Meghan and Sid, along with dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch, are applying the scientific method to skin. We developed a proprietary system, Atolla, that uses machine learning to pinpoint the cause of a skin issue, and identify the right personalized solution. Skin is a complicated organ that cannot be described by just one variable. We look at people’s skin from the inside-out: how environment, lifestyle, health, other products used, and preferences all impact your skin health.

Our machine-learning algorithms recognize patterns in what’s causing your skin to react positively or negatively, and uses this information to provide you the best solution, no matter the situation. We are building a unique longitudinal dataset that is comprehensive and broad in 1) its coverage of demographics, geographies, skin concerns, lifestyles, products used, and 2) tracking of skin measurement, visual and sentiment changes. Our vision is to make a predictive model for skin, where we can predict your skin’s outcome to using a new product, or a change in environment.

After working on the technology at MIT this past year, we’ve developed an easy, at-home skin test. If you want to learn more about the Atolla Skincare System, we’re looking for early testers and feedback. Learn more here:

We believe the future of skin health is data-driven. Ask us anything about MIT, machine learning, or skin health! We’d love to share what we’ve learned.


UPDATE: Thank you so much for this incredible AMA! This was a great experience and we would love to do it again. We will still monitor the thread for questions and try to respond when we can, but we're officially signing off for today.

If you're going to be at CES this January, come see Meg talk on design+tech with Core77.

More information about Atolla here:

And you can always reach us at [email protected] or [email protected]. We welcome any questions!

Best, Meg and Sid

Comments: 59 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

MashaSjo25 karma

Why do I get pimples at 32?

c0rder0sa7 karma

Is it a new issue like adult acne or has it been happening since you were younger?

musicalpigs13 karma

Same question, I’m also 32! For me, I’ve always had problems with mild acne.

bigwallets6 karma

similar question but my mom who is 61, still gets pimples and went through menopause 10 years ago...why!?

c0rder0sa4 karma

This is actually more common that you might expect and sounds like you all (or your mom) would be excellent candidates for Atolla :D

Obviously there are a lot of different things that can cause skin issues later in life, and it's impossible to say over the internet. But some high level trends: 1) environmental change (e.g. move between climates), 2) other lifestyle change (e.g. diet, hormonal, or other health change), 3) reaction pinpointed to a specific cause (e.g. like an ingredient or food)

Moondance52715 karma

What is one of the coolest things you’ve discovered about skin so far?

c0rder0sa36 karma


But most recently, we just wrote a Medium post about the skin differences between family members- that was super interesting! Even with shared genetics, lifestyle and environment had a huge impact on their skin health. We quantified the differences between each family member’s skin by measuring the % similarity in Skin Sequence (a representation of your skin across several factors that captures your specific skin goals, skin measurements and product preferences). Spoiler alert: skin of a niece and her aunt was more similar because of lifestyle reasons than the skin of two sisters.

Here’s the article:

turtledovecorgi8 karma

You mentioned that you keep the non-active ingredients constant - what are the non-active ingredients? These might be of concern to people who are sensitive to certain ingredients (fatty alcohols, certain preservatives, etc.) or fungal acne.

And if you’re just changing the active ingredient - how is your product different than something like Curology?

Final question - what does the device measure besides very basic things like moisture, oil and pH? Honestly, I can tell if my skin is dry just by looking at and feeling it and only use pH-balanced products, so I don’t really see the benefit of this. I just see it as unnecessarily complicating things and/or collecting consumers’ data to eventually sell to larger corporations.

c0rder0sa4 karma

Super appreciate these insightful questions! Our mission is to help busy and confused people determine what’s causing their skin issue and how to fix it. Our goal is not to collect and sell consumer data, now or in the future.

On the non-active ingredients: we’re still developing and testing the serum formulations, which is why we aren’t yet shipping. We’re taking a customer-driven approach to product development, rather than starting with a single formulation and figuring out who it’s best for. Our philosophy is no one ingredient works for everyone; you need to use the right ones at the amount suited for your skin. One benefit of creating monthly formulations is being able to avoid complicated preservative systems necessary for longer shelf-life.

We customize your initial serum’s base and active ingredient to your skin. This initial customization will account for a person’s sensitivities. The monthly adjustment that happens is not an entirely new formulation- based on how your skin changes, we adjust the concentration of the active ingredient.

Related to Curology, I would say our differences are 1) we aren’t prescription but focused on everyday routine; 2) our feedback loop is automated- so you don’t have to wait for a derm to adjust the formulation and 3) the focus is on measuring multiple factors that impact your skin over time, so our algorithm can determine the cause of a skin issue, whether it's an existing product you're using or every time you eat dairy.

We don’t use just one tool - rather our system is set up to understand the many factors that affect your skin - oil, moisture, and pH being 3 measures of skin health.  This allows us to understand patterns and interaction effects- what causes your skin to react in a certain way, i.e. what causes your skin to be dehydrated.

Over time, we hope that our model gets strong enough so that people have to test less frequently!

milleniumshrimp1026 karma

Hi! I find skin health interesting. I have several questions about your research. Do you have some preliminary data that would indicate these kits are going to be collecting meaningful data? I’m assuming you are attempting to collect more data for your product. What do you believe are the benefits of knowing the pH and moisture level of my skin? How have you determined what ingredients go into personalized serums? Do you have an ingredients list for those with allergy concerns?

c0rder0sa10 karma

Thanks for this great and detailed series of questions!

In order to determine what data will be meaningful, we tested our data collection process first through in-person experience.  We didn’t want to rely on self-reported data alone (it’s biased), so we tested different physical factors to measure. After refining the in-person experience, we landed on measuring moisture, oil and pH of the skin at multiple points on the face.  We found that there was measurable differences in these factors. For example, we were able to quantify how much drier the skin gets in the winter versus the summer for people in the Northeast - average moisture levels were 36% higher in the summer.  Knowing how hydrated your skin and measuring change over time can help you understand how well your hydrating products or lifestyle changes are working.

We are collecting data to help refine and improve our algorithms for skin health - to better classify skin and recommend the right ingredients/formulations for different types of skin.  We don’t sell the data to anyone and treat it like medical data (anonymized). We want to help anyone track what works and doesn’t so also will offer our Skin Health app for free.

Regarding pH: the acid mantle, which protects your skin, should be slightly acidic - research has shown 5.5 to be ideal. If it's too alkaline, you may have more dryness and irritation. If it's too acidic, you could have more breakouts and inflammation. Info about your skin's pH, when compared to a formulation’s pH, can help connect you to the right ingredients.

We are currently in development for our personalized serums and took a data-driven approach.  From analyzing our current user database, we are developing serums based on the skin archetypes that emerged.  Since we are currently in development and are planning to launch in April 2019, we can’t talk about the specifics of the formulations, but are developing the base serums from active ingredients backed by existing scientific research (e.g. Vitamin C, AHA/BHAs, Retinols).  Each person’s base serum will be customized by adjusting the concentration of the active ingredient based on the customer’s sensitivity, as well as their skin changes and feedback. This process allows us to applying machine learning to continually adapt the formulation and measure the efficacy of ingredients on a granular level.

For allergy concerns, you will see your formulation's ingredients and amounts instantly after the initial diagnostic process. We also collect allergy information during our intake!

tinkey5055 karma

What if your personalized serum doesn't work on my skin? How can you guarantee efficacy and match?

c0rder0sa5 karma

So glad you asked this because measuring efficacy is paramount to what we're doing!

To make the initial match, our model analyzes your skin across multiple factors and what has worked for people with similar skin to yours to determine the initial formulation and concentration of active ingredient that will best suit your skin.

To measure efficacy, we look at both changes in objective measures (moisture, oil, etc.) and your feedback about whether it is working.  We measure how the formulation addressed your skin concerns: so if your concerns are redness and dryness, for example, is your skin hydration level increasing and is your redness decreasing?

If the serum doesn’t work, we reformulate for free, pinpoint what needs to be adjusted, and make the adjustment! The goal is to know what ingredients work for people with specific skin attributes. By also keeping track of what doesn’t work, we can help you avoid those ingredients in future products. In this way, we’ve set up a system that is transparent and leverages feedback and measurable results to keep improving.

tinkey5052 karma

Okay, but a serum has many ingredients not just one. So how do you know which of the 15 ingredients work and which ones don't? and why?

c0rder0sa2 karma

We are applying the scientific method and have set up a system to minimize the impact of confounding variables.  Each serum has one main active ingredient and we only adjust that active ingredient concentration. Thus, we are keeping the non-active ingredients constant in the formulation.  In addition, looking at other people in our dataset with skin similar to yours, we can control for the impact of other factors that affect skin. This allows us to be more precise in understanding how the active ingredient concentration change affected the skin.

Treating this like an experiment, over time we plan to increase the complexity (e.g. modular customization, multiple active ingredients) so that we can continue to make the product as personally tuned to your skin as possible.

fpunjwani4 karma

Hi Meg and Sid. First, congrats on starting this. I'm in awe of what you and the Atolla team are doing and aspire to do. I wondering about diversity in skin and how you are tackling that? What hiccups are you encountering in terms of gathering diverse data to train algorithms and also of convincing investors that this is the way to go? Love from Houston, TX

c0rder0sa2 karma

Great question - currently the skincare industry classifies skin as normal, dry, oily or combination.  

We care a lot about this issue as well, which is why we are focused on not just the number of people on our platform, but the diversity they represent in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, geographical location, and skin attributes. Instead of assigning people to a predetermined archetype, we use collaborative filtering to let the data tell us the different grouping of skincare consumers. Most people would be surprised to know, for example, that it’s not clustered by ethnicity- which is one of just many factors that impact your skin health.

We also try to minimize the amount of self-reporting that the customer does. When you ask users to self-report about their skin, they often answer in a biased way because there is no comparison. In comparison, having a data-driven approach can measure how people’s skin issue severity compares to others more objectively. This is why we take quantifiable skin measurements, rather than relying on the customer to self-identify with 1 of 4 multiple choice answers.

We know that skin is much more diverse than the 4 traditional buckets, so making sure our dataset to train the model represented all types of skin was very important.  To ensure diversity in our dataset, we developed the at-home skin test so people can analyze their skin anywhere they are, and are pricing affordably so the system is accessible.  We also do the skin analysis for free when we hold an Atolla Skin Lab pop-up. :)

icanfinallypost3 karma

Hello Meg and Sid, love the model of applying data science to skincare. It helps to be in the know of our skin condition and the details of what works and what doesn't. It's about damn time someone disrupt the skincare industry. Thank you! Any plans on hiring more people?

c0rder0sa2 karma

Wow thank you! We are planning on expanding the team in the new year. Our next few hires will be:

  • Growth Marketing
  • Full stack ecomm developer
  • Customer Insights

+ And also growing the ML team

Let us know if you have recommendations for some talented people :D

ocawa3 karma

Is neutrogena as bad as everyone on reddit thinks it is? If so is there a brand that you both approve of?

c0rder0sa5 karma

It’s hard to generalize because some brands work better for some people than others. We’re approaching answering that question differently, where, we can help connect you to the best ingredients based on what we know about your skin and what we know about people with similar skin. For example, we’re working on an app feature where you could scan a Neutrogena or other product in the aisle and see if it’s worked well for people with similar skin.

For skincare brands we recommend- Atolla, of course! :)

Maupy3 karma

Hi Meg and Sid! Question about scalability within your company. I know that personalization on a true 1:1 level is the holy grail of almost every customer-driven industry, but there isn't a catch-all 100% proven method to insure satisfaction across the board. Is there any concern that the machine-learning will perhaps miss a crucial aspect of a customer's skincare they forgot to input?

c0rder0sa9 karma

Hey, great question!  As with any model, we can only expect useful insights and predictions if the model is trained properly (otherwise garbage in - garbage out!)

Skin is pretty complicated and many factors affect it so we are building a longitudinal dataset that is as comprehensive as possible.  In the intake survey, we ask about environment, lifestyle (diet, sleep, stress), other products in your routine and your skin concerns.  Next, you take a selfie. Third, we incorporate objective measurements - moisture, oil, pH. Finally, we objectively understand preference by having you test ingredients with different absorption/feel profiles.  Down the line, we will integrate with other health tracking apps so as to limit self-reporting bias as much as possible.

To train the model with results, we both incorporate sentiment (ratings on the product) as well as changes in the objective measurements.  Thus, the model will get better at predicting what works and what people like. Longer-term, we are training a computer vision model to also measure changes in severity of different skin concerns (e.g. redness, pore size, wrinkles) to add additional objective results to train the recommendation algorithm on.

sniderka2 karma

Hello, I don’t know how much you focus on skin issues including scalp, but my questions:

  1. I have severe issues with seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp which is not only annoying because of the scaling but horrible because of the near constant itchiness I experience. Do you have any suggestions or will develop products to help with itchiness?
  2. My husband had seborrheic dermatitis as well, mostly on the face with a lot of scaling, especially now during winter. What would you recommend?
  3. Do you plan to have products and if they will focus on seborrheic dermatitis issues as well?

c0rder0sa0 karma

Hi, thanks for asking and sorry to hear about your scalp! We are starting out with developing facial skincare for someone’s daily routine. We don’t have any specific product recommendations for seborrheic dermatitis, but hope to be able to identify environmental/lifestyle triggers and help you determine the products that provide measurable, long-term benefits through our dataset and model.

yrkaksakag2 karma

Meg & Sid,

Your project caught my eye a few weeks back and I'm a proud backer of your efforts. Great idea!

Apart from the development challenges you brought up on Kickstarter, what business challenges and opportunities do you anticipate? Once you reach a viable customer base, what will you tell to companies like L'Oreal, P&G, Unilever who could potentially pay pretty penny for the valuable data you would own on all your customers' skin metrics?

A second question - does ethnicity play any role in your models? I can imagine it would be somewhat of a controversial metric to include.

Thanks again!

c0rder0sa1 karma

Thanks for supporting us!!

The next year will be about scaling our platform as quickly as possible, which will allow us take algorithm development to the next level and build the computer vision engine. We’re taking a DTC approach so that we can have a great relationship with our customers, where we are using their feedback to adapt their formulation to always provide the best solution for them. One potential challenge and opportunity is around feedback collection - we imagine that some people will give feedback monthly versus others less frequently, so we want to ensure we are collecting feedback at the right cadence, based on skin concerns and skin issues. We imagine a future where our predictive model can understand someone’s skin so well that we don’t need as much feedback.

Once we reach critical mass, we plan to leverage insights from the platform - not by selling customer data, but by helping to move the industry forward through scientifically-driven analytics and reports. For example, the difference between skin of people living in Boston vs New York or how traveling to a humid climate, or changing to a gluten-free diet has an impact on skin health.

We ask about ethnicity but it doesn’t solely drive classification of skin in our models since we collect many different attributes to create robust skin archetypes.  By including ethnicity, as one factor out of many, like the Fitzpatrick scale (how sensitive someone’s skin is to the sun), environment and lifestyle, we can measure the impact of each factor and the interaction effects to properly understand what causes our skin to change.

angesharma2 karma

How did the both of you meet at MIT? Why did you both decide to start working together i.e. did you have similar backgrounds?

c0rder0sa8 karma

My favorite question! Sid and I met at MIT as grad students- his background is data science and mine is UX design/mass customization. Sid previously worked at Kurt Salmon, applying retail analytics to solve complex operational problems for top brands like Patagonia, Ralph Lauren and Tylenol. Before MIT, I was at 3D printing startup Formlabs.

When we met at MIT, Sid was at Sloan Business School and I did a dual degree in Engineering and Business called IDM.  I actually got diagnosed with autoimmune problems in grad school and started noticing itchy rashes on my forehead. I was keeping a crazy skin diary that kept track of what I ate, the weather, what products I used and couldn’t figure out what was happening. I had an a-ha! moment like, wait a sec, I’m at the best school in the world for solving this problem by applying data science and machine learning. And I went out looking for a technical person to help me build the tool I was imagining- a system to help people who were experiencing the same skin confusion as me figure out what was happening with their skin and what the right solution was.

It just so happened that not only was Sid a data scientist who had experience in retail, he also has eczema and was struggling to figure out a new routine to help his skin in the really dry winters in Boston. So it was the perfect blend of background and personal experience. Then Dr. Hirsch joined the team and we started building what was missing in the industry: a model that took into account all the different factors that impact your skin to identify the cause of a skin issue and design the right solution for you. -Meg

angesharma2 karma

How can people interested, but located internationally support Atolla? Love from Canada!

c0rder0sa1 karma

Hi! Thanks so much for your support for what we are doing. We can ship skin analysis kits to Canada, so you can start tracking and better understanding your skin! This is super exciting for us too, as we start to see how skin attributes vary geographically. Link to the skin analysis kits:

Hope to be able to ship customized serums outside of the US soon :)

rhiyo1 karma

I've heard Vitamin C serum is a good solution for darkness under eyes, do you have any thoughts or advice on this?

Are there many members of the team with good knowledge on both machine learning and dermatology, or was a lot of learning of each fields involved? What specific classification methods are you working with?

Thanks for doing this :)

c0rder0sa2 karma

We hear that question a lot, which is why our app is meant to help you find the ingredients that are best for your skin concerns. You can track your dark circles' progress through a visual timeline; we’re working on a computer vision algorithm to actually quantify the difference!

No one person on the team has experience in both machine learning and dermatology, but together we built a system that merges our respective fields. Our founding team of three brings a unique skillset: we are bringing design (Meg), data science (Sid) and dermatology (Dr. Hirsch) together to create a new experience in skincare.

We use a combination of collaborative filtering and other advanced clustering techniques to create more robust skin archetypes than what is common in the industry (normal, dry, oil, combination) - to use both subjective data (product ratings) and objective data (environment, lifestyle, moisture, oil) to classify skin.    

eperdu1 karma

What are your thoughts on Biome friendly products (like Mother Dirt)? It seems like another fad but makes sense to me at the same time. Are AOBs really that important?

c0rder0sa1 karma

Good question! We don’t currently have enough research to answer either way about AOBs, but the Atolla system can help people track and figure out the impact of using AOBs on an individual level!

AlphaBaby1 karma

Do you think that drinking a lot of water throughout the day would really benefit and improve the appearance of skin? If so, is there a recommended amount of water per day?

Additionally, we know that collagen is too big of a molecule to be absorbed into the skin in order to have any effect. Is there any data that taking collagen internally (such as in a supplement, etc.) would improve skin elasticity, or have any benefit on the skin whatsoever?

Thank you!

c0rder0sa2 karma

Our skin is our largest organ and a reflection of our body’s overall health, so drinking more water could only be beneficial! Our intake includes understanding how much water you drink, so we can see what impact drinking a few extra cups per day has on your skin. :D

We have seen some papers on the impact of taking hydroxyproline (a major component of collagen, roughly 9-15%) on dry, rough skin that show a positive impact on elasticity over 4-8 weeks (Nutritional Cosmetics, Tabor, 2009).   

We are looking to take it one step further and build a broad longitudinal dataset that captures the impacts of diet changes, like adding a new supplement, on skin health.  Individually, through our app we help you track the impact of taking collagen supplements both visually and measuring your skin’s hydration level.

holy_rejection1 karma

What are some skincare myths that cosmetics companies commonly tout that frustrate you guys?

c0rder0sa4 karma

  1. That skin can only be dry, oily, combination, or “normal”. Most people fall in multiple buckets or change throughout the year! So really these 4 categories don't accurately capture anyone.
  2. More is better- actually less is better, especially if you’re having a skin issue, it’s better to understand what caused it, rather than reacting by using a product ill suited to you and potentially making it worse!

kahtiel1 karma

This is very interesting, and I'm intrigued by the work you are doing. I'm someone with moderate to severe eczema so I was wondering if the system would be useful for those of us with significant skin issues? Or perhaps, if focusing on problematic skin was a future goal?

c0rder0sa2 karma

Hi this is Sid and I too have pretty severe eczema.  While we know that eczema cannot truly addressed without prescription medication (I have been recently taking Dupixent and it has shown good results), the Atolla system can help you separate out the impacts of environment, weather and other products.  I was always confused as to whether it was the dust in my apartment, the change in seasons or a new moisturizer I tried caused my skin to get irritated. Through the Atolla system, we hope to help people like you and I mitigate the impact of irritants and help manage eczema by using the right products for you in your daily skincare routine.

ocdice1 karma

Will you be shipping the kits world-wide? My daughter has eczema and it is like killing the hydra. It would be great to be able to pinpoint her specific triggers.

c0rder0sa1 karma

Yes, eczema is the worst and before Atolla, I often felt like there was no hope!  The app and skin analysis kits are currently available worldwide (  We plan to ship our products worldwide in the future, after taking necessary regulatory steps for non-US markets. -Sid

constantcompromise1 karma

Is face skin different than body skin? Is it easier to work with or come up with new solutions for? I have keratosis pilaris on 90 percent of my body and it seems like there hasn't been a lot of innovation in body skin care, whereas there seems to always be something new for the face.

c0rder0sa2 karma

Yes, there does seem to be more innovation for face rather than body. Maybe it’s because that’s the skin we look at in the mirror and others look at the most! Down the road, we hope to develop features of our platform to address and track skin issues on other parts of the body.

kathylcsw1 karma

How do you become an early tester?

c0rder0sa1 karma

Hey Kathy! You can sign up here: