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 personalization actually backed by science, or is it just clever marketing? And are Curology’s standard products well-formulated and likely to be effective for improving skincare?
These are the questions we’ll answer in this review.
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 an intake process.
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 need a different set of ingredients in a serum than a patient without any skin conditions. There are compounds studied to be effective against rosacea, and these compounds would likely be included in a serum formulation for a patient with rosacea.
But this type of individualized treatment already exists; it isn’t novel because eCommerce brands with cool graphics now sell it. 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 relevant medical expert 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.
Acne Cream Ingredient Review
Curology publishes the active ingredients they use in their acne and anti-aging formulations, so we can evaluate these for efficacy based on medical research. We find it strange that Curology includes the exact same list of active ingredients on their “Custom Formula for acne” and “Custom Formula for anti-aging” product pages.
Ingredients which are proven to be effective for acne, and which are proven to be effective for anti-aging should be listed separately, because there isn’t much overlap.
The acne 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, but a medical review of topical retinoids for acne found that tazarotene at a concentration of 0.1% was more effective than tretinoin at a concentration of 0.025%, which is a commonly-prescribed concentration. Curology does not publish the concentration of tretinoin on their product page which isn’t especially helpful to consumers.
Azelaic acid is proven effective for treating acne. A clinical trial found that this ingredient at a concentration of 15% significantly reduced acne on average, with 63% of the patients experiencing a total or near-total reduction in acne. Side effects were mild to none. Again, Curology does not publish the concentration of azelaic acid on this product page which isn’t helpful.
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.
Clearly Curology has selected effective ingredients for their acne serum which are backed by clinical research. We recommend that patients speak with their dermatologist prior to using topical antibiotics.
Anti-Aging Cream Ingredient Review
The anti-aging product page states that the formulation “can include tretinoin, niacinamide, tranexamic acid.”
In the previous section we found that tretinoin was effective for treating acne, but it appears that it’s likely to be effective for aging as well. A medical overview covering 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 this product without seeing the concentration of tretinoin, but it’s likely to be better-formulated than the majority of anti-aging skincare products we’ve reviewed, many of which have no effective ingredients at all.
Curology Lip Balm Review
Curology’s lip balm seems well-formulated for efficacy. It contains jojoba seed oil and beeswax as the first listed active ingredients, which are both hydrating and moisturizing. These are effective choices for a natural lip balm product.
It also contains hyaluronic acid which we referenced in a previous section, 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 a consumer can find a lip balm without this class of compounds.
Three of this product’s variations also contain the generic “flavor,” and as we noted in our Shakeology review, we recommend avoiding both nutrition and cosmetic products containing this ingredient. It’s a generic descriptor which doesn’t describe the actual chemicals used, and without this information consumers cannot determine that the chemicals used to make this flavor are safe and non-toxic.
Curology does sell an unflavored version which we would recommend over the flavored versions.
Overall we would not recommend this product, but for consumers who are only concerned with efficacy it may be a good choice.
Curology Moisturizer Review
Curology sells a moisturizer which they claim hydrates the skin and keeps the moisture “locked in.”
It contains hyaluronic acid as an active ingredient which we have already determined to be effective. The product also contains aloe barbadensis leaf juice (aloe vera) 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 and common ingredient in moisturizers, as is Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter.
Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil has been shown to be effective in protecting skin against UVB damage in a clinical trial.
Curology’s moisturizer contains phenoxyethanol, the preservative mentioned in the previous section, so we cannot recommend it. It contains a second preservative ethylhexylglycerin which is the one we typically recommend due to its weak nature, and two preservatives in one moisturizer formulation seems like overkill to us.
This product is definitely likely to be effective, and again, for consumers who care about efficacy alone this product is a great option. It’s one of the best-formulated moisturizers for efficacy we’ve reviewed, and if it contained the one weaker preservative (ethylhexylglycerin) instead of two we would recommend it.
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 User Reviews
We typically highlight Amazon reviews because reviews published on a brand’s own website are so easily manipulated that they’re essentially worthless as a barometer in our opinion.
Unfortunately Curology doesn't sell on Amazon, but plenty of YouTube influencers have reviewed their products. One of the most popular reviews on YouTube that’s unsponsored (so there’s no bias) comes from a channel called “Hyram.”
The creator breaks down some of the ingredients in the formulations and actually purchased the products so they can provide a personal review:
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 personalized product currently costs $39.90 and is shipped bimonthly, which equates to $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 costs $20, the sunscreen costs $14 and the lip balm costs $4.95. These are actually reasonable prices in our opinion for what you’re getting.
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