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Obagi Nu-Derm, Elastiderm and Professional C- reviewed and rejected

Is a Solution for:
Sagging Skin
March 28, 2011 Reviewed by Marta 17 Comments
I am frequently asked what I think about Obagi skincare. My overall view, as mentioned in our profile of Obagi, is that I am personally not in favor of the line’s philosophy, which is to peel, peel and peel again. Peeling and frequent exfoliation (say, from a retinol) will give a short-term anti-aging boost, but over time the skin tends to become dry and dull. Putting this prejudice to one side, I focused fairly randomly on three Obagi products to get a better idea of whether the line was worth trying out. I found them shockingly disappointing.

Standing out as the worst, was Obagi Elastiderm Eye Treatment Cream ($89).  I have rarely come across an eye cream that has so little to recommend it – certainly not in the nearly $100 price bracket. With the exception of glycerin, a workaday moisturizer, you have to get past 19 assorted fillers and potential irritants to get to anything worthwhile.

And the worthwhile amounts to an unspectacular cast of vitamin E, licorice root extract, algae and blueberry. That’s it. The thought of paying $89 for this leaves me flabbergasted. Especially as this handful of actives are preceded by the likes of propylene glycol, silicones and plasticizers such as dipropylene glycol dibenzoate and then immediately followed by the irritant and possible neurotoxin phenoxyethenol, every controversial paraben known to man, sodium hydroxide (a toxin) and carcinogenic talc.

Obagi is probably best known for his Nu-Derm line. Randomly, I singled out Exfoderm ($58). Unsurprisingly, the main ingredient here is the exfoliator glycolic acid, backed by lactic acid.  As it goes this is fine (although it probably shouldn’t be used more than once or twice a week). Personally, I object though to paying nearly $60 for something that has a very high concentration of wax. But what is really worrying is that the wax is followed by triethanolamine. This is usually somewhere near the end of the ingredient list. But here in Obagi Nu-Derm Exfoderm it is the fourth ingredient. The U.S. National Library of Medicine says there is a strong evidence that triethanolamine is a human skin, immune system and respiratory toxicant

Finally, I took a look at Obagi’s Professional C line ($60.84 for 10% with price increasing with concentration).  This, at least, has the merit of being a relatively simple formula with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) being one of only four ingredients in total. Unfortunately, the other three are propylene carbonate, a solvent and plasticizer that apparently gets used in the making of lithium batteries, propylene glycol and an unidentified fragrance.

The next time someone asks me about Obagi, I will say unequivocally that it is not for me.

Ingredients in Exfoderm:

Purified Water, Glycolic Acid, Emulsifying Wax, Triethanolamine, Glycerin, Lactic Acid, Caprylic/capric Triglyceride, Kalaya Oil, Stearic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Saponins

Ingredients in Professional C:

Propylene Glycol, Water, Propylene Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Fragrance.

Ingredients in Elastiderm eye cream:

Water, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, C13-15 Alkane, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Cyclopentasiloxane, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Peg-100 Stearate, Dipropylene Glycol Dibenzoate, Propylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Stearyl Alcohol, PPG-15 Stearyl Ether Benzoate, Polyacrylamide, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetyl Dimethicone, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Xanthan Gum, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Laureth-7, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E Acetate), Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Algae Extract, Vaccinium Angustifolium (Blueberry) Fruit Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, HDI/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Sodium Hydroxide, Malonic Acid, Malachite, Zinc Carbonate, Silica, Talc, Alumina, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Mica (CI 77019), Iron Oxides (CI 77491).
  • April 6, 2016

    by Marta

    Hi Cary, here is a link to our full entry on sodium hydroxide where you will see that we note that it is used as a pH balancer, but that is classified as atoxin:

  • April 6, 2016

    by Cary

    your statements above are silly...I think these products are ridiculously overpriced as well, but your statement that Sodium Hydroxide is a toxin is just as silly as saying acetic acid is a toxin...that is vinegar. Sodium hydroxide is used in formulations simply to adjust pH. it breaks up into sodium ions and hydroxide ions in solution...and it raised pH. Nothing toxic about that.

    You blew all your credibility in my view with that statement alone.

  • April 3, 2015

    by Ronda

    I have been using their products for about 2 yrs and i am sickened by the thought of this company testing on animals. There is absolutely no comparison to an animal to people and these innocent animals should NOT be made to withstand horrible things happening to t hem. Your company should be ashamed in this day and age of what you test on. Can someone help me find a good makeup that dies not test on animals?

  • January 22, 2015

    by Maria

    I have to agree with Marta on this one. It looks like chemical filled, hormone disrupting junk to me. I can't believe people pay their hard earned money for this.

  • April 21, 2013

    by Michele

    I have been using the Elastiderm eye cream and Vitamin C serum for over a month. I have had such awesome results that I have ordered the entire NuDerm line. I was very disappointed in your review as the difference in my fine lines around my eyes has been exciting. I've used a number of products and this has been a winner for me. Might not work for everyone but I know my results are five star!

  • February 8, 2013

    by Cheryl Cockerham

    Hello, I am currently using the Obaji Nu-derm system and so far so good. Everything I used before did nothing for my face. I have acne scars that just keep coming back and compounding the dark spots. Some people are very sensitive to this product and some are really does just depend on your own individul skin type. I've learned you won't know for sure what works for YOU until you try it. Ask a derm for samples to see how your skin reacts b4 making the purchase if you are sceptical and find it is too pricey. You may even be able to haggle the price down (that's what I did). Good luck!! :)

  • December 5, 2012

    by mimi

    Sorry Marta but I really doubt your knowledge about skincare.. There is a lot of evidence about it on the internet and then you writ in one of your reviews that you purchased one product of the nuderm line. The line, indeed. Maybe you should try it under supervision? Or perhaps you should try to be a little more objective, as a professional approach doesnt place oneself in the center. Last thing I wanted to add, is that you should judge the synergy of the ingredients together rather than just single ingredients. Maybe you should read a bit about those things. Cheers!

  • March 27, 2012

    by Jennifer

    I have found Obagi to be the saving grace for my skin - yes, at first my skin turned horrible. It took about 6 weeks of continued use (as instructed by my dermatologist) and now I have amazing skin. I consider things in the price like concealer, power, facials, etc. because I use very little makeup, since my skin looks so great. I completely agree it's not for everyone, but it's been the greatest thing to happen to my skin.

  • January 20, 2012

    by Jeanne

    I have used Obagi products in the past, and have loved the results. I have been considering purchasing the line again, but, after reading your review, I think I have changed my mind. Acne or not, wrinkles or not, it is not worth putting poison into my body...especially when there are so many new products out there that are not harmful, and have the same and better results. I think I will try the TNS serum. Thanks for this eye opening review:)

  • April 19, 2011

    by petra kirberg

    I have used the eye cream from obaji and nothing to write home about but the exfoder, clear, and blender have changed my skin. I have really bad pigmentation problems and that is the only product that has ever worked. I have had 6 people use it after seeing my results. Its pricey but when you have done everything else its worth it! I was in the laser biz and that made my melasma worse!

  • April 8, 2011

    by Jennifer LeBlanc

    I am a medical esthetician and work for a dermatologist. I, like yourself am an ingredient guru. The obagi nuderm list does in fact read like a list of fillers and unnecessary layering of similar products. However the results speak for themselves. Acne no matter what your age is painful and can be a social nightmare. the results I have seen from the obagi nuderm system are nothing less than miraculous. Yes it does cost more than say proactive or other acne systems. Medically speaking, this is the best prescription system and it works. there are 4 steps in the morning and 4 steps at night. do this for three months and your face will thank you. if anyone has any questions do not hesitate to ask.

  • March 29, 2011

    by marta

    Yes you are right Theresa - right at the end of the ingredients are Malonic Acid, Malachite, Zinc Carbonate. That doesn't swing it for me though.

  • March 29, 2011

    by marta

    Hi Gloria, that's great news about ReLuma. Keep us posted and I'd love to hear how others are getting on with it.

  • March 29, 2011

    by Gloria

    Thanks Marta for this review.I am now done with this line. I will be talking with the spa that I go to about carrying a different line of skin care products. They seem to carry their own line as well as Obagi and SkinMedica. Again I am so thankful for this website. I have learned so much through reading the articles and the input from everyone. Skin care can be quite confusing. There is so many products out there. I can see why the Obagi line is not for my skin either. I am using the Reluma right now and I wake up in the morning loving how soft and smooth my skin looks and it has only been 7 days.

  • March 29, 2011

    by Susan


    I often read or hear about the "activeness" of the Obagi line, yet everytime I've picked up any one of the products, I end up setting it down after reading the ingredients list. Nothing impressive, especially for the price point.
    Reading your review strengthens my view. Thank you. I'll keep it in mind whenever I think maybe I'm missing that bloomin' boat. :-)

  • March 29, 2011

    by Theresa

    Hi Marta,

    The Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream (as well as the other Obagi Elastiderm products) contains a special copper-zinc-malonate complex. This complex is beleived to increase elastin synthesis. There is even a study published in a peer reviewed journal showing that a cream containing this complex increased elastin synthesis in vivo.

    See the following link for study abstract:

    Exp Dermatol. 2009 Mar;18(3):205-11.

    Extracellular matrix in cutaneous ageing: the effects of 0.1% copper-zinc malonate-containing cream on elastin biosynthesis.


  • March 28, 2011

    by Pinky

    (Been lurking for a few months, just decided now to post my first comment, love your site!)

    How timely, thank you: I just started testing the Obagi eye cream two weeks ago, against a drugstore eye cream (RoC Antigravity). Obagi on the left, RoC on the right.

    I had nice results from the Obagi eye cream last year, but I'm trying to find a similar product for less money. The RoC Antigravity seemed the closest: Magnesium and Zinc whatevers, plus the RoC also has copper in it (albeit near the bottom of the ingredient list).

    Unlike you I'm a big fan of exfoliation, probably because it's the only way I'm able to get rid of my (cystic) acne scars (I've been on Retin-A since my twenties). So when I discovered Obagi's approach was exfoliation, exfoliation, exfoliation I didn't bat an eye. I haven't gone so far as to try their face creams though.

    I have a few product reviews at my own personal blog, if you're interested just send me an email!

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