Today we’re covering two brands *bathed* in drama. Both ZO Skin health and Obagi are reputable, medical-grade skincare producers, but both were actually founded by the same doctor.
Keep scrolling for a comprehensive look into their popular skincare kits, and to learn which one is right for you and your skin.
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Zo Skin Health vs Obagi Systems
Dr. Zein Obagi founded his original company, Obagi, in 1988. After just 9 years, Dr. Obagi sold his company and became the medical director, which meant he lost a lot of the day-to-day involvement and input he was used to. He shares, “the company was creating products that were not based on my philosophy of skin health restoration.”
After much deliberation, he left Obagi and in 2006 he founded another skincare line, ZO Skin Health. Dr. Obagi states that ZO Skin Health “provides the original principles he identified 25 years ago when he started (Correction, Stimulation, and Bleaching/Blending), and the newly found principles of today, such as anti-inflammatory agents, DNA repair, barrier function enhancement, and non-hydroquinone pigment control.”
Obagi Nu-Derm System
The Obagi Nu-Derm System is truly a comprehensive skincare line up formulated for normal to dry skin to tackle skin aging concerns by focusing on correcting sun damage. Since sun damage is a leading factor of skin aging—attributing to 80% – 90% —we approve this approach! The seven products in the lineup include:
- Nu-Derm Gentle Cleanser - contains oat amino acids and aloe to gently cleanse impurities while preserving moisture.
- Nu-Derm Toner - contains arbutin to help lighten dark spots by reducing melanin secretion in your skin.
- Nu-Derm Clear Fx - uses phytic acid as a gentle chemical exfoliator, instantly revealing more radiant skin. It also contains Hydroquinone to lighten dark spots.
- Nu-Derm Exfoderm - contains AHA’s to further exfoliate by removing the dead outer layer of skin cells to reveal a brighter complexion.
- Nu-Derm Hydrate - contains antioxidants to protect your skin from the elements, while moisturizing with deeply nourishing ingredients.
- Nu-Derm Blend Fx - specially formulated with arbutin, antioxidants, and an exfoliant to help clarify and brighten skin.
- Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 - combines UVB and UVA protection in an elegant, matte finish that is non-comedogenic and dermatologist-tested.
This line up covers all bases and is all that you need for a comprehensive, effective skincare routine!
This system is fragrance-, alcohol-, and oil-free, and contains some other common ingredients we love! Some of the top ingredients include oat amino acids, witch hazel, aloe, arbutin and phytic acid. Unfortunately, this skincare system also contains some outdated and problematic ingredients we don’t love as much. For example, its cleanser contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). SLS has now been identified as a common skin irritant - and the worst kind at that, a primary irritant - which means it can cause irritation after the first use.
One of their most controversial ingredients is hydroquinone which is used in their Clear and Blender products. Their website even includes a safety alert and Dr. Obagi shares “we’ve recently learned about some drawbacks to hydroquinone. We’ve learned that your skin builds resistance when hydroquinone is used for more than three to five months in a row, making skin photosensitive and resulting in some pigmentation problems due to loss of melanin.” Is it worth purchasing a product line that becomes less effective after the first three to five months of use?
ZO Skin Health Anti-Aging Program
The ZO Skin Health Anti-Aging Program is a five-product kit that tackles both chronological and environmental signs of aging. The five products include a cleanser, exfoliator, toning pads, a serum (aka vitamin C replacement), and a growth factor serum (retinol substitute). Four of the five products are made for all skin types, with the cleanser being specifically formulated for normal to oily skin.
- Exfoliating Cleanser - gentle exfoliating cleanser for normal to oily skin that targets surface oil leaving the skin feeling clean, but not stripped and dry.
- Exfoliating Polish - gently removes dead skin cells to instantly reveal smoother, softer + glowing skin.
- Complexion Renewal Pads - moistened pads help minimize surface oil and exfoliate pore-clogging dead skin cells and dirt.
- Daily Power Defense - powerful antioxidant serum designed to improve the appearance of lines + wrinkles and help promote overall skin health.
- Growth Factor Serum - lightweight gel for all skin types that helps minimizes the appearance of expression lines + wrinkles.
You’ll notice that this five-step skincare system is missing a moisturizer and SPF which the Obagi system includes, and you’re right! If you go with the ZO Skin Health Anti-Aging Program, you’re left sourcing a moisturizer and SPF on your own. This slight inconvenience can have its silver lining since we’ve found SPF to be a very personal decision. Many SPF’s can be too greasy, difficult to blend in and unideal for layering your make up on. Once you’ve found one that works for you, we advise sticking with it! That means that with the ZO Skin system, you don’t have to waste money on an SPF that might not work for you.
Another big difference between the ZO Skin Health Anti-Aging Program and the Obagi Nu-Derm System is the ingredients. Unlike Obagi, the ZO system is not fragrance- or oil-free. This can be especially problematic for sensitive or oily skin types. Another ingredient we’re not loving is ascorbyl palmitate, our least favorite form of vitamin C. It’s been shown to be highly unstable, and research isn’t clear on whether it increases vitamin C levels in the skin. We do, however, love a lot of the active ingredients used in this system including glycolic acid, jojoba, vitamin A, and E, as well as some trademarked stem cell technology.
When it comes to an overall winner, we are following Dr. Zein Obagi into the future of skincare and select the ZO Skin Health Anti-Aging Program as our best overall skincare system! However, you’ll want to be sure to patch test all of their products to ensure you don’t experience any irritating from the fragrances included.
This article was originally published on March 24th 2022, but it has been reviewed and updated with the latest available information on February 1st 2024 by Sara Mckay, MA.
Calum Torrington is the founder of FemmeNordic. He has worked as a beauty editor since 2020 and employs his analytical background in mathematics to thoroughly scrutinize complex INCI lists. Now, he helps over 1 million people per year to find the best beauty products.