May 01, 2023

How Agency Skincare Creates Personalized, Dermatologist

You’ve spent years in and out of dermatologists’ offices, and consider roaming the shelves of skin-care aisles a national sport. And yet, you continue to struggle to find the perfect combination of products to tackle all of your mature skin's concerns.

That's where Agency, a dermatologist-designed skincare brand that provides personalized prescription-strength products, comes in. The label, an arm of the popular acne-fighting brand Curology, was created for those seeking to tackle specific aging skin concerns, such as fine lines, dark spots, firmness, and skin texture.

"We noticed that some people were asking us for formulas for mature skin through our acne platform," says Whitney Tolpinrud, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Agency's medical director based in San Diego. "So we thought it really made sense to develop products specifically for these needs."

Whitney Tolpinrud, MD

Thus, Agency was born. "Agency offers prescription formulas to treat signs of aging, such as dark spots and fine lines," says Dr. Tolpinrud, who worked at private practices in both New York City and San Diego before joining the Agency team. "What really unites both brands is our team of in-house medical providers that treat our patients and guide them throughout their skin-care journey."

And that journey is customized from the start.

For patients, the Agency adventure begins by completing a questionnaire about their unique skin and medical histories, after which they upload three photos of their skin — one from the front, and two from each side of their face — via the brand's website. Once the photos are uploaded, patients are matched with one of Agency's licensed dermatology providers, who is one of the nearly 100 physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in-house at the company — no bots or algorithms involved.

"Each patient is unique when it comes to medical histories and skin concerns," says Dr. Tolpinrud. "Working with a licensed dermatology provider who can take all of this into consideration and examine your skin before prescribing active ingredients helps to optimize your routine to best target your specific concerns and goals."

Once patients are matched with a provider, they’re given a prescription formula with four active ingredients "formulated at custom strengths and in custom combinations," which are shipped out every two months — straight to patients’ front doors. "It's a streamlined, simplified process," adds Dr. Tolpinrud. Never having to leave the couch for your prescription? Yes, please.

Patients will then receive one or both of the Agency's two powerhouse products in its lineup: the Future Formula and the Dark Spot Formula. Both products are created with each patient's specific goals in mind and can be used together or separately, again, depending on your skin concerns.

"Each personalized formula contains four active ingredients — such as tretinoin, niacinamide, azelaic acid, and tranexamic acid — selected to help meet your specific skin goals," Dr. Tolpinrud explains. "We offer a variety of ingredient strengths to help your skin adjust to the active ingredients while minimizing irritation. This can help you obtain maximal benefit from the prescription ingredients, such as tretinoin."

The Future Formula hones in on fine lines, working to boost collagen and smooth texture with its hero ingredient, tretinoin, also known as all-trans retinoic acid, which, as Dr. Tolpinrud adds, "doesn't need to change form before it can be used by the skin cells, unlike other topical retinoids such as retinol."

Future Formula may also contain anti-inflammatory niacinamide, acne-fighting azelaic acid, and brightening tranexamic acid. To balance out the actives, each formula is packed with a soothing blend of vitamin E and aloe vera.

My personal Future Formula included all of these ingredients at various percentages (tretinoin at 0.035%, niacinamide at 4%, azelaic acid at 5%, and tranexamic acid at 5%), just as Dr. Tolpinrud said they would be, to help support my 32-year-old skin, which struggles with fine lines and random bouts of hormonal acne. While my prescription was only for nighttime use, I found using it every other night was my sweet spot while my skin acclimated to the new treatment. So far, so good!

While the Future Formula does target dark spots and hyperpigmentation, Agency's Dark Spot Formula (DSF) was created to go a little deeper at fading markings such as sun spots, melasma, and even post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (which patients may know as the dark spots that can be left behind after an acne breakout), says Dr. Tolpinrud.

The DSF is also made with four key ingredients, which can include azelaic acid, kojic acid, hydrocortisone (only for the first couple of months), and hydroquinone. The latter ingredient is often considered one of the gold standard topical ingredients for fighting hyperpigmentation by slowing down melanin production.

Hydroquinone has been touted as a "skin bleacher," hence why it can be controversial, and it's often misunderstood (and misused). Roberta Del Campo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in North Miami, Florida, previously told Allure that it should be considered a "color blender," instead.

In Agency's DSF, you could be prescribed a formula with or without the ingredient. "We have hydroquinone formulas and non-hydroquinone formulas that we can prescribe depending on the patient's preferences and medical history," says Dr. Tolpinrud. "We offer up to 12% hydroquinone."

My DSF contained the aforementioned ingredients, including hydroquinone at 4%, as well as 4% kojic acid, 3% azelaic acid, and 2.5% hydrocortisone. While I’ve never used hydroquinone, I’m hopeful it will help fade my seasonal melasma, as well as a pesky purple dark spot under my nose that I’ve had for years, thanks to a very angry old pimple.

After two to three months of use, your skin needs to take a break from hydroquinone, which is why Agency automatically cycles patients on and off of hydoquinone-based formulas every few months, like clockwork. To round out my own potent prescription, my hydroquinone-free DSF (that I’ll cycle on and off of) also featured soothing green tea extract and free-radical-fighting resveratrol.

That's the beauty of Agency: Dr. Tolpinrud says that patients can speak with their Agency-specific licensed dermatology provider about adjusting the strengths of their formulas, depending on how well (or not so well) their skin reacts to their personalized treatments. For example, a patient could start out with 0.05% tretinoin in their Future Formula, and after a few months of tolerating this strength well, their dermatology provider could increase the percentage of tretinoin to 0.07%.

Of course, that's just one example out of the many formulations made possible with Agency. "Since no one's skin is exactly the same, personalized formulas allow for customization and can be tailored to address a variety of skin-care goals," says Dr. Tolpinrud. That's why she believes "personalized products are the future of skin care" — and Agency is just ahead of the curve.

To get your personalized Agency prescription for $65 per month (for both the Future Formula and Dark Spot Formula), head to* now.

*Subject to medical consultation. Cancel anytime. Results may vary.

Agency Future Formula Dark Spot Formula Future Formula Dark Spot Formula