Last Updated on November 4th, 2021
If you’ve tried many over-the-counter acne treatments, and your skin still isn’t clear, it might be time to talk to a dermatologist. Dermatologists specialize in conditions affecting the skin, and they can prescribe medications that you can’t get over-the-counter. The only problem is, insurance doesn’t always cover dermatology visits, which can be very expensive.
There is a possible alternative: Curology. We’re investigating whether Curology is safe, effective and worth the cost.
Article Table of Contents
Curology is a telehealth service created by dermatologist David Lortscher that connects people with providers who design a treatment plan for your specific skin problems. They create an individualized formula based on a skin type quiz and photos of your current skin, then mail it to your house with their signature face wash and moisturizer.
If you have questions or concerns about how the product is working, or if you want to change your personalized ingredients, you can contact your personalized provider in a variety of ways. If necessary, you can even get prescriptions for oral medications like antibiotics or birth control. Curology costs $60 every two months.
In theory, it sounds like a great idea.
Accessible dermatological care, individualized treatment plans, lower monthly cost, what’s not to love? But what goes in those individualized treatment products? Is your personal provider actually a dermatologist? Is it easy to cancel or get your money back if you have a bad experience?
These are questions everyone should be asking before trying Curology. This review addresses all these questions and more, so you can find all the answers you need in one place.
Based on their name, you would assume that Curology really can cure acne, but the truth is, there is no “cure” because it’s a longterm condition that requires ongoing, consistent treatment until your skin chemistry changes, most likely in your mid- to late-30s.
Even if a product can’t cure your breakouts forever in a single dose, many people are happy to find a product that consistently reduces their skin problems. So the question is, can Curology really help your skin? Let’s take a look at how Curology compares to one of the top skincare kits on the market right now, Exposed Skin Care.
You might look at those results and think Curology actually ranks fairly well for a variety of skin needs, but it’s important to remember that each individualized product is different. Each product is designed to do a few of the things on the list above, but none of them can do them all. Unfortunately, not every Curology user will get all of these results, because it just depends on which ingredients the team at Curology decides to include in your personalized product.
Before using Curology, you need to know what ingredients might be used in your individualized product. Below is a breakdown of a few of the most popular Curology ingredients and how they work, whether it’s to prevent breakouts, fade scars, or even out skin tone.
This popular ingredient in prescription skincare is an antibiotic, are commonly prescribed to treat acne because it can kill acne-causing bacteria, which can help get rid of existing pimples and cysts and prevent new ones from forming. The big issue with antibiotics, whether they are taken orally or topically, is antibiotic resistance1.
Antibiotic resistance is a big problem where bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and can no longer be killed by them.
Because of this issue, dermatologists are supposed to avoid prescribing antibiotics whenever possible. All antibiotic usage should be limited to a very specific time frame to help prevent antibiotic resistance.
If your initial Curology products include clindamycin, that ingredient won’t (and shouldn’t) be a permanent ingredient in your personalized formula. However, some people notice that their breakouts come back when they stop using clindamycin.
Because of these issues, we don’t recommend clindamycin for most people. Topical antibiotics should not be your first choice.
Azelaic acid is great at fighting acne, especially if you have a mixture of pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads. Studies show that azelaic acid can kill acne-causing bacteria2, which helps treat and prevent pimples. It also reduces the production of keratin, which can help prevent the formation of whiteheads and blackheads as well.
Keratin plays an important role in acne formation in a few ways. First, excess keratin can cause skin cells to clump together, making them more likely to clog pores. That’s why it’s so great that azelaic acid reduces keratin production. Keratin also plays a role in something called hyperkeratinization, a process where excess skin cells are produced at abnormally high rates, which then leads to whiteheads and blackheads because the skin cells have nowhere to go and end up getting clogged in the pore.
Today’s most effective toner, Clearing Tonic from Exposed Skincare, includes azelaic acid. When paired with green tea extract to control sebum production and passion flower to reduce redness, this toner tackles acne from all angles. Curology products may include azelaic acid, but since each product is custom, you can’t guarantee it will be in your formula.
You may have heard of tretinoin’s heavy-duty cousin, isotretinoin, better known as Accutane. Tretinoin is related to Accutane and works in a similar way, but it has a few key differences you may want to know about. First, tretinoin is a topical medication, not a pill. Second, tretinoin is much milder and comes with significantly reduced side effects. But what is tretinoin, exactly?
It’s a retinoid, a class of medications derived from vitamin A. Other retinoids include retinol, adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac). Retinoids basically function as a pace car for your skin cells. If your skin cells are being produced too quickly and not dying fast enough, it can lead to clogged pores as the live cells cling to the sides of your pores, creating whiteheads. Retinoids help by slowing down production. But if your skin cells are being produced too slowly and dying too quickly, they can build up in your pores this way as well, also leading to whiteheads. In this case, retinoids would work to increase the reproduction of skin cells. Their job is to help your skin cells reproduce at the most effective rate3.
Tretinoin works the same way. The biggest problem with tretinoin is the side effects. Tretinoin can cause severe problems, like burning, itching, and stinging, and it can sometimes lighten normal skin color. Tretinoin users have to be very careful when in the sun because even short sun exposure can cause dryness, irritation and skin flaking.
The frustrating thing about breakouts is that even after you get rid of them, you’re often left with acne scars or dark spots known as hyperpigmentation. Treating this hyperpigmentation can be tricky, but niacinamide, also known as vitamin B34, is known to help reduce the visibility of acne scars. Plus, niacinamide can also help reduce inflammation, which is vital for clear skin.
Inflammation is when the skin becomes slightly swollen, which can then close up the pores, leading to breakouts, from blackheads to cysts. Reducing inflammation is one of the best ways to prevent breakouts from happening, which is often a better skincare plan than just trying to treat pimples after they’ve already formed.
Like niacinamide, vitamin B5 is an important anti-inflammatory ingredient and part of the vitamin B family. Vitamin B5 helps keep the skin soft and supple by reducing inflammation, making it useful ingredient for acne-prone individuals. This Facial Cleanser includes vitamin B5 plus adds salicylic acid to unclog and shrink pores.
Preventing inflammation can help prevent breakouts, which is why we love zinc pyrithione. Research shows that it is such an effective anti-inflammatory agent, that it is commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions like psoriasis5.
It can also be used to treat certain fungal infections due to its antifungal nature. Even though the vast majority of breakouts are caused by bacteria, some people experience something called fungal acne6, which is caused by a fungus called Malassezia, which zinc pyrithione can kill. If you suspect you may have fungal acne (characterized by small, identical whiteheads that resist normal acne treatments) your Curology support team may add zinc pyrithione to your formula, but it’s not guaranteed they will.
For a guaranteed way to incorporate zinc into your routine, try a zinc-heavy supplement like Exposed Skincare Probiotic Supplement. Taking this once a day not only supports a strong immune system, but also improve’s skin clarity with responsibly-sourced ingredients.
While niacinamide can be used to treat the dark spots, tranexamic acid is often used to prevent those dark spots from forming in the first place. Hyperpigmentation takes place because melanin is involved in the healing process for skin wounds. When healing takes a long time, melanin builds up and that area of the skin is significantly darker when the healing process is over. Therefore, agents that speed up healing can help prevent hyperpigmentation from happening. That’s where tranexamic acid comes in.
Tranexamic acid is an antifibrinolytic agent, meaning it promotes blood clots. Studies have shown that these agents, and tranexamic acid specifically, help speed up the healing process7.
If most of your breakouts are pimples rather than whiteheads or blackheads, your main problem is acne-causing bacteria. You can treat this with benzoyl peroxide, an effective and popular ingredient. However, some Curology products instead use metronidazole, which is another antibiotic, like clindamycin. Metronidazole kills bacteria and reduces inflammation, but it’s not the best choice.
As we said before, this should not be a long-term ingredient, since that will definitely contribute to antibiotic resistance. A better choice is to use Exposed Skincare Acne Treatment Serum, which uses benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria. To tackle inflammation, this serum includes green tea extract, which calms and heals the skin.
As you can see, Curology uses some pretty powerful ingredients and antibiotics. Without proper supervision, they can cause big problems, from nasty side effects to antibiotic resistance. That’s why it’s so important to have a dermatologist oversee your skincare if you choose to go that route.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with Curology.
According to their website at support.curology.com, members may be matched to a board-certified dermatologist, but they could be matched with one of their many physician assistants or nurse practitioners instead. These professions are no less important than that of a dermatologist, and in many cases, these providers are just as knowledgeable, but when it comes to your skin, you need a provider you trust. Telehealth already makes that difficult, since you never meet face-to-face, so it doesn’t help that you aren’t guaranteed to get paired up with a dermatologist while using Curology.
A big barrier to using Curology (for people in the U.S.) is whether health insurance will cover the cost of the products.
Unfortunately, according to support.curology.com, Curology does not accept insurance.
If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) associated with your health insurance plan, Curology may be a covered expense. Reach out to your health insurance provider to find out.
Curology actually has a decent reputation for customer service. Despite not being accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which is usually a red flag, they do have an A+ rating from the BBB. Also, unlike many popular skincare subscription services, Curology appears to be easy to cancel without too much hassle.
However, there are a couple red flags you should know about. Make sure you cancel at least 2 full business days before your subscription is set to renew, because if it does ship, you’re out of luck as Curology doesn’t do returns.
That’s right, they don’t do returns at all.
This is very unusual, and it makes us think that Curology doesn’t totally believe in their own product. After all, why would you make your customer keep and pay for a product that doesn’t work? Especially since it’s customizable.
If everything about Curology’s customer service was on the up-and-up, we feel it would make more sense for the team to listen to your complaints, accept your return, and send you a new formula with better ingredients as a free replacement. But that is not what Curology does, so be cautious.
We also advise caution when it comes to Curology’s $5 free trial. A big part of Curology’s marketing is that for 5 bucks shipping and handling, you can try Curology for a month and see how well it works. In theory, this trial will show you how amazing the product is and you’ll continue to order it for the full cost every month. In reality, the product may not work for you, and if it doesn’t, you have to be careful to cancel your trial before you’re charged full-price for the next month.
We believe a skincare company should offer easy returns, money-back guarantees and stellar customer service. That’s why we recommend Exposed Skincare. Besides offering kits that include more effective products than Curology for less money, Exposed Skincare has the best guarantee in the industry. If you don’t see improvement in your skin after using a kit, you can return the kit within 1 year of purchase for a full refund.
This unconditional money-back guarantee, plus the fact that Exposed Skincare accepts returns of any unopened orders within 30 days, helps us trust their products. We also love that their Customer Support Center is so easy to contact, and you’ll actually talk to a real person when you call or email.
One of the best ways to figure out how well a product really works is to check out the 1-star reviews instead of the 5-star ones. We know there are a million different Curology reviews online, so we’ve gone through 51 1-star reviews from Reviews.io, Trust Pilot, and Influenster and found the three main complaints about Curology: ineffectiveness, intolerable purging period, and bad customer service.
Out of 51 1-star reviews we looked at, 11 people said the product did absolutely nothing for their skin. Some people only had the patience to try something that wasn’t working for 2 weeks, but others stuck to the regimen religiously for 6 months, and still saw absolutely no difference.
Others noticed a difference, but it wasn’t good. 23 out of 51 reviewers said Curology actually made their skin worse. Although new products often go through a “purging period” where they draw excess oil and dead skin cells toward the surface of the skin where they can actually make your skin worse at first, but better in the long run, it seems that Curology’s purging period is particularly terrible, and for some, it never seemed to go away.
Finally, despite their A+ rating from the BBB, many people had issues with Curology’s customer service. 17 out of 51 people had issues with everything from billing to shipping to getting in contact with their provider.
I started it with maybe 5 regular zits and one or two cystic pustules.. when I quit using it at week 8 it had made it worse! My entire jawline & cheeks where covered, and it was all cystic and painful! I asked my provider Jamie, to change formula and her response was this is normal, keep pushing through 😳 I really don’t think so. I’ve never had cystic acne til I turned 34, and since using curology that’s all I get now!
This product did nothing for my skin as s personal experience I try it for 4 months it was a money waisted I don’t recommend this .But each skin respond differently to one product
UGH! I heard so many great things about the curology kit that is literally fit for what your concerns on your skin are. So I bought this hoping for something extraordinary but NO let me say that this caused my skin to break out twice as bad as it already was. Do not buy this!
I already ordered my curology bottle last month but hasn’t received it. I’ve waited patiently thinking that maybe they were going to send it late due to the COVID-19 but no I’ve waited almost a month and when I try to talk to a agent it won’t let me login to my account 💀!!
Did not work for me. My acne was not that bad, but now my lower cheeks breaks out and has all these little bumps. I didn’t have this before I used Curology. I wish I never tried this product.
Even though a relatively inexpensive telehealth service for your skin sounds like a good idea, it turns out there are a lot of problems with Curology. Our advice? You should use products that are actually proven to work—and if, for some reason, you don’t like them, you can get your money back. We also recommend using products that don’t have topical antibiotics, which aren’t effective and can actually be harmful.
That’s why we recommend Exposed Skin Care.
First, Exposed uses a combination of scientific and natural ingredients that are all proven to treat and prevent breakouts. Their products use benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil to kill acne-causing bacteria without contributing to antibiotic resistance, and they reduce inflammation using green tea extract and passionflower extract. Plus, several of their products include salicylic acid, which is a great way to unclog pores and get rid of stubborn blackheads.
Next, Exposed products have a 30-day return policy and a year-long money-back guarantee. This is the best guarantee in the industry, and demonstrates the company’s belief in their own product. We also love the ease of contacting their Customer Support Center.
Lastly, the price is right. For $50, the Basic Kit includes a 60-day supply of the Facial Cleanser, Clearing Tonic, Acne Treatment Serum, and Clear Pore Serum. If your skin isn’t improving one year after purchasing, all you have to do is send back your empty bottles and Exposed will refund you completely.
They believe in their products because they use ingredients that really work.