Beauty goes bespoke: Pure Culture is the newest custom skin-care startup

Beauty

With a massive range of products and ingredients now available to consumers, a new skin-care brand is joining the ranks of customized DTC brands offering a simplified, personalized approach. 

Launching today via DTC e-commerce, Pure Culture Beauty gives customers the chance to purchase customized skin-care products based on an online survey, an at-home skin analysis test and an optional additional $200 lab-tested microbiome test. For $150, customers can complete the survey and skin analysis tests and receive a customized starter kit with cleanser, serum and lotion. The brand joins a rising tide of custom skin-care and personal care brands betting on consumer demand for personalized products. This trend has been rising in beauty and a wide range of consumer categories for several years now: “Personalization” was named the top marketing word in 2019 by The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), while customization was listed as one of Mintel’s top four beauty trends of 2018.

“I was always asked to try to make a product to please as many people in a segment as possible,” said Pure Culture Beauty co-founder and chairman Victor Casale, who previously founded CoverFX and served as the chief chemist of MAC Cosmetics. “I had to dilute a lot of my [active ingredients], and then the formula becomes very generic. Our product will be an evolution.” Casale co-founded the brand with its CEO Joy Chen, another beauty industry veteran who previously served as the CEO of H2O+ Beauty and Yes To. 

Pure Culture Beauty’s skin-care products address common skin concerns including wrinkles, elasticity, brightening, irritation and inflammation. The at-home skin test is conducted via strips held to the face to measure the pH of the skin, and a skin condition test measures the oiliness. Users also answer a 14-question survey on topics including exposure to sunlight, hydration, sleep, diet and geographical region. The brand’s additional microbiome kit, which offers analysis of the bacteria and cultures found on the skin, is the first of its kind on the market. Ingredients in the final products mailed out include probiotics, prebiotics, lipid complexes and plant extracts such as pomegranate seed oil, coconut fruit and marrubium vulgare mint. 

“The consumer today is pretty confused” with such a range of skin-care ingredients available, said Chen. “You always ask what skin type you have, and by trial and error, you kind of figure out what you have, but it’s never backed up by real data or science. We really felt that this was going to be one area that we could add a lot of value and really disrupt the beauty industry — [by] bringing some knowledge, and objective data and science to the consumer about their skin.”

In the custom skin-care space, the brand joins other startups like Atolla, which also features a take-home test strip component and sells a serum, as well as tele-dermatology brand Rory and survey-based brands like Proven and acne treatment brand Curology. These skin-care labels join custom hair-care and body-care brands including 5-year-old Function of Beauty and nearly 3-year-old Prose. In addition to DTC newcomers, established beauty brands including SkinCeuticals, Clinique and Kiehl’s also offer products with varying ranges of customization features, with more on the way — L’Oréal plans to offer an at-home device that creates custom beauty products starting in 2021.

Demand for customization is on the rise for a variety of reasons, according to the ANA, including customers’ increased focus on what’s relevant to them personally, as well as an expectation that a “brand knows them and can deliver what they want.”

Pure Culture Beauty expects interest mainly from millennials, with a target age demographic of 28-40. For that customer, “whatever they used in the past is probably not working as well anymore, because something has changed in their skin, due to whatever it is that has changed in their lives,” said Chen. With fewer people going to estheticians due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Chen also expects demand to increase for online skin analysis services. 

To promote the launch, the brand is focusing on Instagram and Facebook influencer marketing, working with a range of micro- and macro-influencers. It offered a free at-home test to users who signed up on the site for its early “Launch Lab,” which was promoted on social media.  

While many custom beauty startups are VC-backed, Pure Culture is a self-funded enterprise.

“We want to control this, but not for the sake of just the control,” said Casale. “We want to evolve it properly. We don’t want to be forced into quick sales, increased distribution or exit strategies.”

While the brand is DTC now, it is open to retail partnerships in the future that can accommodate the new business model. “We’re not the kind of product to put on a shelf,” he said.

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