How Our CEO Reclaimed Her Sensitive Skin and Started a Mission

My relationship with my skin has always been complicated. Growing up, I got my fair share of breakouts that lingered around a long time and left scars. Because of my OCD, I used to pick at my breakouts which would lead to even worse scars. I remember trying to figure out the best way to cover my scabbed face with concealer, only to have the boys at middle school make fun of me because I didn’t know how to “do my makeup.” There were days I didn’t want to leave the house because I was so afraid of what people would think when they saw my skin. I even wore makeup to the gym and to sports practice because I was self-conscious.

At the end of high school, I went on Accutane, which cleared up my skin, and after watching a lot of tutorials, I got way better at doing my makeup. I kept a pretty minimal skincare routine, often buying the latest product I saw a beauty editor try or ones my friends would rave about. They always seemed to have amazing results, but I didn’t ever see much difference. The one constant for me was wearing sunscreen daily. In my teens, I got a few really bad sunburns (like so bad that one of my friends nicknamed me “Colgate” because my back was red and my front was white). I knew that my pale, sensitive skin could not even last 10 minutes in the sun without sunscreen so I became super diligent about wearing sunscreen every day.

I knew that my pale, sensitive skin could not even last 10 minutes in the sun without sunscreen so I became super diligent about wearing sunscreen every day.

After college, I moved up to Boston and I got really into outdoor sports: rock climbing, skiing, ice climbing, and mountaineering. With these new passions came a whole new set of challenges with my skin. I was often in extreme conditions where my eyelashes froze from negative temperatures and wind chapped my face to the extent it almost felt raw. I would literally put Vaseline on my face before I would go outside as a kind of protective shield. I also loved going on longer backpacking trips that involved camping, so I really had to pare down my beauty essentials and think not only about ways to take care of my skin, but also prevent it from all the environmental stress I was exposing it to.

I really had to pare down my beauty essentials and think not only about ways to take care of my skin, but also prevent it from all the environmental stress I was exposing it to.

When I started grad school at MIT, I kept up with my climbing and training and I was often going to the gym before or after school. I ate pretty clean (having been vegan for years), but all of a sudden noticed that I had become really sensitive to different foods and ingredients. My low-maintenance skin had suddenly become high-maintenance again. I noticed I would go to the gym in the morning with a clean face, to within hours having a crazy allergic reaction where my full face broke out in small, itchy bumps. I very carefully made sure to never touch gym equipment, never touch my face, make sure I wasn’t using “harsh” products before I sweat and opened my pores. But then what was causing these reactions?!

I switched to products for “sensitive skin,” but they still caused the temporary, red itchy rash. I was completely frustrated and resorted to keeping a written skin diary to try to figure out what I was allergic to: was it a food I was eating? I already didn’t eat a lot of things since I was vegan. Was it an ingredient in a product I was using? If so, which of the 50 ingredients on the label was the culprit? It was through this struggle that I had the idea for Atolla. I knew that skincare shouldn’t be this hard to figure out. And I knew from my own experiences that my skin kept changing as my hormones, environment, and lifestyle were changing too.

The problem was, I didn’t really understand what was causing my skin issues and how to fix them. I needed to become more in control of my own skincare experiment.

The problem was, I didn't really understand what was causing my skin issues and how to fix them. I needed to become more in control of my own skincare experiment.

So I, along with my wonderful co-founders (Sid, a data scientist, and Ranella, a dermatologist) built the skincare company we wanted to exist: one built on transparency, unedited beauty, and measurable results. Today, I know very clearly about what ingredients work for me, and which ones don’t. For example, I’m allergic to almonds which also means I can’t use skincare products that have almonds as an ingredient either. I’m also sensitive to many of the preservatives found in drugstore products, which is another reason why at Atolla we make our formulations fresh and made to order, so they don’t need a lot of preservatives.

I’ve also learned that my sensitive skin needs a very specific type of solution. My current Atolla formulation has salicylic acid (to treat my rashes and breakouts), which can normally be very drying. However, my skin is already super dry so my serum has an oil base to help with hydration. From rating the other products in my routine, I’ve found a trend: I can’t use anything with essential oils in it even if it’s “clean” and “natural.” Anything with a scent never works out well for my skin.

As a founder, I hope that Atolla has the same impact on others and gives them the information they need to feel more confident in their skin!

I keep it simple with a 5-step routine, and I try to only change out one product at a time (principle 1 of a good scientific experiment). And beyond just knowing more about my skin and what works for me, I finally feel more confident. For the first time in my life, I feel happiest wearing zero makeup and being outside, doing the hobbies I love.

As a founder, I hope that Atolla has the same impact on others and gives them the information they need to feel more confident in their skin!

- Meg M. (Brooklyn, NY)