I tried a prescription acne treatment from a popular startup called Hers - it helped keep my skin smooth and clear without a single visit to my dermatologist
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- Hers, the sister company of Hims, lets women buy certain prescriptions online without having to see a doctor in person. Instead, medical consultations with doctors occur online.
- For those too busy or inconvenienced by traditional healthcare, it makes the process for of getting sexual wellness (birth control and the "female Viagra") and prescription acne treatments markedly more streamlined.
- I tried the a.m./p.m. Acne Treatment ($44), and I was impressed by the ease of ordering, fast delivery, and overall efficacy.
- There are some cons to consider, but I had a good experience with the process and products, and think it's a convenient service that can make it a little easier to access healthcare.
For many, finding a trusted dermatologist - and more realistically, one that's in-network - can be nearly impossible. For others, the time commitment, waitlists, and taking a half day for a visit just to get a prescription are enough of a reason to simply "make do" living with acne. When I moved cross-country still using my parents' now-irrelevant insurance, I was very much left to the former group.In other words, clumsy imperfections of the healthcare system can prevent people from accessing care. But in the 21st-century, new "telemedicine" providers are popping up, looking to make clinical health care more streamlined and accessible by bringing it to where people are: online. Hers is one of them.
You're probably familiar with the startup - either by virtue of its many subway ads or its first venture: Hims, which addressed men's health issues like erectile dysfunction and hair loss with over-the-counter products and prescriptions. Hers is the sister brand launched in 2018 to address women's health. Popular products span sexual wellness with birth control pills (10 types) and Addyi, commonly referred to as "female Viagra," to hair loss and skin care.
Hers still requires a prescription for prescription products, but the process is easy. The company's network of doctors assess your needs and provide you with a prescription after you complete a digital assessment. Over-the-counter products (think The Shampoo, $19) don't require one, so you can order them straight from the site.
Hers products aren't covered under insurance, but the company has said they're available at 50%-80% off retail cost, which may make them more affordable for some. Otherwise, the lack of appointments, pharmacy lines, and coordinating with insurance may be enough of a convenience to justify paying slightly more for others. Hopefully Hers will be eligible for HSA or FSA money in the future.
To see what the process is like, I tried out the company's a.m./p.m. Acne Treatment ($44). It requires a subscription which may be a turn-off for some, but, on the other hand, consistency is generally seen as the MVP of a good skin-care line. You can also have the formula tweaked to meet your needs as they change, and, you can just snooze future deliveries if you need to get fewer.
How it works
Unfortunately, this is one of those subscriptions that requires credit card information before you can really get to the meat and potatoes of the process. You'll log your name, address, and credit card info first. Your order will be processed, you'll sign a telehealth consent form, and then you'll build out your profile - filling in your medical history, relevant details, and the symptoms you want to be addressed in about 20 quick questions. Make sure you have a credit card and government issued ID on you - you'll include a photo of the latter so doctors can confirm your identity.For the skin-care products, you'll also include photos of your skin for doctors to consider, and you'll be prompted to note if they represent a good, bad, or typical day for acne. (These are protected under HIPAA and the company promises they will never be shared). There's also a section to include both the topical and oral medications you've used in the past, how well they worked, how your skin reacted, and when you last used them.
Since you're getting prescription products, you need doctor approval. So after you fill out your profile and a doctor looks it over, you'll have an online consultation (kind of like a support chat conversation) with a physician after checkout to green-light your products. In the beginning, there's a $5 medical fee tacked on to the price of the acne products that goes directly to doctors.
I completed my profile on February 4, and by 11 p.m. that night I had been contacted by a dermatologist. She asked me a few follow-up questions and prescribed me my products same-day, which she said would automatically refill 11 times. She also encouraged me to let my primary care doctor know about this medicine and any other changes and included a link to where I could find a primary care doctor if I didn't already have one. It took about a week for the products to arrive in the mail.
If you need to tweak the products in the future, use the secure messaging portal (the same that your doctor used to contact you in the beginning) to discuss it.
The experience online was easy and pretty much resolved itself in a single day - which was much less stressful than trying to find a new dermatologist, taking off work, and going in without much of an idea if I'd be able to afford whatever was prescribed to me, and, if not, why I went in the first place.
The packaging is low-key, though it does say "Hers" prominently on the front. I also feel guilty receiving a package of plastic single-use products every month, but I understand the need for monthly doses and keeping costs low.
The formula comes in a.m. and p.m. bottles that are supposed to work together to clear up skin and renew the surface simultaneously. It contains active ingredients (tretinoin, niacinamide, and clindamycin) and non-actives. You won't find parabens and pthalates in it, but it does have a synthetic fragrance. Find out more about its ingredients here.When used consistently, I did see my skin's clarity improve. My tone was more even, and my skin clearer and smoother to the touch without losing hydration. However, I've also been regulating my breakouts recently with all-star products it took me years to find, so my skin wasn't nearly as bad at the beginning as it has been in the past. So if you don't find the initial formula effective - meaning if it's not strong enough for your needs - you can ask for a higher concentration of tretinoin. Once approved by a doctor, it'll be upped.
For context, when I asked the company for a breakdown of the ingredients' concentrations, the team sent the following: 1% clindamycin, 4% niacinamide in the a.m. and 1% clindamycin, .0125-0.02% tretinoin, 4% niacinamide at night. Tretinoin is generally prescribed in varying strengths (weakest .005% to the strongest 0.1%), though it's not always as simple as "more equals better." Tretinoin can be harsh on the skin and cause redness and peeling, so the goal is to find the balance between efficacy and what your skin can comfortably sustain.
Speaking with customer service was also more protracted and less seamless than I wished. Support responded relatively quickly to questions over email, and their blog is pretty helpful, but it was tough to know when doctors would respond to new messages. So, if you don't like your prescription and want to tweak it, I'd suggest giving yourself a few days of wiggle room to contact the doctor.
The bottom line
Hers - like most functional telemedicine companies - is an exciting prospect. It's a young company still smoothing out some forgivable kinks. But in person, it was extremely convenient, especially for someone who can't get to a dermatologist office just for prescription acne medicine, or who chooses not to. Everything is conducted quickly online, and prescriptions are mailed to your door. It's not cheap at $44 per month, and messages from doctors took a little longer than I wanted, but Hers is a relatively affordable system that's convenient. It's a subscription, but consistency is good for skin-care routines, and you can pause future shipments if need be. It's also a big perk that, should you need a stronger dose, you can request a higher percentage of Tretinoin without yet another trip back to the doctor's office.
As always - and especially with telemedicine - you need to do some research to make sure the products and services will fit your needs, lifestyle, and budget. And you should still go visit doctors for annual checkups. But, if you're looking for a way to get effective, prescription skin-care products delivered to your door without the in-person appointment, it's an option I'd recommend checking out based on my own experience with the service.
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