Meghan has a graduate degree in Engineering and Management from MIT, and previously worked in design roles at Patagonia, The MIT Design Lab, and Formlabs.
Everywhere you turn these days, the “custom” skincare trend is front and center. But what exactly does custom mean?
In starting Atolla, we sought to reinvent the mass skincare model. Using our patented algorithm, we source data from thousands of customers in a MIT-developed process to create your specific formula. We’d like to fold back a layer of our process and explain how we deliver your custom skincare.
Let’s start with a look at how traditional skincare products arrive on shelves.
How it’s traditionally made
First, concepts are created around an ingredient that is gaining in popularity (e.g. "CBD" or "Niacinamide''), with a particular skin concern or type in mind (fine lines, enlarged pores, etc.). The chemists develop formulas in iterations for the client, after which they undergo testing for stability and preservative efficacy, a process that typically takes 8 months to 1 year start to finish. The longer the desired shelf life, the longer the stability testing (i.e. 12 weeks of stability amounts to 2 years of shelf life).
Before launching on the market, a new formula might be user tested on a "representative sample" of anywhere from 10-30 people to see who it works for. This sort of subjective testing is the basis for many of the marketing claims consumers ultimately see, like "90% of people saw a reduction in breakouts," although it is important to recognize that the sample size was quite small.
These products are then brought to the shelves with ingredients that allow a shelf life of 2-3 years and marketed to a specific skin “type” to drive sales, often with the core trend ingredient (i.e. CBD) as a driver.
At Atolla, we take a different approach. It took over 2 years of R+D with a team of chemists and data scientists for us to get to market. Here's a more detailed look at how our custom formulation process works and how it compares to the traditional model.
What makes up our custom formulas
There are 3 different elements that make up your custom formula: your base, your active ingredients, and your percent of actives.
Atolla bases come in a variety of different textures, which range from fast-absorbing water to nourishing oil. We determine which base you receive from your preferences, oil and moisture levels, and skin concerns.
In every custom formula, multiple active ingredients are combined into one of our base textures. Actives are the hardest working element of your serum and target specific skin needs. Our co-founder Dr. Ranella Hirsch carefully selected each of our 30+ active ingredients for their track record of efficacy. We use both principal actives (the “main” active at the highest percent) and supporting actives (the actives to help the serum address multiple skin goals.)
The final element of customization is the ratio, or percentage, of active ingredients in your formula. Each ingredient’s percentage fluctuates based on your skin needs and goals, as well as the other active ingredients in your formula. Every element of your Atolla formula (base and actives) has been stability-tested to last longer than the intended usage of 1 month. Bases and actives are also combined from our chemist’s deep knowledge of ingredient interactions and our data-informed algorithm of ingredient combinations.
Curating the right ingredient combos
We determine what combination of base + actives you receive from the online skin assessment you take, which analyzes your skin goals, concerns, history, environment, prescriptions, habits, and preferences. In the custom formulation process, we tweak a studied, stable combination of ingredients in order to yield the highest efficacy to address your skin concerns
The variables collected in our skin assessment and at-home Skin Test are all factors in our algorithm that predicts what ingredient dosage will be most effective in increasing your skin health metrics. Our patented model finds ingredient dosage combinations that will have the highest increase in each user’s skin health, eliminating any ingredients with conflicts to the user’s routine or any past allergies. The ingredient dosage combinations are limited by skincare formulation rules so the total number of combinations is great, but not infinite, since there are clear parameters for combining skincare ingredients.
A great metaphor for our formulation process is a paint mixing machine, where pigments are added to a base in a specific ratio to make your paint color formula. That's how Atolla formulas work: your actives are added in a base at a specific ratio to make your serum formula.
Our formula feedback loop
To us, custom means designed for you, adapting over time to fit your evolving skin needs. It doesn't mean that we start a formulation process from scratch for each user — but it also doesn’t mean your formulas are stagnant. Each month through your Skin Test, we use your physical data to choose ingredients for your most current needs or keep you in the same formula. Our algorithm takes your feedback and continues to tweak your formula month over month to optimize it to your skin, which changes over time.
Our patented data model is always optimizing to find the right ingredient combinations for our customers based on their needs. We take tried-and-true ingredient combinations at optimal percentages and deliver the best formula to you at the right time. What's so exciting is that in our formula development process, we start with tens of thousands of data points, compared to the 10-30 people used in the traditional formulation process.
We are continuously improving our process, and our breadth of formulations and ingredients looks different today than it did 6 months ago. Over the last year we’ve expanded to add 20+ new ingredients, including Retinol and Peptides. Our model gets more and more fine-tuned as our customer base grows and we identify more customer needs. This means our total number of potential formulas expand and contract from customer feedback and Skin Test results.
If you're interested in learning more details of how our patent works, you can view it here.