin.
It also contains hyaluronic acid which is one of the most well-studied skincare ingredients, and is proven in medical literature to both reduce wrinkles and “rejuvenate” skin.
Unfortunately the product also contains a few ingredients we recommend avoiding. It contains the preservative phenoxyethanol which has documented toxicity concerns, and although it’s one of the safer and most well-tolerated preservatives, we find it illogical to use a lip balm with preservatives when there are lip balms on the market free of preservatives.
Curology Lip Balm also contains the fragrance ingredients d-limonene and linalool which we recommend avoiding.
We do not recommend Curology lip balm due to the additive ingredients. Our recommended lip balm is Dr. Bronner's Organic Lip Balm which is formulated with effective, hydrating botanical ingredients like jojoba seed oil and hemp seed oil. Most importantly, it's free of questionable additives like fragrance or preservatives.
Interested consumers can check out Dr. Bronner's Organic Lip Balm at this link.
Curology Moisturizer Review
Curology sells a moisturizer which the brand claims can hydrate the skin and keep the moisture “locked in.”
It contains hyaluronic acid which we have already determined to be effective. The product also contains Aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice which is another effective choice for a skin moisturizer. The mucopolysaccharides in this plant bind moisture to the skin, as documented in a medical study.
Glycerin is another well-studied moisturizing ingredient, as is Butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter.
Limnanthes alba (meadowfoam) seed oil has been shown to be effective at protecting skin against UVB damage in a clinical trial.
Curology’s moisturizer contains phenoxyethanol, the preservative mentioned in the previous section, along with another preservative called ethylhexylglycerin.
We consider Curology's moisturizer to be effective because it contains a number of ingredients proven in medical studies to improve skin moisture content and skin quality. However, we don't recommend it due to the two preservative ingredients.
HydraGlow 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." In the linked trial, topical bakuchiol reduced wrinkles, improved skin elasticity and firmness, and reduced photodamage (damage from UV rays). There are no questionable additive ingredients like preservatives in this product.
Interested consumers can check out HydraGlow at this link.
A YouTube creator called "Alyssa Beth" claims that Curology's moisturizer caused negative effects to her skin in an unsponsored video review:
Acne Cream Ingredient Review
Curology's acne cream product page 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 proven by a 2008 meta-study that analyzed data from many individual 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. A clinical trial found that this ingredient at a concentration of 15% significantly reduced acne levels, with 63% of the patients experiencing a total or near-total reduction in acne. Side effects were mild to none.
Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic. It can be effective against acne 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 paper was published in 2007, which means the bacteria have been adapting for 15 years since.
Curology fails to publish the concentration of these active ingredients on their product page, which is unfortunate because the effectiveness will depend on concentration.
We consider Curology's anti-acne cream likely to be effective, but we cannot recommend it without seeing a list of inactive ingredients. We recommend that patients speak with a dermatologist before using topical antibiotics, because this may have a negative long-term effect on skin quality.
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’s likely to 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.”
Application of topical 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, there is medical research proving that niacinamide reduces the appearance of wrinkles and improves skin structure. It’s also very well-studied from a safety perspective.
Tranexamic acid may be effective for 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 chosen by Curology 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.
Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum is our top anti-aging skincare serum because of its effective and clean formulation. 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. We consider this to be the most powerful topical skincare ingredient. Most importantly, this serum is entirely free of questionable additives like preservatives or fragrance.
Interested consumers can check out Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum at this link.
Curology’s price isn’t transparently stated on their homepage or product pages which can be a bit frustrating to users (it was to us).
All of Curology’s pricing information is published on a support page. The program currently costs $39.90 and products are shipped bimonthly, which equates to a cost of $19.95 per month. This is a pretty reasonable price given all of the effective ingredients included.
Curology offers a free trial as detailed on the support page, where users just pay for shipping ($4.95).
The cleanser and moisturizer set adds $20 per shipment, the sunscreen adds $14 and the lip balm adds $4.95. These are actually reasonable prices in our opinion given how many effective ingredients most Curology formulations contain.
Curology Pros and Cons
Here’s what we think are the pros and cons of this brand:
- Many effective ingredients in each formulation
- Reasonable price
- Great branding
- Free trial
- Questionable additive ingredients
- Failure to publish ingredient concentrations
- Personalized skincare may not be necessary