Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dr. Obagi's new no moisturization rule

Dr. Obagi, one of the world's premier dermatologists, has never exactly been a subtle man. After all he did create Nu-derm, according to anyone that's ever tried it, the strongest stuff available over the counter to exfoliate (and for an exfoli-maniac like myself, pure skin porn).

At a recent beauty industry event, while introducing his new ZO skin health line, he presented (the nicest way to put it) his new philosophy.

We shouldn't....that's should NOT....moisturize.
To an audience of seasoned beauty addicts and experts, well you can imagine what kind of effect a statement like that had. But when Dr. Obagi speaks, people listen. He's truly in a class of his own when it comes to recognizded derms. Though I personally am an ardent follower of Dr. Murad (and his moisturizemoisturizemoisturize philosophy, ironic how people who are considered upper echelon experts in their field can disagree so strongly) I can understand and somewhat agree with Obagi.


What he is trying to tell us, is that when we try to heavily moisturize in order to fight aging, we may think it helps because our skin looks plumper and healthier immediately, but in reality it causes retardation of skin's own exfoliation process in the long term. What he advises instead is to use incredibly heavy exfoliation and skip the creams and after the initial shock, redness, peeling and sensitivity, a new skin will come out that moisturizes itself.

Now I have inadvertently practiced this method throughout my teenage years and have griped on and on how it's destroyed my skin. My regular routine would be to scrub with the harshest scrub I could find (when home microdermabrasion products came out, I was more than elated) layer on an AHA and a BHA. Add an oil free lotion with retinols and not even give a second thought to moisturizing.

After years of doing that, yes my skin does moisturize itself (I have a feeling that it would have done so on it's own anyhow due to it's crazy oiliness) but you know what it doesn't do at all? Exfoliate itself. Yes the whole teach your skin to behave how you want it's responsive thing applies to renewal also. If I skip even a day of crazy strong scrubbing and adding on some sort of acid, my skin goes hog-wild, I get little dead skin cells literally GLUED to my face with my oil (this is what he means, oil/skin's own moisture literally glues dead skin cells to itself to temporarily protect itself from the sun, which is why sunblock is of tantamount importance when exfoliating) that are nearly impossible to get rid of after a while. A few months ago I threw out all my scrubs and went cold turkey on exfoliation to see if treating my skin gentler would help it get in better shape.

However, after years of overstimulation it's been permanently damaged and cannot exfoliate itself, at all. What I got from that experiment was agonzo beginning of puberty style breakout that I am still attempting to fight. No it wasn't a sea of cysts, blackheads or redness. What I got was a sea of colorless comedones across my entire face, so that I literally have the skin texture of a lizard. They are impossible to extract or treat with benzoyls or salicylics because nothing can get past the layer of of rock hard dead skin over them. I think my face created a new category of acne. This past month while gently working myself up to more and more exfoliation, I have finally begun to notice improvement.

But do you really want to know what, of all the myriad of treatments I've tried, has made the most positive long term difference on my skin? Creme de La mer, as in yes, one of the heaviest most moisturizing creams on the market. And yes, I am crazy violent oily. But again, it's reverse psychology for the skin. After years of crazy undermoisturization my skin had gotten the impression it didn't provide enough moisture to protect it's top layer, and decided to overcompensate by going crazy on the ooze production. It is natural for it to want to protect itself, which is why it stopped exfoliating itself too, because a thin layer of dead skin PROTECTS it from God knows how many environmental aggressors, including the sun. When I began daily use of CDLM it immediately broke out, because off course you're adding lord knows how much oil to an already oily face. But I was a believer and I stuck it out. After using up my whole jar, which lasted me roughly a year, my skin reoiled itself 25% less and had many less breakouts. In fact it was in the best condition it had been since childhood. Applying something heavy and occlusive told it, hold on, you've got LOT'S of moisture, stop making more. I am convinced that had my pocketbook allowed me to continue with CDLM I would have been able to re-normalize my sebum production and end my dependence on mattifiers, blotting papers and loose powders.

So you want my experienced and heavily researched opinion on what you should be doing to your skin.

If it's oily like mine, and lacks any sensitivity whatsoever, but isn't as permanently scarred from overexfoliation: Use a low-foam cleanser, a gentle scrub every day. If you wear liquid makeup skip the day moisturizer and use a cold cream or something with similar properties at night. If you wear no makeup or powder makeup, use the heavy moisture during the day. Do not do it day and night, you want the skin to breathe some of the time and re-orient itself while you're introducing it to new things. What this will do is make sure your skin is clean and help it along JUST a bit in it's own exfoliation process, while giving it enough moisture to tell it that it can cut down on it's own production. Overall, it will help-renormalize your skin and teach it to become less dependent on cosmetics in order to do it's own work that it naturally would.
If like me you have destroyed your skin with exfoliants, use all these elements, but include a heavyheavy strong exfoliant daily. There is nothing on earth that will ever teach your skin to renew itself, you have permanently damaged it. To keep it from going entirely haywire, exfoliate.

If you have normal skin with few problems, thank your lucky stars and keep doing what you're doing. For your own good please don't experiment with crazy complicated skin stuff. And use SPF.

If you have dry skin that isn't sensitive, what I say now will shock you. Stop using creamy cleansers. Use something that says it was designed for normal skin, just the simplest foaming cleanser you can find. Exfoliate with an AHA at night. The AHA will bring out your plump moisturized cells, but make sure it's the mildest concentration in order to avoid being acid-dependent like myself. During the day, get this, use an oil free moisturizer. Why, because when you stop putting on heavymoisturize items, your skin will eventually (I don't know how long) get the hint and start moisturizing itself. You may one day be able to cut your dependence on petroleum balms. Think about it.
If you have destroyed your skin with overexfoliating (let me put it this way, 90% of beauty addicts have because almost every new miracle skin cream or treatment has an exfoliating agent in it) unfortunately like with oily skin, the damage is done. Embrace your scrubbing hand.

And now the poor muffins that have sensitivity issues. I have a solution.
I took my skin from a normal amount of sensitivity to lizard-penetrability simply by gradually increasing my use of irritating agents. Figure out a combination of products that gives you just a small amount of redness, tingling and peeling. Nothing that will make you look like an excema victm, just a bit. Keep using it (I KNOW, shocking huh). When your skin stops reacting to it, add a bit more irritation. On and on, and eventually you will get to a midway point on the sensitivity scale. Make sure all your irritants aren't exfoliation agents, because you will destroy your skin permanently like I did. Add in an astringent, a benzoyl or newfangled/strange/exotic anti-aging ingredient (hey it might work, maybe copper stuff).

And EVERYONE, use your SPF. If you really really hate sunblocks like myself, use them in your makeup (look for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to be in the top 5 ingredients and you're ok, even if it doesn't say it's active).

Final thoughts: Exfoliation does bring out "new" skin. But this skin will not behave differently from your old skin for years, and the new effects may not be what you want. Your own oil production and exfoliation rate is genetically predetermined, and the only thing you can do to change oil production is to trick your skin into producing how much you want it to. As for exfoliation, most people have a simple 30 or so day period before new skin comes out (which is why the new zits starts 30 days before they come out/give all new skin care products 30 days before giving up on them rules apply generally). It can be helpful to encourage it a little bit by adding a light touch of exfoliation on top of everything else you do, but be careful lest you wind up like me - permanently dependent on aluminum oxide crystals. I think Dr. Obagi is wrong in that he says your "new" skin will regulate itself and do what you want it to, it comes the from the same place and the same genetic structure as your old skin. All you do by overexfoliating is make it look immediately betetr (or redder, depending on your sensitivity) while telling it over time, don't worry about renewing yourself, I'll do the work and pay the big bucks. You just sit back and rest.

Any thoughts, anyone tried any crazy fad skincare programs or gone a little bit overboard on the srubadub? Throw me a shout, maybe your experiences will prove me wrong.

Image courtesy of


*** said...

I think not moisturizing is crazy.

Currently I am addicted to Cerave lotion. Have you tried it?

I am oily and prone to cystic acne, but this lotion has actually helped me. Apparently it helps skin create it's own natural defense barrier.

lelaelena said...

All I can say is that when I finally did embrace moisture and give up on my supposed oil allergy, my skin improved.

You sound like my skin, are you sensitive at all?

Cerave I've never tried, I think most likely cause it's not carried here in good ol' Canada (as far as I know, I do troll anyplace that sells cosmetics constanly so I'm 99% sure of it)