Meghan Maupin, CEO
Meg is the CEO and Co-founder of Atolla. She has a graduate degree in Engineering and Management from MIT, and previously worked in design roles at Patagonia, The MIT Design Lab, and Formlabs.
The skincare industry has made it nearly impossible to just care for our skin, whether you’re looking to improve your overall skin health or treat an active issue — and this is by design. Skin types were created as a way to sell products and put people into 4 neat categories, but in reality, most people don’t fit into that box.
It’s time for the skincare industry to better address the needs of consumers. In comparison to traditional skin types, custom skincare is designed for you - it has better results, reduces waste and empowers you to make better and safer choices by understanding your skin in more detail.
This is why we should move beyond the skin type into custom skincare:
What works for everyone works for no one
There are 8 billion people in the world, but only 4 skin types? The common skin types "dry," "combination," "normal" and "oily" were created to help sell products to consumers. However, these cosmetics skin types lack any scientific definition, relying on people to self-classify, often incorrectly. Many people don't feel like they fit into a single type, because in this mass-typing, underserved demographics get left out.
We don't create products for skin types. Instead, the Atolla model lets data tell us what the patterns are — with over 1 million possible skin combinations. This is more inclusive because products are made for the individual, and not a blanket solution.
Don't trust the claims
Cosmetic skincare products are not required to do clinical trials before launching, and therefore do not always know the effectiveness of their product before it becomes available to consumers. If clinical trials are done, there are no requirements for the diversity of users in terms of qualifications such as ethnicity, age, or particular skin attributes. The result is biased trial outcomes and unregulated claims such as "99% of users saw a reduction in red spots" when it might only have been tested on 10-20 people with very similar, often white, skin attributes.
Beauty is a trend-driven market
Instead of starting with the consumer need in product development, most skincare brands focus on the latest "it" ingredient. These brands put an exorbitant amount of money towards marketing, making consumers fit a fictional archetype that may not accurately represent their specific skin's needs. The resulting lack of product diversification perpetuates the larger social and cultural problems of consumer diversity and buyer power in the industry. This occurs because beauty retailers sell similar products developed and marketed towards a similar type of consumer, which leaves consumers without much agency to advocate for better products.
Perpetuating a lack of consumer education
There is a vast amount of skincare content and education available on the internet. However, it's hard for consumers to find reliable and accurate content that is directly related to their skin needs. The disconnect for most consumers stems from a lack of knowledge about their own skin and skin type. Less than 10% of US consumers have seen a dermatologist to help diagnosis their skin and educate them about how to solve their skin concerns. This means that the majority of consumers are choosing their own products by self-diagnosing their skin type into 1 of 4 categories, without much nuance.
An expensive trial-and-error cycle
One problem with social media-driven discovery in the skincare industry is that the skin attributes of the influencer or ad subject may be different than the consumer, often leading to unsatisfactory results for the consumer. The oversaturation of product offerings combined with a lack of individual skin knowledge about their unique skin attributes creates a lot of waste and confusion. The result is a trial-and-error process where women, on average, throw away over $100,000 of unused products in their lifetime.
Mass production, mass waste
The skincare industry is consolidated. There are roughly 6 large beauty companies on the market (Estee Lauder, L'Oreal, P+G, J+J, Unilever, Shiseido) that own many of the smaller beauty brands. Skincare manufacturers must strike a balance between what is economically feasible for them relative to the quantity of products available in the market and the amount of customers they can attract.
Thousands of $300 creams are made in the same factories as $5 creams, where all the products are made in bulk, and then sent to stores to be sold on the shelf — normally organized by brand or skin type. The economics of the beauty industry rely on mass beauty because their supply chains are not set up to do anything else.
In contrast, mass customization removes the need for big-batch formulations (because data models can predict and model the supply chain), in turn creating savings costs by reducing waste by only making the amount of product that needs to exist for each consumer.
Health is individual
Our bodies are unique and skin, as our largest organ, is no different. Consumers are missing knowledge about their own skin and therefore find it hard with an oversaturation of product offerings to differentiate and choose the products that will be safest and most efficacious for their needs. Certain ingredients may cause an allergic reaction in one person and not the next; skincare should be considered on an individual basis that accounts for the changing and complex nature of skin health.
Your skin is always changing
Skin changes with the seasons, environment, and age. Your skin cells turn over every 30 days. The idea of "skin types'' doesn't account for the complex and dynamic nature of skin. Often times, if someone had oily skin as a teenager, they still believe their skin to be "oily." But in buying harsh oil-stripping products, they are often creating their own skin problem because of mis-classification.
By understanding their skin and what ingredients work for them, consumers take ownership of their skin health and can extend that knowledge to make informed product choices.