Skin Stories

How Our Creative Designer Learned That Less is More In Skincare

Meet Rena, a creative designer in Queens who pared down her skincare products and found confidence in her routine.

Rena Li

Designer at Atolla

Rena Li



Skin Stories is a feature series written by Atolla users about their relationship with their skin.

Hi there! You may have seen my face around before. It’s nice to meet you! I'm Rena. I've been a designer at Atolla for 8 months now, and it’s greatly shifted my relationship and understanding of my skin.

Before Atolla

In the past, my skincare routine was entirely given to me by other people — especially my mom, my initiator into the world of skincare. It was basically part of my coming of age as a woman: as a teenager, my mom passed down skincare products to me, and those products would later become my routine. Whenever I had a new skin issue, I would consult her. Like a witch with many potions, her hands hovering over Clinique and Shiseido, she would eventually pick one out for me and say, “OK, use this.”

I’m really not sure how she finds all her products, but she is a hoarder, and she has a lot. To this day, I’m still not sure if she really understands what ingredients one needs, or even the different skin types, but somehow her massive arsenal has worked really well for her (seriously, she looks great). So maybe there is a method to her madness.

There’s perfume and makeup in the mix, but trust me, there are bottles and bottles of all sorts of skincare products in this madness.

Aside from my mom, I found my skincare from YouTubers, friends, and any Sephora employee who recommended something to me that I bought to be polite. Point is, I needed other people to tell me what to do.

The Tipping Point

I knew that I had sensitive skin and occasional breakouts, and a lot of products felt too harsh, but knowing this alone wasn’t going to help me.

2019 was a very chaotic (but exciting!) year for me personally, and my skin was along for this bumpy ride. I was in between jobs and cities all year. My 2019 started in Texas, then a student dorm in Chicago for 2 months, before I finally moved to NYC, where I stayed on a friend’s couch for a few months until I found my own place. The constant moving and temporary living spaces was a huge stressor for my skin.

It was especially in my first month, transitioning between Chicago and NY, that my face fully broke out like I had never seen it before since high school. For the first time, I was starting to self-diagnose and buy my own skincare products. I was googling breakout solutions and looking at Amazon reviews. I was washing my face multiple times a day with drugstore salicylic acid face washes and exfoliating washes. I was using a drying calamine lotion every night. I felt like I was desperately putting out little fires, smothering chemicals on the testing ground that my face became, and it only got worse.

Meeting Atolla

It was at the height of my skin disaster when I met Meg, our CEO. I’ll be honest, I was a tiny bit embarrassed meeting the CEO of a skincare company to discuss my potential employment as a freelance designer, with my face looking the way it did. But of course, Meg was very nice, and I felt inspired by her perspective on using data science to empower people by giving them the confidence of understanding their own skin. To familiarize myself with the brand, she gave me my first Skin Health Kit. I felt like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, scuttling back to my apartment with “my precious” cargo – what would I find out about my skin?

Here’s what I learned:

1. My skin was dry.

When I got my first skin report back, it was a little jarring and surprising to see how dry my skin was and I didn’t even realize it. I just thought the tightness was how I knew it was working. This whole time I thought I was combating oils for breakouts, when I was actually drying my skin out. In hindsight, harsh chemicals from drugstore products also probably contributed to all the irritation.

The lighter blue arc represents a healthy range for your skin measurements to fall under. My moisture level was way below the healthy level of 50%. My pH was also alkaline, fairly high compared to a healthy range of 4.5-5.5.

2. I was using way too many things.

Given that Atolla uses a very curated list of ingredients, and seeing the product interaction section of my dashboard, I got the hunch that I was using way too many things on my face. It was inevitable that they would at some point negatively react to each other. Atolla has made me more mindful of what I add to my routine, what ingredients I’m using, and their function for my skin.

3. Knowing and loving your skin is a journey.

There were all these things about skincare that I didn’t know — like the importance of pH, or why we use serums. I learned a ton just by reading blog articles that Meg, Sid, and Ranella wrote. I feel much more confident about my skin. I love my skin. I can look my occasional pimple in the eye and still say “I accept you, pimple” because I know that my skin is healthy on a scientific level. Skin that doesn’t look perfect can still be beautiful and healthy.

My most recent skin measurements show that my oil, moisture, and pH levels are all healthy. Booyah!

I always saw my skin as something to be fixed, not understood. Everyone can agree that each person’s skin is unique and nuanced, but sometimes we don’t treat it with the patience and love it deserves. Atolla’s serum and my time working on this team have hugely shifted my perspective and approach to skincare.  

- Rena L. (Queens, NY)

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