Dr. Zein Obagi Talks Skin Care

“Houston, we have a problem.” False information about healthy skin is spreading like wildfire. As more skin suggestions populate my news feeds, it seems like “skin care” is becoming the mainstay. Since we’re not getting any younger, the time has come to set the facts straight regarding what is and isn’t healthy for your skin.

Now is the time to grab your reading glasses, a cup of tea, or both, because—

I asked Dr. Zein Obagi the most frequently encountered skin care questions.

Dermatologist, maverick, pioneer, artist, and scientist Dr. Obagi’s philosophy is about restoring skin with science. He is a pretty big deal in the skin care world; founder and medical director of ZO Skin Health, Inc, and the Medical Director of the ZO Skin Centres® in California.

Keep reading for Dr. Zein Obagi’s answers to your (and my) most pressing skin questions.

(He’s also full-time Dad of the Year.)

1. A celebrity’s skin care routine incorporates multiple products/brands. Does that impact the skin in any way?

“In my practice, I recommend a protocol-based approach. Each protocol consists of multiple steps. Each step prepares the skin for the following step. For example, if you skipped step 1, then step 2 will be less effective, and so forth.

Mixing products of different brands with different formulations may not deliver the results the patient needs – and could even have unintended negative consequences.”

2. Is there ever a good time to pick the face?

“Never. Once you pick, you’re injuring the skin and opening the door for bacteria that can cause infection. And if the picking is repeated, that will leave a scar.

Getting extractions from a medical esthetician is okay. They use professional tools to cleanly and correctly extract a pimple.”

3. How valuable are at-home, do-it-yourself face masks? For example, with honey, sugar, lemon, and other kitchen ingredients. 

“They are helpful. Lemon lightens up the skin color and still is used to correct problems with pigmentation. Most fruits and vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes have antioxidants that are good for the skin. Other natural kitchen ingredients can refresh the skin, too.  

However, if you have a medical skin problem, seek proper treatment from a physician or other trained skin care professional as natural remedies can aggravate a medical condition.

For example, if you put any oily substance on your skin that tends to break out, you’re going to make the acne worse. If your skin is sensitive and has a weak barrier function, you should avoid such masks.”

4. There’s a rumor that you don’t promote moisturizers. If so, why not? 

“First of all, there’s a lot of people misquoting me, including you. I am not at all against moisturizers. I am against depending on moisturizers for facial skin care. Here’s an example.

Look at a baby’s skin. Natural hydration comes from deep skin layers to the surface due to blood circulation, along with essential nutrients. However, when you apply a moisturizer to the skin of the face, you saturate the surface with water and oil.

The saturation of the skin surface forces the body to stop delivering water and nutrients to the skin. Repeating the moisturizer application will lead to dependency and natural dryness in the long run. 

This is true for the skin of the face. Facial skin is rich with oil glands that maintain the skin surface adequately hydrated. Every other body part has small or non-functioning oil glands.

Water delivered to the skin surface from within tends to evaporate rapidly, making body skin more prone to dry up; the body will need moisturizers for non-facial skin.”

5. In which situations would it be appropriate to wear moisturizer?

“If there’s wind, things that dry out your skin faster than your body can compensate, you should use a moisturizer.”

6. What are your thoughts on (1) “at-home laser hair removal kits” and (2) creams for the face or body to remove unwanted hair?

“I believe laser hair removal is an excellent way to remove unwanted hair. Epilating creams are also safe. But, it is always a best practice to make your skin care provider aware of any skin care regimens you are on or any at-home treatments you are considering.”

7. I remember you mentioned that “sensitive” skin does not exist as a normal entity, right? 

“There is no such thing as sensitive skin unless you have a genetic disease. Skin is supposed to be strong, tolerant to everything. That’s how God makes skin. Using moisturizer on the face all the time stops natural skin exfoliation (shedding surface dead cells).

Hence, the dead cells stick back and accumulate, creating a thick layer of dead skin that will stop skin surface renewal. Skin becomes thinner, dull, and sensitive. With my patients, I always focus on exfoliating the dead cells to keep the skin renewing itself and to prevent skin sensitivity.” 

8. At what age should people begin taking care of their skin?

“You should provide proper skin care from an early age. As a baby: gentle skin cleansing, hydrating creams, and sunscreens are all that are needed. At age 10, sebum is produced, and the skin becomes oily.

At that age, you will need a special oil skin cleanser and an exfoliating cream. Around that age, you can start proper skin care to prevent sensitivity and aging.” 

9. What do you think about using spoons and face rollers?

“I am not against any mechanical stimulation devices applied to the skin. I am also a firm believer in massaging the skin with hands to stimulate facial muscles. 

The notion that skin has to be treated delicately and gently is BS. Not true. Massage. Rub, smile, frown; it’s good for the skin because you’re stimulating muscle and circulation.” 

10. What can I do about my under-eye bags? No matter how much I sleep, they never seem to go away.

“The eyelid skin is thin. The blood vessels dilate and bring more water into that area when the person is tired or not sleeping well, leading to puffy eyelids or the appearance of having eye bags. 

If you don’t sleep well, or if you have a kidney problem, or if you’re tired or don’t wash your face and don’t apply proper creams that your skin needs, you will be prone to have eye bags.”

11. You are involved with formulated products for ZO® Skin Health. What makes their products unique?

“ZO® products are formulated with highly efficacious ingredients and advanced delivery systems to ensure maximum efficacy. Every product must deliver consistent, desired results for each patient and work in concert with the other products in the protocol.

By using efficacious ingredients at optimal concentrations, the focus remains on ensuring that medical providers have the tools they need to help their patients achieve and maintain their desired skin outcomes.”

12. What would you say to anyone who wants to be a dermatologist?

“You have to have a passion for skin, a solid visual ability, and the drive for extensive medical study to be a dermatologist.”

13. What do you think is the relationship between dermatologists and plastic surgeons?

“Plastic surgeons are experts in surgery on the face and the body. They often have limited interaction with patients regarding skin treatments. Dermatologists are experts in skin treatment. Both can work together to provide a patient with the best results.”

14. Do you have an extraordinary case or patient?

“My wife and I were in a restaurant one day. The waitress was a young woman in her 20s with tons of makeup on her face, trying to hide facial spots, but the areas are still showing through the makeup.

I looked at my wife and said, ‘I could help that girl. Is it polite to tell her?’ My wife said no. But I couldn’t resist. By the end of the dinner, I told her that I could help her eliminate the pigmentation problem. I gave her my card. Three months later, she came to my clinic.

She had the worst pigmentation I had ever seen. She told me that her mother gave her the money for the treatment. I told her we’d make a deal. I’d treat her for free if she allowed me to document the treatment. So, I treated her for free. She came for 3-4 months every few weeks to check in.

By the end of 4 months, she has clear skin, and she was on video. And she cried. Later on, she got married, and she invited me to her wedding.”

I looked at my wife and said, ‘I could help that girl. Is it polite to tell her?’

Dr. Zein Obagi

15. What is something you always tell your kids?

“Keep your body fit, keep your brain sharp, and always aim high.”

16. Why did you become a dermatologist?

“It’s just like asking why Beethoven became a musician or why Picasso became a Painter. I rotated through all branches of medicine, and I felt that Dermatology is where my passion is.

First of all, dermatology is a visual science, and I am a visual person. A physician cannot see the internal organs such as the liver, the kidney, the thyroid with their eyes. But as a dermatologist, I can see all the problems on the skin and evaluate treatment responses.”

17. If you had to name one, which product is your favorite?

“All products I recommend to my patients are designed for functionality as part of a protocol to address their specific skin condition or disease. So, if I want to address the cell that makes collagen, I use a product to help stimulate collagen formation. If I want to tighten skin, I need to increase skin elasticity.

So, every product serves a function. But there is one product that improves all skin types to make skin firm and protected from any harmful element— Daily Power Defense.”

18. How can I get rid of cystic acne naturally?

“You may try by keeping your face clean (proper washing, scrubbing, and oil control.) Cysts are deeper pimples that can be painful. The best thing to do is leave it alone, do not pick, keep the area as clean as possible. Most times, it goes away on its own.

It’s always best to seek the care of a physician or skin care professional to ensure proper treatment and care.” 

19. What are your thoughts on the new fad, “double-cleansing?” (It’s a new common trend, where people are washing their face once, then repeating it right after. I’m unsure if this has any benefits?) 

“Doing so is harsh on the skin. It is harmful to the skin. Don’t do that.”

Skinteresting, isn’t it? (Sorry, had to.) In all seriousness, I genuinely hope this interview helps out while bringing a laugh or two. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts down below. And don’t forget your sunscreen to subscribe!