If you haven’t heard of ZO Skin Health, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of its founder, world-renowned dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi.
Dr. Obagi is also the creator of his namesake line of products — Obagi skincare — which are available everywhere from TheDermStore.com to Walmart. He left that brand in 2006 and launched a new skincare company in 2007 called ZO Skin Health.
ZO Skin Health believes the only way to achieve skin health is through the power of science. We share this belief here at The Derm Review, which is why we’ve evaluated the ZO Skin Health product formulations through a scientific lens.
Below we’ll discuss the research that supports (or doesn’t support) the ingredients that you’ll find in these products. We’ll also share ZO Skin Health reviews so that you can get an idea of what customers really think of these products.
What Are The Top 10 Most Popular ZO Skin Health Products?
From correcting sun damage and hyperpigmentation to preventing signs of aging, ZO Skin Health has a solution for your skincare needs. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 most popular ZO Skin Health products.
ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish
Skin looking a little dull? If so, adding in a product that exfoliates (aka removes dead skin cells) can help to revive dull, tired skin. ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish uses magnesium oxide crystals to exfoliate dead skin cells in order to promote a clear, smooth, and even toned complexion.
Another physical exfoliant in this formula is sodium bicarbonate — aka baking soda. While baking soda is abrasive and will exfoliate the skin, the majority of skincare experts consider it to be too harsh.
Plus, baking soda has a high pH of 9, which is typically too alkaline for the skin to tolerate since the skin’s normal pH is about 4.5 to 5. This alkaline pH can lead to disruption of the skin barrier, causing redness, dryness, breakouts, and signs of sensitivity.
Another problem: the brand highlights vitamin C as a key ingredient in ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish, but the pH of a product should ideally be less than 3.5 for vitamin C to penetrate the skin. Thus, using a high concentration of baking soda with a pH of 9 in a formula that contains vitamin C just doesn’t make sense.
And, finally, we can’t ignore the inclusion of fragrance in the ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish, which may lead to skin sensitivity.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish uses magnesium oxide crystals and baking soda to exfoliate the skin, but the alkaline pH of baking soda may lead to disruption of the skin barrier.
ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads
These are alcohol-based acne “treatment” pads that are claimed to remove oil, normalize pore size, and help smooth the skin’s surface. And these pads likely will provide these effects, but only because of the high concentration of alcohol in the formula.
The problem with alcohol-based products is that, at first, they seem like they’re benefitting the skin. Initially, alcohol reduces excess oil, makes pores appear smaller, and tightens skin.
However, the immediate de-greasing effects of alcohol-based products can actually stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, causing the skin to look even more shiny and oily than it was before. This may even lead to an increase in acne breakouts.
Another major problem with using high concentrations of denatured alcohol is that this ingredient is well known to cause skin dryness, irritation, and even 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.
ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads do contain a few beneficial ingredients, such as salicylic acid and glycolic acid, but we don’t think the benefits of these ingredients outweigh the risks of applying so much alcohol to your skin.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads are alcohol-based pads that reduce excess oil, make pores appear smaller, and tighten skin, but may not be the best in the long run.
ZO Skin Health Daily Power Defense
The Daily Power Defense serum is referred to as an “antioxidant serum”, however, the formula doesn’t include many antioxidants, just retinol and a low concentration of vitamin E. In our opinion, it would be better to refer to this as a retinol serum, but we digress.
Fortunately, retinol is an excellent skincare ingredient. It increases cell turnover, functions as an antioxidant, and stimulates collagen production, thereby reducing signs of aging.
Plus, this serum tackles lines and wrinkles with another powerful anti-aging ingredient — Matrixyl 3000. In case you aren’t familiar with this ingredient, it’s the trademarked peptide that’s made up of two matrikines (palmitoyl tripeptide-1 and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7).
Matrikines are peptides that regulate cell activities through cell signaling. The two matrikines in Matrixyl 3000 work synergistically to restore and maintain the skin’s youthful appearance by signaling to cells to produce more collagen.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few fragrant essential oils in this ZO Skin Health serum, which may lead to skin sensitivity.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Daily Power Defense serum combines retinol and peptides into one formula, but the inclusion of fragrant essential oils in the formula gives us pause.
ZO Skin Health Growth Factor Serum
ZO Skin Health Growth Factor Serum is a lightweight serum that includes high concentrations of several different humectants and silicones, which both help to disguise signs of aging — humectants attract moisture which plumps the skin, and silicones form a thin film that blurs the appearance of line and wrinkles. But these effects are temporary and will disappear once you wash off the product.
The rest of the formula includes a few interesting ingredients, such as Buddleja Davidii Meristem Cell Culture.
This plant stem cell is inherently rich in polyphenol content, specifically verbascoside, that mitigates inflammatory response and oxidative stress.
Plus, the formula includes two growth factors — a fermented red ginseng extract and disodium acetyl glucosamine phosphate — which both help to restore hydration, elasticity, and firmness.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Growth Factor Serum is a lightweight serum that consists of humectants, silicones, growth factors, and plant stem cells.
ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Cleanser
This gel cleanser helps to gently exfoliate skin thanks to jojoba esters. Jojoba esters are round, biodegradable beads that help to remove dead skin cells.
Like most cleansers, the formula includes surfactants like sodium laureth sulfate and cocamidopropyl betaine. Surfactants contain one end that is hydrophilic (attracted to water) and one end that is lipophilic (attracted to oil). This allows surfactants to attract and suspend oils, dirt, and other impurities that have accumulated on the skin and wash them away.
ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Cleanser also includes salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps to exfoliate skin while unclogging pores.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Cleanser combines jojoba esters with surfactants and salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin cells, remove excess oil, and unclog pores.
ZO Skin Health Vitamin C Self Activating
This ZO Skin Health Vitamin C serum combines 10% ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) with tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (a stable vitamin C derivative).
Regardless of what form of vitamin C is used in the formula, all vitamin C derivatives are converted to ascorbic acid after being absorbed into the skin. Ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant that protects skin from free radicals while also helping to fade dark spots and promote a brighter complexion.
The serum also includes vitamin E, which is great because the antioxidant activity of vitamin E can actually become more powerful when combined with vitamin C. For this reason, vitamins C and E are referred to as “network antioxidants”.
A publication in the journal Dermatologic Therapy explains, “becausevitamin C regenerates oxidized vitamin E, the combination in a cosmeceutical formulation is synergistic — particularly in UV protection.”
Lastly, there are several silicones in this formula that contribute to its silky texture, as well as the emollient squalane to help soften and moisturize skin.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Vitamin C Self Activating Serum combines two forms of vitamin C with vitamin E and hydrating ingredients, resulting in a serum that brightens, hydrates, and firms skin.
ZO Skin Health Retinol Skin Brightener
Another retinol product by ZO Skin Health is the Retinol Skin Brightener, a silky serum that’s formulated to assist in brightening and evening skin tone.
The formula includes 1% retinol, which is moderate strength, so this product may not be suitable for newbie retinol users. But if you’re ready for this strength, get ready to reap the benefits because there’s a lot!
According to a publication in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, retinol can minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, restore skin firmness, and unclog pores.
ZO Skin Health Retinol Skin Brightener also includes antioxidant vitamins C and E, glutathione, soy isoflavones, and n-acetyl glucosamine. All of these ingredients help to prevent the appearance of new age spots and uneven color.
Bottom Line: A moderate strength retinol serum that assists in brightening and evening skin tone.
ZO Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads
Similar to the ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads, the Complexion Renewal Pads are alcohol-based facial pads.
Like we mentioned above, there are some benefits to using alcohol-based products. They initially help to remove excess oil and tighten skin. Alcohol also helps other ingredients to penetrate the skin better.
But are these benefits worth disrupting the skin barrier, which can lead to issues like dryness, breakouts, and sensitivity? In our opinion, no, which is why we don’t recommend ZO Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads are alcohol-based pads that will remove excess oil and tighten the skin in the short term, but may lead to disruption of the skin barrier when used long term.
ZO Skin Health Wrinkle + Texture Repair
This is another ZO Skin Health retinol serum, which includes pure retinol at a concentration of 0.5 percent.
Like we mentioned with the other ZO Skin Health retinol products, this ingredient is clinically proven to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, restore skin firmness, and unclog pores.
The serum also includes the brand’s trademarked ZCORE complex, which consists of a biomimetic tetrapeptide and sweet yellow clover. Together, these ingredients are said to support the anchoring fibrils for dermal-epidermal junction integrity.
Another proprietary ingredient is ZPRO, which supports skin’s natural replenishment of hyaluronic acid.
Note: This is another ZO Skin Health product that includes fragrance.
Bottom Line: ZO Skin Health Wrinkle + Texture Repair is an anti-aging serum that combines 0.5% retinol with the brand’s proprietary ingredients ZPRO and ZCORE complex.
ZO Skin Health Firming Serum
Sodium DNA, an ingredient that supports fibroblast activity, is one of the key ingredients in the ZO Skin Health Firming Serum. There are also antioxidants in this formula to protect skin from environmental free radical damage.
And then there’s retinyl palmitate, an ingredient composed of palmitic acid and retinol. After being absorbed into the skin, it’s converted to retinol and should provide anti-aging benefits.
Make sure to use SPF with any retinol or retinoid product as FDA studies indicate that retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may increase sensitivity to the sun.
There are also fragrance ingredients in this ZO Skin Health serum, which may lead to skin sensitivity.
Bottom Line: Simple, easy serum.
What Are The Key Ingredients in ZO Skin Health Products?
As you probably noticed from our product descriptions above, the brand doesn’t use just one key ingredient in its skincare collection.
Rather, each ZO Skin Health product contains different key ingredients in different concentrations.
The brand combines evidence-based ingredients, such as vitamins C and E, retinol, glycerin, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid, with their proprietary ingredients like ZPRO, ZCORE complex, and more.
Unfortunately, this brand also tends to use ingredients that may cause irritation to some skin types, such as denatured alcohol and fragrance.
ZO Skin Health Reviews
ZO Skin Health reviews on the brand’s website are overall very positive but almost too positive. It seems as though the brand may only display the 5-star ZO Skin Health reviews.
After looking through countless pages of ZO Skin Health reviews, we could not find even one review that was less than 5 stars. Keeping that in mind, we’ll still share a few ZO Skin Health reviews for you to consider.
The brand’s most popular product — ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish — has received many raving 5 star reviews. The reviews mention that it exfoliates the skin well without being too harsh.
For example, one review says, “Exfoliating Polish is my all-time favorite exfoliator. Most products are either too harsh or too soft. This one feels just right. It’s gritty enough that I get a good exfoliation, but not harsh enough that it tears my skin. I always recommend this product to my patients. It’s great for all skin types.”
And the ZO Skin Health Vitamin C Serum has plenty of reviews that confirm that this serum can improve skin tone, texture, and brightness.
For example, a 5-star review says, “This is the most effective vitamin C serum I’ve used. My old pigmentation from acne started to clear within one week of use. Highly recommend this product.”
- Formulas combine evidenced-based ingredients (retinol, vitamin C, AHAs, etc.) with proprietary ingredients
- Many positive ZO Skin Health reviews
- High price point (e.g. ZO Skin Health Firming Serum is $235 USD for 1.6 fl oz)
- Some products contain very high concentrations of denatured alcohol
What Are Some Alternatives to ZO Skin Health Products?
Since we don’t recommend ZO Skin Health products, we wanted to give you a couple of alternatives to consider. One brand we recommend is Formulyst because they believe in long-term skincare treatments rather than short-term cover-ups.
One example is the Formulyst Ultimate Youth Concentrate, which contains a concentrated combination of five unique peptides that can stimulate the production of Epidermal Growth Factors (EGF). It is thought that EGF sends signals to cells called fibroblasts to produce more collagen, which may help to reduce signs of aging. Applying products that increase EGF production — such as the Formulyst Ultimate Youth Concentrate — may increase skin strength and integrity, thereby softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
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.
As we mentioned above, Dr. Zein Obagi founded Obagi skin care — a line that includes professional, medical-grade products — back in 1988.
The main difference between these two lines is that ZO Skin Health products include more innovative ingredients, such as ZPRO and ZCORE complex, whereas the Obagi skin care products contain evidence-based (yet standard) ingredients, such as hydroquinone, vitamin C, retinol, AHAs, etc.
If you want the full breakdown of the Obagi collection, read our full review of the 10 best Obagi skin care products
Clin Interv Aging. 2006 Dec; 1(4): 327–348.
BBA Biomembranes, May 2012, pages 1410-1419
JDD March 2019 Vol 18 Issue 3, 290
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