Founded by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi in 1988, the Obagi skin care line includes professional, medical-grade products that are designed to “unleash your skin’s full potential”.
The brand offers the Obagi Medical line with products formulated to treat problems like fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots, while the Obagi Clinical line includes products to prevent these early signs of skin aging.
In this review, we’ll cover the 10 best Obagi skin care products, formulation details, key ingredients, and the research that supports (or doesn’t support) their use in skincare. We’ll also share some Obagi reviews so that you can get an idea of what customers really think of these products.
What Are The Top 10 Best Obagi Skin Care Products?
Obagi skin care products are designed to help minimize the appearance of premature skin aging, skin damage, hyperpigmentation, acne, and sun damage. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 best Obagi Skin Care products.
Obagi Vitamin C Serum
There are three available strengths of the Obagi Vitamin C Serum: 10%, 15%, and 20%. The form of vitamin C in all of these serums is L-ascorbic acid. Vitamin C is ideal for those struggling with skin discoloration, uneven skin tone, and signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. While Obagi Vitamin C Serum provides your skin with a potent dose of L-ascorbic acid, all three formulations contain a synthetic fragrance blend, which isn’t doing your skin any good!
Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream has a lightweight, silky texture due to the high concentrations of emollients, humectants, and silicones in this formula.
The emollients, like ethylhexyl palmitate and glyceryl stearate, will help to soften the skin and can help alleviate dry skin.
Glycerin, a humectant, works by drawing moisture into the skin to increase hydration. The extra hydration also temporarily plumps out the skin and makes lines and wrinkles less noticeable. However, this effect is transient – as soon as the moisture content in skin decreases, lines and wrinkles will return to normal size.
The silicones in this Obagi eye cream will form a thin, invisible film on the surface of skin that imparts a silky smooth skin feel and helps to lock in moisture. This film also enables silicones to temporarily fill in and disguise wrinkles. But once again this effect is purely cosmetic and once the product is washed off, fine lines and wrinkles will return.
Unfortunately, the Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream contains low concentrations of key ingredients that would actually provide long term benefits. For instance, licorice root extract, algae extract, and blueberry fruit extract are found very low on the ingredient list.
Something else to be aware of before purchasing Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream is that the formula contains five different parabens as preservatives.
Obagi Nu Derm Systems
There are three Obagi Nu Derm Systems: Blender, Clear, and Sunfader. All three require a prescription due to the inclusion of 4% hydroquinone (2% is the maximum allowed in an OTC product). Hydroquinone is considered to be the gold standard for treating hyperpigmentation.
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, hydroquinone produces reversible lightening of the skin by interfering with melanin production by the melanocytes. Ultimately, this causes a decrease in the number of melanocytes and decreased transfer of melanin, leading to lighter skin. While the Obagi Nu Derm systems are formulated with an effective strength of hydroquinone to produce considerable skin lightening, we have to point out that all three formulations contain parabens as preservatives.
Obagi Nu Derm Healthy Skin Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 35
This Obagi Nu Derm sunscreen combines the mineral sunscreen zinc oxide with the chemical sunscreen octinoxate to provide broad spectrum SPF 35 protection. Broad spectrum means that this sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Unfortunately, this is another Obagi skin care product that contains parabens as preservatives.
Obagi Professional C Peptide Complex
Peptides — aka the building blocks of important skin proteins like collagen and elastin — are the key ingredients in Obagi Professional C Peptide Complex. For instance, this formula includes acetyl octapeptide-3, a peptide that influences the muscle contraction process and relaxes facial muscles, thereby reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Obagi Professional C Peptide Complex also includes antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, to help brighten the skin while defending against free radicals.
Obagi Blue Peel
The Obagi Blue Peel is an at-home peel that combines three acids — salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid — in a base of denatured alcohol. While these exfoliating acids provide many benefits to the skin, denatured alcohol does not.
The problem with this type of alcohol is that, at first, it seems like it’s benefitting the skin. Initially, alcohol helps to reduce excess oil while tightening the skin. But not in a healthy way!
The immediate de-greasing effects of alcohol-based products can actually stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, causing skin to look even more shiny and oily than it was before, and possibly even leading to breakouts.
Plus, denatured alcohol can even cause disruption of the skin barrier. According to a publication in the journal BBA Biomembranes, alcohol disrupts the lipids that make up the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin). While alcohol may provide short term benefits, it’s not doing your skin any good in the long run.
Obagi Retinol Serum
If you’re trying to prevent or reduce signs of skin aging, then you’ve probably heard that it’s a good idea to add a retinol serum into your nightly routine. Retinol is clinically proven to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, restore skin firmness, and shrink the appearance of enlarged pores.
The only downside? Retinol can often lead to side effects like skin dryness, peeling, and irritation. That’s why it’s best to start with a low strength retinol product and work your way up to high strengths. The Obagi retinol serums allow you to do that because the brand offers a 0.5% retinol serum and 1% retinol serum.
Obagi Retivance features retinaldehyde, a vitamin A derivative, as the key ingredient. For any vitamin A derivative to be effective, it must first be converted to retinoic acid. For example, pure retinol must be converted to retinaldehyde and then to retinoic acid. Using retinaldehyde offers more effectiveness than retinol because it is one step closer to retinoic acid. And, just like retinol, retinaldehyde provides benefits like reducing fine lines and wrinkles, improving uneven skin tone, restoring skin firmness, reducing pore size, and more.
Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50
This Obagi sunscreen combines zinc oxide with two chemical sunscreen ingredients (octisalate and homosalate) to provide broad spectrum SPF 50 protection. It has a lightweight texture that absorbs well without feeling heavy or greasy, providing an elegant matte finish.
Obagi Professional C Microdermabrasion Polish + Mask
A 2-in-1 skin-polishing mask that exfoliates while providing 30% vitamin C in order to promote smoother, brighter, more youthful-looking skin. The formula contains ultra-fine crystals that effectively help to shed the most superficial layers of the epidermis, removing built-up surface debris and promoting healthy-looking skin.
What Are The Key Ingredients in Obagi Skin Care Products?
Obagi skin care products are formulated with a variety of evidence-based ingredients, such as \, glycolic acid, and retinol. Let’s take a closer look at these ingredients and how they may benefit your skin.
L-ascorbic acid, or pure vitamin C, is a powerful antioxidant that protects your skin from environmental free radical damage. Vitamin C also helps fade dark spots, evens out skin tone, and increases radiance.
As if that wasn’t enough, research suggests that when vitamin C is applied to the skin, it significantly reverses aging-related structural changes by influencing collagen and elastin synthesis. A vitamin C serum, such as the Obagi Vitamin C Serum, is the best way to deliver this active ingredient into the deeper layers of your skin.
Glycolic acid is a member of the family of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). As an AHA, glycolic acid has the ability to exfoliate the skin, stimulate the skin’s natural regeneration process, and help the skin to retain moisture. It exfoliates the skin by targeting corneocytes (dead skin cells) in a process called corneocyte desquamation. By enhancing their breakdown and increasing the separation of skin cells, the rate of cell turnover is increased, leading to smoother, more radiant skin.
Glycolic acid is used in the Obagi Blue Peel, but remember that this peel contains a high concentration of denatured alcohol. Since we don’t recommend the Obagi Blue Peel, check out our curated list of the best glycolic acid peels.
After being absorbed by the skin, retinol (aka vitamin A) is converted to its active form, retinoic acid. Retinoic acid works deep within the skin where it boosts collagen synthesis, increases elasticity, and repairs connective tissue. It also increases cellular turnover, which helps to prevent clogged pores and also promotes smoother, healthier skin.
According to a publication in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, retinoic acid can minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, restore skin firmness, and shrink the appearance of enlarged pores.
How Much Do Obagi Skin Care Products Cost?
Obagi skin care products are pricey, for example, the Obagi Vitamin C Serum 20% costs $133 USD for 1 ounce, and the Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream costs $115.50 for just a half ounce jar.
In our opinion, Obagi skin care products are not worth the hefty price tags, especially since there are other brands offering similar products for a fraction of the cost.
For example, instead of dishing out $133 for the Obagi Vitamin C Serum, you could pay just $5.80 for The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension, which combines 23% pure L-Ascorbic Acid with hyaluronic acid. Seems like a no brainer to us!
Where to Buy Obagi Skin Care Products?
You can buy Obagi skin care products on the brand’s website, as well as through physicians, medical spas, and other skin care professionals. The brand’s website has a locator so that you can enter your zip code to find skin care professionals that sell Obagi skin care products near you. In addition, Sephora and Dermstore are authorized online sellers of Obagi skin care products.
What is The Obagi Return Policy?
The Obagi return policy states, “If you are dissatisfied with any purchase you have made through this Site, you have the option of returning any unopened product for a refund within 30 days of the shipment date stated on the invoice.”
Is Obagi Cruelty Free?
Obagi is not cruelty free. The brand states on its website, “Unless mandated by the FDA for drug safety purposes, Obagi does not test its products on animals. Non-prescription Obagi products have not been tested on animals.”
Are Obagi Skin Care Products Vegan?
The brand’s website states, “We cannot guarantee that any of our products are vegan”.
Obagi reviews on the brand’s website are overall very positive. However, there aren’t very many reviews, which is why we turned to Dermstore.com to see what customers have to say about Obagi skin care products.
One product that has been very well received is the Obagi Vitamin C Serum 20%, which has earned an average rating of 4.76 out of 5 stars after more than 500 customer reviews.
The positive reviews for the Obagi Vitamin C Serum are from customers who confirm that this serum really does help with hyperpigmentation. It is said to help fade dark spots and acne scars, as well as give the skin a glow.
For example, one review says, “Since using this product I have been getting compliments about how radiant my skin looks. I noticed that my skin tone has even out and my acne scars are beginning to disappear. I have stopped wearing foundation since using this.”
And another very positive review says, “I love this serum. It instantly brightened my skin, smells wonderful and absorbs quickly. Did not break me out.”
Even though there aren’t many negative Obagi Vitamin C Serum reviews, it’s still a good idea to take a look at what these reviews say to see why customers did not like this serum. Most of the negative reviews we found were from customers who did not see the results they were hoping for even after months of using Obagi C Serum.
For example, one review says, “This has been very disappointing. I have a couple of sunspots, one that I’ve been trying to fade for quite some time. I had high hopes for this serum because of the great reviews. I’ve been using it as directed. I use SPF and avoid the sun. I’ve been using this serum every day for at least 8 weeks and yes, my skin feels nice, but this hasn’t brightened my skin tone or faded any spots. A little goes a very long way and I still have quite a bit of product left. However, as this didn’t actually do anything visibly to my face, I won’t be repurchasing. It didn’t work for me.”
And a similar review says, “This vitamin C was okay, applied well with easy absorption. However I did not notice any difference when using this product and for its price point I expected more.”
Overall, we think that some Obagi skin care products are better than others, and we would recommend avoiding the products that contain fragrance and parabens.
- Products contain evidence-based ingredients (AHAs, salicylic acid, vitamin C, retinol, etc.)
- Many positive Obagi reviews
- Obagi is not cruelty free
- Some Obagi skin care products contain parabens
- Some Obagi skin care products contain fragrance
What Are Some Alternatives to Obagi Skin Care Products?
If you’re looking for skincare products to address the signs of aging, one brand we recommend is Formulyst. Formulyst maximizes the use of powerful ingredients and minimizes the use of superficial ones, resulting in clinically advanced skin care solutions that help promote healthy, more youthful-looking skin.
One serum that can help to address multiple signs of aging at once is Formulyst’s Anti-Aging Concentrate. This serum contains natural ingredients like squalane, green tea, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which provide powerful antioxidant activity to protect the skin against environmental free radicals that are known to degrade collagen. In addition, this serum contains Matrixyl 3000, a peptide complex that works to restore and maintain the skin’s youthful appearance by signaling to cells to produce more collagen.
Another brand that balances the power of plants with cutting edge science is Carrot & Stick. Not only is Carrot & Stick good for your skin, it is also good for the environment as the formulas skip harmful chemicals commonly found in skin care products.
Fans of simple skincare should try Deep Science. Deep Science products are formulated with a few key ingredients that are the heavy lifters of skincare formulations.