An extremely small sample of my skincare products. Also me humblebragging about my score.
An extremely small sample of my skincare products. Also me humblebragging about my score.
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

The worst part about skincare is all of the trial and error. There’s the researching of ingredients, torturing yourself listening to YouTubers review products, draining your bank account to buy said products, and then finally, trying them. All that effort usually ends up with me cocking my head to the side as I stare at my reflection, unsure if my investment did anything or if it’s all in my head. Last week, I met up with Neutrogena at CES 2020 to talk about their app, Skin360. I walked into the meeting a bit skeptical—after all, their last CES announcement, MaskID, still hasn’t seen the light of day. But after a week of playing around with the Skin360 app, I think Neutrogena might be on to something.

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The idea behind the app is simple. You take a selfie, the app then analyzes your skin and gives you a score out of 10 across five parameters: wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles, smoothness, and dark spots. You then set a skincare goal—something you want to improve, like getting rid of your fine lines. Depending on what your goal is, you’ll get different recommendations. Once that’s set, the app will then ask how dedicated you are to a skincare routine, and then poof. You get a personalized routine. Through it all, there’s a chatbot called NAIA who will check in every few days about your goals, your stress levels, how often you exercise, and sleep quality. You can also read articles about specific issues, like how to minimize the size of your pores or an explainer on exfoliation.

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Skin360 itself isn’t new. A version of the app has been around for a couple of years, but previously you had to buy a separate scanner. It only cost $50, but that’s enough to make someone on a budget pause. After all, you’d still have to pay for your entire skincare regimen and a piece of hardware that takes up additional counter space. With the app relaunch, Neutrogena smartly decided to nix the additional hardware entirely, meaning the only thing you need to use the app is your smartphone.

The other smart thing Neutrogena did was allow users to input their own products within the app for recommended skincare routines. Previously, you were limited to Neutrogena products only. That makes sense because, well, capitalism. It’s also just not realistic—something Neutrogena admitted to me in person. For example, the app might suggest you cleanse, moisturize, and put on sunscreen in the morning. The default product recommendations will be, as you might expect, Neutrogena products. However, let’s say you already have a cleanser you like. In that case, you can manually add your own.

One thing I appreciated about using the Skin360 app was it wasn’t something I had to interact with every day. I could if I wanted, but it wasn’t necessary. If you’re really lazy about tracking your daily habits, you can simply log into the Skin360 app once a week. You get prompted by NAIA every 7 days to take a new scan and voilá. You can see if you’ve made any progress based that week. If you enable notifications, you might even get a prompt to rate your sleep, stress, and exercise levels for that week. Alternatively, you could be that person who scans their face and logs morning and evening routine every daily.

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Me in Vegas, a dry crusty bitch, versus me at home four days later, moisturized as hell.
Me in Vegas, a dry crusty bitch, versus me at home four days later, moisturized as hell.
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

While the app is well-designed, it isn’t quite as polished as I’d like. I found it to be somewhat laggy when interacting with NAIA. The bot would ask me to rate my week, and unless I moved the rating slider around beforehand, I couldn’t submit my answer. Sometimes replies from NAIA were also slow. Other features, like side-by-side selfie comparisons, were finicky. By default, the app would show me the same two pictures despite saying they were from two different dates. It took me a second to realize I had to go into the menu and manually pick dates to get the photos to refresh.

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The most annoying quirk was adding my own products to routines. While there was an impressive number of brands to choose from, it doesn’t have every single one out there. For instance, I use a few Nature Republic products but that brand happens to not be included. This would’ve been fine if I could’ve just typed it in manually, but that wasn’t an option. I had to opt for the neutral “brand” from a dropdown menu, and skipping that field wasn’t possible. While entering products, you also have to note what skincare concern that product might be addressing. That’s fine for some products but doesn’t necessarily apply to say, a makeup remover.

None of these annoyances were what I’d call dealbreakers, but it’s definitely something Neutrogena ought to fix via app updates.

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As for who this app is for, the obvious answer is skincare dweebs. For Skin360 to be valuable, you need to have the kind of personality that likes experimenting, recording results and reviewing data. If you hate that, this isn’t the thing for you. You also have to enjoy skincare or at least have the desire to improve the quality of your skin. If you’re the sort of person who just splashes cold water on your face in the morning, this also won’t be your cup of tea. But, if you’re lurking in the r/SkincareAddicts subreddit or have more moisturizer samples than you know what to do with, Skin360 offers a more convenient way of logging your trial-and-error. Though, I will say its scoring system may catapult your neuroticism to new heights. Am I vain for taking multiple selfies to see if my dark spots score improves? Absolutely, but that’s a quality I know about myself.

That said, if you suffer from body dysmorphia, then this app—and others like it—should be avoided. Sure, assessing your skin quality is an important factor in improving it. If you want to be generous, it’s a metric skincare companies offer to help people. Cynically, it’s something that ramps up insecurity so you buy whatever it is they’re hocking. In fairness, the Skin360 app will never describe your skin as bad. It breaks down overall scores from 1-4.9 as ‘Okay’, 5-7.9 as ‘Good’ and 8-10 as ‘Great.’ That’s nice, but it bears reminding that no company is truly altruistic and self-quantification isn’t something you have to volunteer yourself for.

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If you like self-quantifying, you can choose to log whether you did your morning and evening routines each day.
If you like self-quantifying, you can choose to log whether you did your morning and evening routines each day.
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

The main selling point for me is that it doesn’t cost anything to try. There’s no downside. If you hate it, you can just delete it. If you like it, ay! You spent zero for a useful resource and tool. For the past week, I’ve been “working” on improving my skin’s smoothness. A week isn’t enough time to have definitive results. However, after spending all of CES neglecting any sort of healthy routine, using this app did get me regularly slathering on sunscreen again.

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Personally, what I’ve been looking for is a more convenient way to figure out if a specific moisturizer or serum is working the way I want it to. The fact I can use Skin360 to track whether a product is effective, beyond whatever my eyeballs perceive, appeals to me. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue logging every day—there’s only so much self-quantifying I can do before I burn out. (See: the Oral-B Genius X smart toothbrush. After I reviewed the thing, I quickly tired of having my phone out while brushing every day. I deleted the app a few weeks later.) That said, I’m more likely to stick with this experiment for a while, simply because my participation is flexible. It won’t completely eliminate trial-and-error in my quest for better skin, but it will make the whole process easier to visualize. And I’m all for that.

README

  • Neutrogena’s relaunched Skin360 app now requires no hardware and is free for download.
  • Also features a chatbot called NAIA who checks in with you each week.
  • Works on iOS and Android
  • You take a selfie, get a score, and then a recommended skincare routine based on your goals.
  • While it’s mostly a good app, it can be a bit slow or finicky.
  • If you’re lazy, you only have to use the app about once a week.
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Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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