This column is Part 2 in a two part series focusing on artificial intelligence. Part 1 ran May 8.
I had the opportunity to interview Afsana Akhter, co-founder and CEO of SkinIQ – an artificial-intelligence-powered platform that helps people manage their skin conditions, starting with acne, with future plans to include other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, melanoma and more.
Akhter studied engineering at MIT and has worked in the technology and digital health industries for the past 20 years, garnering a track record in leading young companies – from getting them off the ground to achieving product-market fit, a pivotal point where a startup becomes relevant and satisfies a strong market demand.
Skincare is a $3 billion market in the U.S., where 80 million people have acne problems and another 43 million people live with either eczema or psoriasis. Yet less than 2% of Americans see a dermatologist.
Akhter believes that her company is leading change by giving consumers critical knowledge, tools and support from the convenience of a smartphone app to self-manage their skin conditions.
“SkinIQ uses the phone’s camera and AI to first help people understand what type of acne they have, then recommends over-the-counter medications and offers personalized guidance to resolve their acne problems,” she said.
In scenarios where the acne is severe, users should seek their doctor’s guidance for care. SkinIQ also leverages telehealth to bring people in contact with a doctor and appropriate medications.
Akhter’s passion for solving skincare problems comes from her own experience in managing acne and eczema over several years.
According to Akhter, even with guidance from doctors and strong prescription medications, her acne and eczema problems were not fully resolved – she struggled to find effective remedies and the side effects were unpleasant.
“Because of my personal experience, I saw an immediate need for consumers to access better information on how to take care of their skin issues,” she said.
Breakthrough for breakouts
Research shows that approximately 85% of teenagers and young adults experience some form of acne, and they are increasingly seeking online and mobile-based guidance.
“The continuous, self-help skincare guidance from SkinIQ could help our users save money and hassle, instead of seeking expensive solutions from dermatologists only when the problem becomes severe,” Akhter said. “We hope to provide consumers with self-management and education so they can see improvements over a period of days or within a few weeks.”
Consumers benefit from taking care of their skin not just by using medication, but also from guidance on food and lifestyle changes.
SkinIQ is currently in the beta phase and plans to launch later this year.