You probably know that the hard water in your shower may be wreaking havoc on your skin. Or that an extremely chilly winter can strip skin of all its moisture. Or that the desert’s arid climate can leave you feeling parched year-round. But does your skin-care routine factor in those things?
“Our mission is to give people good skin for life,” says Ming Zhao, cofounder of PROVEN Skincare, the smart skin-care regimen personally designed to cater to each user’s unique dermatological concerns — without burning all the time and money required to make repeat visits to a medical professional.
So how does it work? With PROVEN, users participate in a short survey about their skin, lifestyle, diet, local climate, and more, after which the Skin Genome Project — an artificial-intelligence-powered database listing 20,238 skin-care ingredients — algorithmically assigns a skin-care regimen based on data accrued from millions of dermatologist recommendations and online reviews. Next, all those ingredients are custom crafted into usable products, all of which are reviewed by an actual human dermatologist before they go to you — just to be sure they’re the perfect fit.
Each classic regimen arrives in the mail, complete with three core products — a daily cleanser, an anti-pollution sunscreen, and a restorative night cream — all of which are custom made to fit your profile. Priced at $145, each set is intended to last 60 days, the idea being that within that time, your climate and routines will change — and thus, so should your go-to skin-care products. All you’ll have to do is reassess your questionnaire every two months.
“Personalized skin care means being able to shed the unnecessary things, so you get exactly what your skin needs and none of what you don’t,” says Ming, who believes a cleanser, daytime moisturizer with SPF, and a night cream are “all you need” when it comes to skin care.
When talking to Ming, it’s impossible not to feel like the next generation of skin care is before us. Ahead, hear a little from Ming about how she got her company off the ground — and how she plans to save your skin.
How did PROVEN get its start?
“I started creating products for myself and became certified in skin-care formulation because it fascinated me, but also because I was frustrated. I’d spent a lot of money on products that promised miracles and didn't deliver. It wasn't until I went to a specific, highly specialized skin expert who first assessed my skin and created products specifically formulated for me that I felt any difference. I wanted to make that experience available to more people.
“My cofounder, Amy Yuan, is a computational physicist from Stanford — she broke the world record for the largest computational simulation in science. While she was getting her PhD, she had a specific skin condition. Products on the market weren’t helping. So she built an AI-powered database that pulled all the scientific and scholarly research about this condition as well as all the consumer empirical evidence that people were sharing.
“She ran an AI algorithm through it to draw conclusions about what would work for someone like her. Then we combined the best of our individual epiphanies and data insights into a physical product. That’s how PROVEN was born.”
And that’s how the Skin Genome Project came to be?
“Yes, that database she was building was the foundation for the Skin Genome Project. She made it first for herself and then she expanded it to include more than 20 million consumer reviews, testimonials, and empirical evidence, as well as thousands of scientific articles about everything related to skin and beauty.”
How did you evolve PROVEN from a database to a skin-care line?
“In the early stages, we weren't sure how best to make a business from it. Skin-care companies approached us about licensing our data, but we knew early on we didn’t want to sell that. For us, PROVEN is about an element of truth. We didn't want this truth to die somewhere in the supply chain. We wanted to help people have their best skin for as long as they can.”
And you knew that personalization was the key?
“We believe deeply in the inherent individuality of each of us. I am Asian American. I know that my skin is affected by travel, pregnancy, and personal stress. It's inexplicable to me that nobody has thought to incorporate all that into what I actually use to care for my skin. It's a travesty because our skin is our body's largest organ. We do very personalized things to treat our kidneys or our heart. But when it comes to our skin, we choose the most popular or advertised product. That just made no sense to me.”
Each delivery lasts 60 days, which means that it’s not meant to last beyond that, right?
“Absolutely. The set of products is meant to last 45 to 60 days. Our entire philosophy is based on the idea that our lives change, our environments change — with the seasons or just by choice. Our skin needs different things. We know winter is coming for all New Yorkers in November. Therefore, the November shipment is already pre-considered with all the things they might need for a winter, based on their profile.”
So once I enter my information, you know how to formulate each of my batches based on factors like weather?
“That's right. We have real-time information right down to the levels or hardness of the water in your municipality, as well as the UV exposure. Also, we use cutting-edge ingredients at pretty high concentrations because we really care about results. As your skin acclimates to these key ingredients, we keep them highly effective by increasing the level of the key ingredients. These individualized formulas will evolve according to what's changing around you but also according to what your skin needs, so you're always getting the best dosage at any particular time.”
What kind of pushback did you receive in the beginning?
“So many people doubted our ability to build a brand. Some people said, ‘Just start a data company. If you create a brand, then you're starting two companies at once.’ Competitors said, ‘Sell us the data. You can't start a brand; you don't even know what you're getting yourselves into.’ Neither of us are career marketers or sales people. So we had to figure out ways to nurture the data side, making sure that it was cutting edge, while also creating the consumer brand and narrative. All of that branding and effective communication is not easy. But what we're doing is so advanced that it basically breaks the entire paradigm of how skin care works. The differentiation is in the products, in the philosophy behind it, and in the technology that supports it, and we’re so proud of that.”
What are some of the most effective ingredients you see cropping up in your formulas?
“We've seen convincing evidence that plant-based squalane is a universally appealing, hydrating, and skin-soothing ingredient. Hyaluronic acid is good for most people under most circumstances. However, in the case where people have very dry skin and live in dry environments with less humidity, hyaluronic acid can actually draw moisture out of the skin and into the air. We also use fermented sea kelp off the coast of Oregon, which is soothing and has a great skin-health-improving effect in the long term.”
What's some of the feedback that you get from people who try PROVEN?
“We've gotten really good feedback on the anti-wrinkle front because we use cutting-edge ingredients in high concentrations. People say they see a difference in the lessening of wrinkles and sagging skin and in the dewiness and softness of their skin. We’re also proud that our formulas are great for people with sensitive skin.”
How has PROVEN changed your own skin-care routine?
“Interestingly enough, it's really simplified it. We give people exactly what their skin needs. You no longer need nine steps in the morning and eight steps at night, which is why we have a three-category skin-care set: a cleanser that doubles as a toner, a moisturizer with SPF 30, as well as a night cream that doubles as a serum.”
Where do you hope to see PROVEN in five years?
“We hope to pioneer an era where companies first understand and listen to their consumers before thinking about product. I think it’s a philosophy that will change the planet because there's so much wasted in every consumer industry. We believe our approach will help lessen the amount of metal waste and plastic.
“We’re currently on the path to becoming a carbon-neutral company. In the early days, we had a lot to learn about packaging science, but we just cut back our packaging material waste, decreasing the amount of paper product that we use by more than 55%. We also just started a partnership in which we’ll plant a tree for every set of products to offset some of the carbon from shipping. Ultimately, we’re on the path to achieving great things and we welcome other innovative thoughts in this space so that we can do our part in creating a sustainable future.”