I Tried a Custom Acne Prescription for Less Than $30—Here's How It Worked


(Image credit: @emmahoareau)

Acne can be one of the most frustrating and debilitating things to deal with. Okay, maybe I'm being a *tad* dramatic, but if you've ever struggled with it, you know what I mean. It has taken me a long time to get my skin on track, and I've learned a few things along the way. One, my skin is extremely sensitive and actually doesn't react well to high-strength acne fighters. Two, overusing said acne fighters can cause some serious damage to your skin barrier if you're not careful. Luckily, after much trial and error, I think I've found the solution.

So many companies are popping up as of late that provide custom skincare—a tailor-made approach to treating acne that offers prescription-strength ingredients without constant visits to the dermatologist's office. I decided to give Curology a try to see if this method is worth trying to clear acne for good. If you're curious about why this approach works and my experience using one of the brand's custom formulas, keep scrolling. I'm breaking it all down below.

Why try custom skincare?

For those of you who are like me and have tried literally every cream, face wash, and pill under the sun to clear up your acne, a custom approach just might be for you. Although over-the-counter products and dermatologist prescriptions can definitely be helpful, a customized approach with a wider array of ingredients that work well together can deliver better results.

Curology Medical Director Whitney Tolpinrud, MD, FAAD, shared a few more details about this approach: "There are two major differences between customized acne prescriptions and over-the-counter products. First, [customized acne prescriptions] are personalized based on an individual's specific skin concerns, and second, they contain prescription combinations of active ingredients, which are generally more effective than what you can buy off the shelf."

How Custom Skincare Works


(Image credit: @emmahoareau)

To receive the best treatment, you usually start by taking a quiz about your skin and sending in photos so your provider can put together the right formula for you. Tolpinrud shared a bit more about Curology's specific process. "Curology's Custom Formula Rx for Acne contains a specially formulated, unique blend of active skincare ingredients that is tailor-made to target specific skin concerns and goals," she said. "Through our personalized prescription service, patients have the chance to connect with a Curology licensed dermatology provider about their specific skin needs and medical history and receive the ingredients suited to meet their skin goals. Furthermore, the ingredients and strength of [them] can be adjusted as their skin adjusts and goals change."

With more and more custom skincare brands popping up every day, it has also made me wonder if this type of approach might be better for some struggling with acne in the long run. Although Tolpinrud agreed that a custom approach can definitely be the ticket for some, she also shared that she can't definitively say one treatment is best for all. "Each patient's skin and concerns are unique," she said. "As a dermatologist, I always recommend speaking to your dermatology provider if you experience specific skin issues or have general skin concerns. However, personalized prescription skincare products, like Curology's Custom Formula Rx for Acne, combine research-backed ingredients such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, clindamycin, and other active ingredients to create a balanced acne treatment that can target multiple different concerns in one. Additionally, we have the ability to start at a gentle level of active ingredients and increase the strength as tolerated, which can generally help to minimize side effects. Tretinoin found at traditional pharmacies typically comes in a few strengths, which can initially be too strong for many to handle."

As far as pricing goes, Curology offers a 30-day supply of its Custom Formula Rx starting at $29.95 with free shipping. 

My Experience With a Custom Curology Formula for Acne


(Image credit: @shawnasimonee)

I've been using a custom formula for acne from Curology that contains 0.01% tretinoin, 1% clindamycin phosphate, and 4% azelaic acid for about a week. First, I was a bit nervous to start using tretinoin again because I previously used a prescription-strength 0.05% cream from the dermatologist for years and did some real damage to my skin barrier. After taking an eight-month break, I figured I could slowly incorporate it back in at a much smaller dose (lesson learned). My skin is also pretty sensitive, and some products traditionally used to fight acne are way too strong for it and make me break out more. 

Since I've only been using this formula for a little over a week, my skin definitely isn't completely where I want it to be, but I've definitely noticed an improvement already. You can see in the above and below photos that I have some scars and a few active blemishes. My dark spots have faded a bit, and a few active pimples are a lot less noticeable than they were before. Although I haven't been using this formula long enough to see a huge difference in my skin yet, I'm excited about the long-term results it could deliver. I put it on at night after my serum and before my moisturizer and have noticed no excessive dryness or peeling. I also started with a small amount so as not to irritate my sensitive skin.

Overall, if you have skin that's also extremely sensitive and have tried every trick in the book to clear up your acne, I would definitely say trying a custom prescription from a place like Curology is worth a try. I also think it's great that custom skincare brands like this are making prescription-strength ingredients available to those who may not have insurance or the budget to go and see a dermatologist regularly. I really like the formula I've been using, and since I've been using it sparingly to start, I'm impressed that it already seems to be working so well. If your skin isn't used to prescription-strength ingredients like tretinoin, you may want to start by only using it a few nights a week. From there, you can work up to every night if it's tolerable. I'm excited that brands like this are offering custom formulas, especially ones that can treat multiple concerns at the same time. My formula simultaneously helps with acne, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines. I'm going to stay consistent with it to really see those long-term results.


(Image credit: @shawnasimonee)

Shop the product:

Shop My Current Skincare Routine

Up Next: Try This Results-Driven Skincare Brand, and You'll Become Immediately Obsessed

Shawna Hudson
Associate Beauty Editor

Shawna Hudson has worked in editorial for over six years, with experience covering entertainment, fashion, culture, celebrities, and her favorite topic of all, beauty. She graduated from California State University, Fullerton, with a degree in journalism and has written for other publications such as Bustle, The Zoe Report, Byrdie, Elite Daily, Mane Addicts, and more. She is currently an associate beauty editor at Who What Wear and hopes to continue feeding her (completely out-of-control) beauty obsession as long as she can. Stay up to date on her latest finds on Instagram @shawnasimonee.