Aggregated Skincare Reviews

Two decades into the Internet era, public reviews have become one of the most prevalent services that people use on a regular basis. It is one of the most trusted sources of information, comparable to personal recommendations from family and friends. People look up aggregated review scores to decide which movies they go to, which games to buy, which restaurant to eat at, which university courses to take, and even which doctor to see. Why isn't there an aggregated review for cosmetic products?

There is Yelp for food reviews, RottenTomatoes for movie reviews, and Metacritic for all things entertainment. Wine lovers don't have a well known public review website, but they have an array of critics that are considered independent from industry. The idea of public reviews have exploded and is also encroaching on relationships that were traditionally one-sided--student and teacher, employer and employees, patient and doctor. Whether it fits well with all ideas is another question, but these tools have all been embraced by consumers as both a reliable source of unbiased information, and as a way to keep industry honest. In a scale that was never possible prior to the Internet, consumers now have a way of providing public feedback about poorly performing products and poor customer service. Combined with mobile access, young consumers are the most informed consumers when it comes to purchasing decisions. Review aggregation is regarded by the Millennial generation as one of the most reliable sources of unbiased information. In 2014, 88% of consumers trust public reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Yet, why hasn't there been a review aggregator for skincare?

The need for an Objective Standard in Skincare

A public review platform for skincare products serves an important need for consumers. The world of cosmetics and cosmeceuticals is not new, and yet the fight for market share in this multi-billion dollar battleground resembles the Wild West in many ways. Cosmetics (cosmeceuticals also fall in the same category) are not regulated as drugs are, and hyperbolic claims are both commonplace and legal. The world of skincare and cosmeceuticals is extremely diverse, almost uniquely so. Products can range in price from $10 to over $500, and are produced by companies that are operating from their garage in some cases, to multi-billion dollar corporations that are tied up with sectors as far off as the fashion business. Marketing and distribution is just as diverse, from direct person to person sales to shelves being filled at the drugstore to high end boutiques. Consumers are often in a position similar to negotiating with a car salesman; there is an implicit assumption of caveat emptor that's assumed, but with very few objective sources of information about product quality, fair price points, or even the details about how one product differs from another.

From a consumer perspective, choosing skincare products presents a serious challenge. Similar to wine tasting or food criticism, if you think the whole thing is just baloney, it doesn't affect you. But, if you do care for wines or skin care, you still need to make a decision. Unfortunately, when it comes to skincare, there is very little quantitative information on any given skincare product beyond the volume of the product and the SPF for sunscreens, and the ingredient lists that are full of unfamiliar chemicals for the average consumer. The interpreter of all this technical information is almost always supplied by the manufacturer or is a spokesperson for the manufacturer, giving consumers very little sense of control. Dermatologists have often played the role of a third party expert, and many have created their own branded products. For the consumer, however, a paid endorser of the product isn't reliable information. The trouble for the skeptical consumer is that while they don't trust the car salesman, they still need the car and they don't know who else they can trust.

A public review offers several values to consumers in several ways:

  • A way to compare and rank products against each other
  • A reliable and free source of information
  • A new standard to evaluate products against

DermApproved: An Attempt at Data Aggregation

DermApproved is a company that started out as an internet retailer for various skincare products. The project is backed by a team of dermatologists across North America, and provides advice and guidance for non-prescription skincare products. This startup was featured in the Huffington Post, and has focused on providing individualized skincare advice.

What I like now is how they've pivoted to providing consumer reviews, and aggregating data, a service which seems more pertinent to most users. While there are many retailers that provide a sales outlet, there are few truly brand neutral sources of information that aren't tied to manufacturer interests in some way. The project still appears to be in its infancy, but all the bare essentials are there. The most important service this does, is quantify and translate what used to be a bunch of multi-syllabic praises from marketers into information that can be useful to the consumers who actually use this product and want to compare products. A review aggregator--a metacritic for skincare, takes a lot of the guesswork out.

What About Differences in Individual Taste and Skin Type

One of the challenges in evaluating skincare products is that every skin is individual, and reacts differently to different products. What may work brilliantly for one person's skin may not work so well for another person. While it's true that people have different tastes and preferences for food and entertainment as well, there are actual measurable differences from person to person when it comes to skincare.

The skincare industry has set up products according to skin type. Most people have heard of Normal Skin, Dry Skin, Sensitive Skin, Oily Skin, and Combination Skin. While it is not the most scientific of distinctions, at least anecdotally, people tend to agree that they fit into one or two of those skin types. Many manufacturers specifically formulate their products to fit these skin types (sometimes all skin types), and DermApproved also uses this information to categorize products. In terms of individual taste, users will need to do deeper research. Like any review site, the review itself is often more important than the score. DermApproved sorts out the reviews and the source so that it's easy for users to do their research by clicking on a link.

Skincare is a field that is badly in need of this type of public review service. In an industry where price ranges vary so widely, and where descriptions are so qualitative, there is very little objective information that the consumer can use to compare or assess products. Moreover, the consequences for choosing the right skincare product make a much larger impact over time, compared to many other purchasing decisions like dining, movies, or other entertainment. Generally, most people stick to the same household product that they are familiar with, and skincare products are no exception. While there is often good reason for this (especially for people with sensitive skin), it also means that a poor decision is both costly for your skin, and your wallet in the long run. It's important that consumers have better ways of assessing a product beyond what its advertisements and endorsements say.