January 29, 2020
Written by Jessica Cyrell
Senior Editor at CREATIV Magazine. Writer. Traveler. Lover of words, art, food, fashion, and other nice things.
No doubt, we’ve entered the golden age of skincare. With customers spending billions of dollars a year on creams, serums, and cleansers that promise such miracles as wrinkle reduction, faded dark spots, improved elasticity, and beyond—you would think we’d be getting our fix. But even with a surfeit of products on the market, consumers are finding themselves increasingly frustrated with their unsolved skin struggles—and brands’ broken promises.
PROVEN Skincare hears that. Founded by Harvard MBA Ming Zhao as well as Stanford PhD and computational physicist Amy Yuan, the up-and-coming beauty brand harnesses the power of science to transform the way we approach our skincare. With the understanding that no two people’s skin is exactly the same, they set out to develop a data-driven model that delivers customized products made just for you, taking into account not only your skin type and skin concerns, but also your environment and your lifestyle.
Even better than a visit to the dermatologist, PROVEN’s three-minute Skin Genome Quiz (check it out!) asks specific questions about your genetic background, your sleep schedule, how much water you drink, and more. Then, taking it a step further, it considers the humidity levels, air quality, and water hardness of your zip code, among other relevant details. All of this insight is then funneled into an algorithm that determines the most effective ingredients (and precise concentrations necessary) for your best face forward.
Where does it source all this information? Meet the world’s largest skincare database, The Skin Genome Project. Complete with over 4,000 scientific publications, 20,000 ingredients, 100,000 individual skincare products, and 8 million customer reviews, it was developed by PROVEN co-founder Dr. Yuan herself—and managed to win MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Award in 2018.
But what’s more, it’s backed by skin experts, too. After establishing the Skin Genome Project, Zhao and Dr. Yuan knew they would need the human touch of some real, live medical professionals to fine-tune the platform. So, they collaborated with industry-leading dermatologists, elevating the efficacy and safety of their products as they worked to compose the exact formulas that would work best for every individual. Those experts, such as Dr. Tyler Hollmig, Head of Aesthetic Dermatology at Stanford University, remain on board today.
THE BIRTH OF PROVEN
It’s not just your imagination. Skincare has taken over social media—and it’s translated to a surge in consumer spending, too. With skincare products comprising the largest share of the United States cosmetics market at 37 percent, it’s no wonder that the dollars spent on anti-aging products has risen from an estimated $6.4 billion USD in 2012 to $7 billion USD in 2017. And it’s not just the U.S. that’s hopped on board; millennials across the globe are contributing in large numbers, with brands from Japan and Korea garnering an especially notable international following. As a whole, the global cosmetics product market is expected to reach $805 billion by 2023 (up from $532 billion in 2017).
With more noise in the marketplace than ever, consumers are hungry for transparency—particularly when it comes to ingredients and expectations. Studies indicate that shopping behavior today is significantly influenced by online research. In other words, we’re spending a lot of time scouring the internet before we take the plunge and buy. With that in mind, PROVEN set out to do the hard work on our behalf.
But it wasn’t the business opportunity that first inspired the PROVEN founders. In actuality, it was their own individual skin issues and skincare experiences that inspired them to start a different kind of skincare brand. Zhao, for one, was working long hours in the finance industry when she noticed her skin was starting to catch up to her. But thousands of dollars on expensive beauty store purchases later, she still wasn’t getting the results she expected. Drained, she sought professional help—in the form of a skin specialist, who factored all of Zhao’s specific needs into coming up with formulas specifically made for her skin profile and her skin goals. And voilà—it finally worked. She knew that other people deserved to experience this.
Little did Zhao know, around the same time, Dr. Yuan was busily building the platform that would one day become The Skin Genome Project. Hard at work at Stanford University, Dr. Yuan was frustrated by her atopic dermatitis and decided to take matters into her own hands, creating a database that would collect all the information she needed to find her skincare match. And when she joined forces with Zhao, they found the expert support they needed to share it with the world. Although plenty of companies tried (and continue to try) to buy the data from them, Zhao and Yuan refused, instead protecting its role as the “engine” that powers their understanding of ingredients and their users. Armed with this turbo-powered machine, they ultimately began developing products that would embody the very data at their fingertips.
Today, it takes just a few minutes to answer some detailed questions about your skin before PROVEN hands over your skin-perfect recipe—that is, a $145 set of three products (a cleanser, a daytime SPF moisturizer, and a night cream) made to last about sixty days. It’s a specific window, because at the two-month point, you’re bound to experience a change in environment or lifestyle that would dictate a formula change—and you’ll definitely want to cash in on it. The beauty of the Skin Genome Project is that it’s always growing and improving. The more users who access the quiz, the more the algorithm learns from their answers. Not to mention, as additional PROVEN customers weigh in, more customer reviews are added to the database. With all of the details and feedback accessible through the platform, Zhao notes that it’s an especially valuable model for those who have been underserved by the skincare industry: namely ethnic minorities, men, and those in rural areas.
RIDING A NEW WAVE
PROVEN is not the only company embracing technology in its efforts to absolve the world of the skincare blues. Even major players like L’Oréal and Clinique have introduced camera technology and augmented reality to tailor their product recommendations, while some newcomers to the scene have integrated face scanning, monthly test strips, and even DNA swabbing. It’s a booming trend reflecting customers’ growing interest in connecting with tech to empower their purchasing choices. According to a study performed by Deloitte, one in three women will shop personalized products by the year 2025.
Where PROVEN triumphs above others is in its mastering of the happy medium between high-tech and approachable. No fancy devices to attach to your iPhone camera, no cheek swabs, and no complicated apps—nor the premium costs that tend to come with these add-ons. Just a simple and concise questionnaire that taps into a highly complex database, seamlessly sewing together such details as gene expression, external factors, and behavior—all of which influence our skin, whether we realize it or not.
Skincare is really just an extension of whole-body wellness, a movement been that’s been many years in the making. The greater our knowledge about how our insides interact with our outer selves and the environment in which we live, the better we can heal and progress. With so much technology in our hands, it’s about time we used it to tell our skin’s story—and discovered real PROVEN solutions.