I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on skincare in the last fifteen years. Whether it was prescribed or some hodgepodge routine I’d designed from the chaotic and color-coded skincare section at Marshall’s, I invested more attempting to repair my self-esteem than anything else in my life. After all, adults aren’t supposed to break out anymore, right? People are supposed to outgrow acne? My medicine cabinet was a graveyard of half-used products.
But now my routine is so simple that I would’ve never believed you if you told me about it a year ago. Three products, day and night? Not in my wildest dreams. I was the girl with the ten-step system, the Clarisonic, the masks and spot treatments and toners and oils. I could never do enough. I could never fix enough.
By the time I turned 26 and aged out of our abysmal insurance system, the thought of seeing a dermatologist made me laugh. Why would I want to anyway? Nearly every experience I had with them was the same. I’d be asked if I tried washing my face (nope, never!), and my ability to keep up a regimen would inevitably be called into question by a condescending doctor if my skin didn’t clear up after two weeks of whatever new acid they’d prescribed me. Differin — tried it, Epiduo — tried it, Retinol and Retin-A, every single form of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide known to humankind, I’ve slathered them all on my face in hopes of emerging a new woman, an adult who doesn’t have to worry about pimples or what people think of me, an adult with pimples. Nothing worked.
I stopped only at Accutane. The most effective way to go to war with your skin is also, naturally, the most dangerous. One doctor I met with before losing my insurance told me straight up, No one else in Los Angeles will give you Accutane. I will. And that was before I’d even told her my name. The historical dangers of taking Accutane are well-documented. A 2002 piece in The New York Times says “international health agencies have recorded more than 500 reports of suicides, attempted suicide and ‘suicidal ideation’ from Accutane, the fourth highest record of adverse drug reactions among more than 500,000 prescription medications sold in the United States.”
Accutane has their own secondary program, iPledge, a place where women on Accutane must submit proof of negative pregnancy to a lab once a month for the duration of their time on the medicine, while also somehow (?) proving that they’re using two forms of birth control during intercourse. Users must also submit two negative pregnancy tests before starting and are shown photos of babies born with the life-threatening congenital birth defects caused by Accutane. As a woman with a history of depression and a feel-it-in-my-bones maternal instinct, I passed. I was ready to fully give up.
That’s when I discovered Curology.
Founded in 2013 by Dr. David Lortscher, Curology was Lortscher’s response to working in the trenches of what he calls the “stone age” of dermatology, especially after frequently hearing stories about patients refusing medications at the pharmacy because their insurance doesn’t cover “cosmetic” skincare. To combat that issue, Dr. Lortscher called in the help of his tech-savvy brother, Glenn, and dermatologist mother, Dr. Nancy Satur, to build the world’s first online dermatology practice. Seven years later, the company now has over a dozen full-time providers on their team, and Curology is bringing empathetic and simple dermatology to the masses.
With the help of the internet, Dr. Lortscher managed to create safe, affordable access to a form of healthcare that, only a few years ago, was only accessible for “rich people.” The first small kit including cleanser, moisturizer, and what Curology calls the “Superbottle” — a three-active-ingredient powerhouse custom formula cream — is complimentary for first-time customers. Of course, a consultation for every Curology customer is also included, and the only thing the customer pays for during that initial trial is shipping.
After years of out-of-touch doctors and agonizing self-loathing, I truly had nothing left to lose, so I sent photos of my bare face from a few different angles — an extremely vulnerable act at the time —and waited. A few days later I had a message from my medical provider, Susie. She was warm and kind — and for once, didn’t blame me for my breakouts. Susie asked me about other aspects of my health. She asked about my reproductive cycle, the way my body behaves and reacts to stressors. And then she asked what I consider to be the magic question in my skin journey: How often do you get UTIs?
As a frequent and lifelong UTI sufferer, I couldn’t understand the connection. Susie explained to me that some people’s bodies just make a little too much bacteria and fungus. It’s okay and otherwise not dangerous, but it does connect the dots between adult acne that doesn’t go away with topical treatments or birth control and it makes women who otherwise practice perfect hygiene more susceptible to contracting UTIs.
No one had ever told me this before. No one ever thought outside of the box like that. My first Superbottle contained azelaic acid to help fade my hyperpigmentation from breakouts past, along with clindamycin and zinc pyrithione, two anti-bacterials. After about two weeks of purging, a process in which the skin increases cell turnover rate as a response to a new active ingredient, my skin was clear. I cried when I saw my face without any active spots for the first time in almost fifteen years.
Since I started using Curology about a year ago my formula has been tweaked in accordance with my skin’s progress. I still use the same base ingredients, some with higher percentages to tackle more intense scarring. Before each bottle ships out to me, I have a free consultation with Susie, sending her pictures of my skin’s improvement and singing her praises for giving me detailed skincare advice without ever even meeting me in person.
Sometimes we change things in the formula based on the weather or any stressors I may be dealing with. And, for the first time in my adult life, I’m able to leave the house without makeup and without wanting to melt into the floor. The sight of my own bare face is no longer a reminder of my own perceived failure, or inability to just “grow out” of something that’s supposed to go away by the time someone graduates high school.
The resources that Curology provides are next level. The brand creates blog posts to help readers better understand different facets of the skin and how to care for it, they offer a system called CosDNA that I can run every product through before putting it on my face, so I can identify any potential irritants. They provide no judgement financial assistance for anyone who may not be able to afford the service, and above all, the convenience of having everything mailed to me is bar none the best part, especially in our new world of global pandemic.
Convenience aside, I feel grateful to now have a medical provider who doesn’t make snide comments about the way my skin behaves, who listens when I send her questions like “what do I do if I’m experiencing some new breakouts under my mask I wear when I go outside?” I feel heard and understood for the first time in my skin journey, and I feel good in my own skin for the first time in my adult life. Even if I never meet Susie, I still want to thank her for giving me the courage to advocate for myself and for giving me a big shove in the direction of loving myself thoroughly and properly, with or without breakouts.