The bespoke beauty trend shows no signs of slowing down, but are customized products created by algorithms really all that different from ready-made formulas? According to new clinical data released by one hair care brand, the answer is a definitive yes.

Prose, the direct-to-consumer beauty tech company launched in 2017, offers made-to-order hair products and supplements based on an AI-powered self-assessment quiz. With 80 metrics collected including a person’s hair type, texture, scalp health, level of oiliness, desired goals, and even their zip code to take climate factors into consideration, Prose has the capability to produce more than 80 million unique hair care formulas by pulling from its bank of 165 ingredients.

The privately-held company based in Brooklyn, New York is the brainchild of Arnaud Plas, Prose’s CEO, and Paul Michaux, VP of Product, who met while both working at L’Oréal. They co-founded Prose with Nicolas Mussat, one of their early investors who now serves as Chief Technology Officer, and Catherine Taurin, a hair care chemist for over 40 years. “Arnaud was intent on reconceptualizing the idea that ‘one size does not fit all’ and wanted to leverage data to power that,” said Megan Streeter, Prose’s Chief Marketing Officer. “It was important to him to do something that was good for the planet, so he wanted to eliminate mass production.” Prose is B Corp certified, meaning it meets specific standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. The company is also certified as “climate neutral” by

Prose, which now has 10 hair care SKUs, launched with a core line of customizable shampoo, conditioner and a hair mask, eventually expanding into styling products with a custom gel, hair oil, curl cream, and dry shampoo. The brand has also entered the supplement category with a formula tailored to address hair growth and scalp health, and in June 2023, Prose launched bespoke skin care with a custom cleanser, serum, and moisturizer.

Marie Mignon, Chief Scientific Officer, Prose

As the brand’s popularity continues to soar, the company just released the results of a clinical study they commissioned to assess the performance of customized Prose hair care formulas compared to six premium ready-made alternatives. “It has been our belief since the beginning of Prose that personalization works better,” said Marie Mignon, Prose’s Chief Scientific Officer, of why the company commissioned the study.

Enlisting the help of an independent contract research organization (CRO) agency, the company devised a double-blind clinical trial. The study’s 206 participants began by completing an abbreviated version of Prose’s regular customer questionnaire. Experts then evaluated nine parameters of each participant’s hair: level of frizz, shine, damage, hydration, strength, suppleness, weigh down, scalp oiliness, and health of hair growth. After the consultations, participants were divided into three groups: hair with frizz, damaged hair, and oily scalp.

Participants were instructed to use their assigned shampoo and conditioner three times a week for four weeks. At the end of the four weeks, participants self-assessed their hair in the nine parameter categories and completed 20 performance statements, and the study’s experts reevaluated each person’s hair using the same nine metrics as at the start of the study.

“The expert hair assessment results were very interesting,” said Mignon. “Prose products were shown to improve all the hair parameters after one month of use and performed better than the non-customized alternatives at improving hydration and reducing frizz and damage.” Prose formulas were also shown to reduce scalp oiliness and weigh down while increasing hair shine, strength, suppleness, and health.

“This clinical study is quite reassuring for us,” Streeter added. “We knew from the get-go that personalization works better, but having data to support that Prose outperforms when compared to premium hair care brands is something we are really proud of.”

Mignon attributes Prose’s proven effectiveness to its AI algorithms. “The first algorithm is used at the R&D phase to enhance the capabilities of our chemists,” she explained.

AI is also embedded in the Prose customer journey. “We have models for each of our products that turn the customer’s consultation data into the right formula for their needs,” Mignon said. AI then enhances the data collected from each customer’s online questionnaire. “Our ‘review and refine’ algorithm uses the person’s feedback to tweak their formula for their next order,” said Mignon, adding that another algorithm suggests a specific product regimen for the customer. “All these models are trained with expert inputs from our internal R&D team as well as external experts such as dermatologists and trichologists,” she said.

“We have succeeded in unlocking the limitations and challenges associated with personalization, and being able to scale our made-to-order approach is very exciting,” said Mignon.

Scaling the business is a top priority for Prose. “The company is growing double digits year over year, and we want to make sure we have enough production to deliver without a backlog,” Streeter noted. To this end, Prose recently opened a new facility in Brooklyn’s Industry Park that includes a larger warehouse, and the company is actively looking at opportunities in other locations. “We don’t make anything until a customer completes the online consultation, so it’s a longer process — and customers want their products faster,” said Streeter. “This expansion in manufacturing is also an effort to match our growth rate.”

When the company introduced personalized skin care last year using the same proprietary model as for their custom hair care, Prose’s offerings expanded to include more than 15 million possible skin care formulas. The most often-used skin care ingredients include caviar lime extract, an Australian citrus fruit rich in alpha-hydroxy acids to promote cell renewal; a type of hyaluronic acid shown to enhance the penetration of other actives; and ceramides, which are frequently added to the custom moisturizer.

“DTC is core to our business and makes us unique and ahead of the game,” said Streeter. “We’ve proven that you can create a profitable, growing, healthy DTC company. That said, our goal is to create a global beauty destination that delivers a customized experience wherever we go. We’ll continue to evolve as customers and where they shop evolve.” Mignon adds, “We are continuously looking for ways to expand our customization model to other categories — so stay tuned.”