In Profile: Dr Zein Obagi

By Wendy Lewis / 01 Jul 2015

Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr Zein Obagi has been an outspoken figure in the skincare world for more than three decades. Wendy Lewis talks to him about his considerable achievements in skin health

“You are never too good or too old to learn something new” 

Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr Zein Obagi has been an outspoken figure in the skincare world for more than three decades. Wendy Lewis talks to him about his considerable achievements in skin health

Researcher, lecturer, author and board-certified dermatologist, Dr Zein Obagi is considered by many to be a pioneer in advanced skincare, and one who has broken new ground at every stage of his career. His innovations in pigmentation disorders and chemical peels in particular are widely respected throughout the specialty.
Dr Obagi’s interest in skin health began early on. He took a circuitous route into dermatology, having started out as a pathologist dealing with diseased tissues. “I found my true calling when I embraced dermatology as my specialty,” he says.
“A baby’s skin always fascinated me. Microscopically, each cell is fulfilling its precise function, which corresponds to its flawless appearance. As a physician, I wanted to offer this possibility to all patients. The fundamental principle driving my approach is that skin must be holistically restored at the cellular level. If the focus is limited to treating only the disease or its symptoms, the results will be limited and short-lived,” he says. In 1983, Dr Obagi was instrumental in pioneering the concept of skin health for the mass market, and developed a line of medical skincare products – the original Obagi Nu-Derm System – that aimed to transform ageing skin. Of that time, he says, “My intention was to challenge the norms of traditional skincare.” His goal was to take the confusion out of skincare for patients by maintaining the stature of physicians, nurses and aestheticians as the true skin care experts. “Who better to know how to maintain healthy skin and treat disease?” he asserts. Today many of his ideas about skin health have become mainstream. Dr Obagi founded the Obagi Skin Health Institute in Beverly Hills in 1985 as a comprehensive dermatology practice exclusively dedicated to advanced skin treatments, where he still sees patients from all over the world. The Institute has since expanded to three additional locations; Laguna Niguel, San Gabriel and Pasadena, California.
The trio of Obagi Skin Health Institutes in Southern California are stunningly modern facilities. These state-of-the-art clinics offer a full programme of cosmetic and medical treatments, as well as luxurious spa therapies. After his original company, WorldWide Products, was sold in 2007, he started a new chapter with ZO Skin Health. In keeping with his original vision, ZO markets products exclusively to medical professionals in more than 100 countries. In fact, the company is not afraid to target any business or individual that violates their strict anti-diversion policy. A high functioning integrated team has been crucial to the success of ZO Skin Health, and under the direction of CEO Jim Headley, the ZO Skin Health brand has flourished Dr Obagi serves as the ZO Skin Health, Inc. medical director, where he drives the development of new products, protocols and treatments.
“I make sure that each new formulation delivers the level of results our physician partners have come to expect and that their patients want,” he says. 2014 was a significant year for Dr Obagi, with the launch of the second edition of his original best selling textbook, The Art of Skin Health Restoration and Rejuvenation: The Science of Clinical Practice. To carry on his legacy, he has handpicked a special group of physicians from the US and all over the world to join the ZO Faculty. This elite group of skincare experts, including plastic surgeons, dermatologists and cosmetic doctors, lecture and conduct research on skin health, based on Dr Obagi’s experience and teachings. In May 2015, the first of many planned ZO Skin Centres opened in the Fashion Island shopping centre in Newport Beach, California. The model, which is the culmination of his vision, incorporates all of Dr Obagi’s current thinking about skin health and features an integrated offering of facials, peels, and advanced anti- ageing treatments with his signature products. Despite all of his major achievements, for Dr Obagi family will always come first, having raised nine children with his partner Samar. Now in his seventh decade, Dr Obagi has the energy and sharp intellect of a man half his age, and shows no signs of slowing down. 

What is your core philosophy for educating healthcare professionals?

I want to get the message across that skin health restoration can’t be accomplished by products alone; the physician needs to know how to use them in the most effective way, through step- by-step treatment protocols.

What is the biggest mistake patients make with their skin?

They get bad advice, use the wrong products, and over moisturise their skin which makes the skin weaker instead of strengthening the skin. The skin cells get lazy and it actually makes them look older. When they come to us, we take them off moisturisers and put them on a regimen of products to restore skin health.

Who is the driving force behind your great success?

Without a doubt, my wonderful wife Samar is my biggest fan. She is a very talented businesswoman and has helped me exceed my potential. She runs the business side of Obagi Skin Health Institutes, and oversees public relations and marketing, among other ventures. I don’t know how she does it all.

What is the best advice you can offer practitioners today?

To not just accept the status quo. Challenge yourself, do your own research, experimentation, and clinical studies. You are never too good or too old to learn something new. 

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