Skin Problems Hit Close to Home
The idea for The Skin Consult started percolating in Barot’s mind almost a decade ago in her mid-20s when she moved from Chicago’s dry, cold climate to a southern state where it was frequently hot and humid. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she soon began to have skin problems. “My skin went through this complete transformation, and I was clueless about what to do with it,” she said.
Barot had a lot of general experience with skincare and tried many different products. She also saw local dermatologists and visited med spas. Despite all this effort, her results were middling at best. “I was just lost,” she said. “No one could really help me customize my perfect skincare routine and also be there for me to answer questions and be able to help me get through that phase of life, where I was just going through a lot of these changes.”
That inspired Barot to study the skincare industry more in-depth. She wanted to better understand how products are made, dissect marketing claims, and determine which products will work best for a given person. With her background in the pharmaceutical industry, product development, FDA-approved medications, and clinical research, she soon realized that the skincare market is a bit of a “wild, wild west.” In contrast to pharmaceuticals, manufacturers don’t even have to show that skincare products do what they claim before they hit retailers’ shelves. “Anyone can just make a product, say whatever they want to some extent, and market it, and people can just buy it, and it may or may not actually work for them,” she said.
Evidence-Based Skincare Advice
The Skin Consult addresses these issues by offering a “skincare quiz” on its website. Then, after sharing your email address, you will receive an analysis of your skin type. Next comes a video chat with a screened dermatologist or other skincare experts. Finally, the company will ship a personalized skin regime directly to your home featuring products from its brand partners. You’ll also receive step-by-step instructions for using the products, as well as online access to them when you need refills. The company uses treatment algorithms to guide its experts’ recommendations based on the science behind active ingredients that show efficacy in clinical trials.
“My goal was to create some sort of evidence-based solution that would allow customers to understand what products are good for them,” Barot said. She wants to provide “personalized skincare access to professionals that you don't get in a general day-to-day, even if you went to a local med spa or dermatologist.”
She stresses that The Skin Consult doesn’t just offer an app-based quiz and then spit out a solution based on your answers. Customers also can talk with a licensed skincare professional, view recommended products in real time, and easily purchase them whenever they want. “The Skin Consult's main goal was to really build this ecosystem of evidence-based, science-backed skincare brands … and grow this with professionals that also have the expertise,” she said.
According to Barot, The Skin Consult is currently the largest marketplace for skincare, with more than 30 providers that have been vetted and trained to offer their services through the company. “We actually have a long waitlist of other providers to join this platform,” she said. “Our milestone of having those 30 in the first year of the business, I would say, has been one of the biggest achievements so far.”
Changing the Industry
Barot has learned several lessons in founding and running The Skin Consult. One of them is not to be overly focused on technology, especially at the start. “What I realized very early on is that you don't always need technology to come out with a great solution,” she said. “I think there's this craze now about tech companies, and we all want to scale and to reach millions of customers and users. But, being able to solve a problem without the tech in place is the best way to test the market to understand what are the real features that people actually need.” It’s important to do this, she said, before you settle on a business model and start building your tech platform or product.
Another lesson is to build your team carefully from the beginning and make sure they understand your purpose and values. “As a founder, your biggest role is really about selling your vision not just to the customers, but also to people you're bringing on to work for you,” she said. “It is very critical to drive the ship, meaning the passion that I bring to the table, the vision that I want to share. You need to have those true entrepreneurial mindset employees or teammates that will really buy into your vision.”
In the future, Barot hopes her company will spur better regulation of skincare products. Although they will never be regulated at the level of pharmaceuticals, some regulation is better than none – which is essentially what we have now. There are ways that skincare brands can show their products actually work without going through all the rigors of a drug trial. For example, they could simply state the percentages of each ingredient in a product. “You can say my product has retinol in it, but it might have literally 0.0001% retinol, and that really is not going to do much to you. Those are the [types of] things that we hope to change through this platform,” she said.
In an age where pretty much anyone can sell a skincare product and where celebrities are pitching all sorts of products that may or may not work, Barot wants to move the needle in the other direction. “As we interact and talk to skincare companies … we're really challenging them to think about how their products are being made and what type of data is there to support their products,” she said. By providing vetted experts to help customers, empower them to make informed choices, and build trust between customers and skincare product manufacturers, The Skin Consult hopes to raise the bar industrywide.