Are S’porean Online Dermatologists Reliable Enough To Be The New Future Of Skincare?

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Like many other teenagers, I have been plagued with acne since the start of puberty. I experimented with everything, from the latest Korean skincare products to prescribed pills from a dermatologist, but nothing worked.

In fact, it has been years since I have felt smooth, acne-free skin on my face.

Then, I stumbled upon Clearly, a local skincare startup that, through an online platform, provides customizable skincare products and professional dermatological advice to its customers. All you need is to pay a monthly subscription fee of $29.90 – a price that even students like me would find affordable.

Hoping that I would find the holy grail to my skincare woes, I decided to give them a try.

A Huge Overseas Success

My high hopes for Clearly were not unfounded. After all, they didn’t come up with this ingenious concept – another online skincare company did it before them, and it was an overwhelming success.

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Meet Curology, a skincare company based in the United States that has been providing the same personalized service since 2014. Begin your monthly subscription by answering a quick skincare quiz and submit a few selfies of your face on the Curology website.

The details will then be submitted to one of the professional dermatologists Curology is partnered with.

Within a few days, your assigned dermatologist will prescribe a specially formulated skincare product just for you. The dermatologist will also explain in detail about the ingredients within.

A Youtuber showing proof that Curology worked for her. Source

So far, Curology has garnered an online community full of praises, an indication that the products have been effective. There are also compliments for their excellent customer service.

I was hoping Clearly will follow the footsteps of Curology, and provide the same affordable, yet professional skincare service for locals.

Red Flags

Unfortunately, things didn’t sit well with me at the start.

The first thing I noticed was Clearly’s inactive Facebook page and Instagram account. I might be an overly cautious consumer, but it seemed suspicious for a company to not be active on social media.

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Upon further scrutiny, I also realized that many Clearly reviews online came from local influencers. This reminded me of the recent fiasco involving Kemono Healthy Japanese Roast Chicken, a company that had relied on influencers to provide positive reviews.

Regardless, I believed that it was best to not come to any hasty conclusions.

The Online Skincare Assessment

Like Curology, the first step to kickstarting Clearly’s subscription service was through a skincare assessment online. The instructions were provided via a Messenger chat window from Clearly’s Facebook page that served as an online bot.

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The Clearly chatbot notified me that there are two types of services available.

The first is Clearly Basics, a basic range of products that could be bought directly from the website.

The second is Clearly Rx, which is the monthly subscription service provided at $29.90 per month. Clearly recommends Clearly Basics for most consumers first since those products “address the most common skin concerns”.

Some questions from Clearly’s questionnaire

Upon selecting Clearly Rx, I was asked to begin the online skincare assessment. The first part was a basic questionnaire asking about my skincare issues. Questions included areas that acne occur, and my tolerance level for any prescription medication.

I mentioned my past reactions to Acnotin, a pill prescribed for acne issues, which had led to common side effects such as overly dry lips.

The second part was to provide three clear selfies of my skin without makeup.

Getting My Results

I got my first reply from Clearly later that night. It was from Clearly’s online assistant, telling me that my details will be compiled and sent to the dermatologist. There was then further clarifications regarding my Acnotin issues.

The next day, a message came in – the dermatologist had reviewed my profile. According to Clearly’s online assistant, Clearly Basics products was recommended instead due to my past experience with Acnotin, instead of the subscription service I had preferred.

I was advised using it for three months first so that my skin would not be stressed out. To top it off, I was also recommended to use a non-comedogenic moisturizer daily to ensure skin hydration.

Despite my original suspicions, I was pretty impressed with the fast service and the assistant’s comprehensive answers. I asked more questions about skincare that were not related to the product, and was provided with the same quick and detailed replies.

Who Am I Talking To?

However, what mainly prevented me from heeding the dermatologist’s advice was my sense of discomfort. I was unsure of who I was really talking to.

Despite promises on Clearly’s website that the photos will be reviewed by a dermatologist, consumers like myself failed to speak directly to one on the online chat. This was unlike Curology, who provides direct communication between the customer and the assigned dermatologist.

To clarify my doubts, I eventually reached out to (who I assumed was) the dermatologist that Clearly’s online assistant had mentioned. While the dermatologist confirmed “[advising] accordingly” based on my photos, I found it slightly unconvincing.

Throughout the entire conversation, Clearly’s online assistant was the anonymous middleman relaying the dermatologist’s messages to me.

Furthermore, my experience was not unique.

Another staff writer who attempted to get customized skincare was also recommended to buy Clearly Basics. Similarly, she was also advised that it would be less aggressive than the ingredients used in the formulated products.

This was especially strange, given that their subscription service was the main highlight advertised on Clearly’s website. In fact, it was also consistently mentioned in the influencers’ reviews — there were close to no Clearly Basics reviews that were featured.

Other Alternatives

In my opinion, the lack of direct communication between consumer and dermatologist is a significant reason why Clearly might fail to gain potential customers like my colleague and myself.

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The cyberspace is full of paradoxes, and the thrill of talking to anonymous strangers online while still being wary of his or her real identity is definitely one of them. However, purchasing skincare products is not like a Carousell deal.

As a consumer, you will be more cautious about what you purchase. The last thing you will want is to slab on a suspicious cream from unknown origins and aggravate your acne.

The secret to the success of companies such as Curology is the provision of dermatological advice and products at a fraction of the price, but with the conditions that they are real and genuine.

Curology has a strong emphasis on transparency. Source

By allowing its customers to directly contact a dermatologist, Curology was able to assure them of the reliability of its service and products.

On the other hand, Clearly was unable to do so.

Nevertheless, there are other options — some of which include affordable dermatologists here in Singapore.

In fact, there is Tele-Derm, an goverment-launched e-consult service for various skin conditions such as acne. It seems like online dermatological services remain a real possibility for us, and might even become a norm in the near future after all.