Obagi Nu Derm instructions are often asked by people using the system who are getting red and irritated by the routine. My recent post on Obagi Nu Derm Products has generated some excellent questions from readers and I realize that people want more specific information on exactly how I, as a dermatologist, help my patients get the results they want.
Does Obagi Nu Derm work?
The Obagi Nu Derm Treatment System can be transformational for uneven pigment, acne scarring and sun damaged skin, BUT...........it can also be a an expensive disaster that's impossible to tolerate and ultimately a waste of time and money. The trick to success is how you use the products.
First a confession, for years I resisted the Obagi Nu Derm System because frankly it's main product ingredients are prescription 4% hydroquinone, tretinoin and an ingredient that's a cousin of glycolic acid. I could build a system like it for my patients that was a lot less expensive using other products. I have to admit though, the results were never as good. There's something synergistic about these products and they're a great example of the importance of product compatibility and interplay - Dr. Obagi did a good job with his Obagi Nu Derm System.
That said, I don't exactly follow the official Obagi instructions when I use the Nu Derm System on my patients because only the toughest skin can handle it without misery. Helen, one of my web readers had this to say about her experience with the products
I purchased Obagi NuDerm from my dermatologist. What a mess. Red, raw, blistery skin. My Dr. doesn’t know your secret for using Obagi without the side effects.
It's not an uncommon story with these products because the instructions tell you to 'solder on' through the snowballing irritation, that your skin will eventually adjust. Well, not necessarily. Would you expect that you could put lemon juice on freshly peeled skin that's 'open' and more porous and expect your skin to tolerate it and eventually heal. It won't, you'll just get what we call an irritant dermatitis that finally demands attention.
My dermatologist's tips to make Obagi Nu Derm highly effective AND a good experience
Step 1. I gently coax the skin to give in.
We start using the products as instructed in the Obagi brochure and at the first sign of irritancy (aka redness, itching, skin sensitivity) we slow down on the 2 products that irritate which are the Exfoderm/Exfoderm Forte and the tretinoin. That means skipping them for a day or 2 then starting back.
Also, if there are parts of the skin that are more sensitive (around the mouth for example), we slow down there but continue on the rest of the face. By using this method of slowly coaxing the skin to give in I'm also able to use the products on the neck and chest. These are much more sensitive areas and often the products are used there only twice a week, but it still helps. Remember though, these are prescription products and any change in how you use them requires supervision from your treating MD.
Step 2. When I treat with Obagi Nu Derm we stop almost all other products and just use the Obagi Nu Derm Products.
This is because of product synergy. The Obagi Nu Derm Products seem to enhance penetration of each other into the skin. The toner seems to sooth irritation too. Other products may either irritate or inhibit absorption so we pretty much stop everything else except on the days that we skip the irritating products.
On Obagi Nu Derm 'rest days' my patients use the non-irritating products (Cleanser #1, Toner #2, Clear #3, Sunscreen #6 and Blender #5) with additional soothing products such as Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy and a bland moisturizer like my Daily Moisturizing Face Cream. These additional products go before the sunscreen or Blender, in place of the Exfoderm or tretinoin, and they help the skin calm down faster.
Step 3. We don't do peels or other additionally irritating procedures during the Nu Derm Therapy.
The skin is so much more porous and peel predictability becomes too dicey; it always depends on being able to predict how fast the peeling agent will get into the skin and you can't when a person is almost totally exfoliated and on the brink of an irritant dermatitis like with Nu Derm Treatment. Another reader, Valerie asked about this.
I’ve been encouraged to do the Obagi peel at 6 weeks (into my Obagi Nu Derm Treatment), but I have yet to decide if I will, and if it would be 15% or 20%. I’m wondering if you use the Obagi peel in your office, or if there is another peel you recommend.
In my opinion, the risk of a peel isn't worth it and remember the lemon juice on open skin analogy, it applies here big time. Irritation can cause discoloration that may take a long time to resolve, and it's unnecessary to getting great results. Building more irritation from a peel will also make the products harder to use.
In my office we instead do gentle/hydrating facials during the Obagi Treatment. If we need to exfoliate some of the skin peeling then we use gentle microdermabrasion because it does not function based on skin porosity, it's a simple sanding of the loose outer layer of skin. We go easy though and experience is necessary to know just how much microdermabrasion is ok and how much is too much for a person's individual skin type and state of exfoliation during the Obagi Treatment.
Step 4. I only treat with Obagi Nu Derm as a finite 3 to 4 month therapy course.
I don't like long term hydroquinone usage, I don't think the skin thrives with this ingredient and in Europe they don't even allow it at all. I have a rare patient where we have to continue using it because their pigment is unbelievably stubborn, but for most everyone else, we stop it after the Nu Derm therapy is over.
What is the best skin care routine after Obagi Nu Derm?
I like health promoting skin care regimens for long term skin beauty and health. This include products with antioxidants and vitamins, along with tretinoin and/or professional strength glycolic acid products. There is so much great science supporting the benefits of these products on skin beauty and health so we go straight back to them. We create a product combo that will maintain and build on the Obagi Nu Derm Results. I'm picky here and not every product with these ingredients really delivers what's possible so I only recommend the products that I trust, they are the products on my web site.
Most often, I put my patients back on their Anti-Aging Antioxidant Kits with tretinoin, retinol and/or glycolic acid.
Since writing this post in 2011 I have developed my own alternative to Obagi Nu Derm that works as well but without the parabens and old-fashioned formulations. The products are health promoting for skin, not just beautifying. We make up your hydroquinone pads fresh when you order your kit to avoid unwanted parabens and harsh preservatives. The entire kit is a great long term skin care routine minus the hydroquinone. The pads contain botanical skin lighteners that I feel good about keeping people on indefinitely.
The kit works great and builds healthy skin at the same time. Here is what people are saying,
Game Changing - The glycolic + pigment fading pads + retinol are game changing. I had a lot of sun damage, especially on my upper cheeks and on the top of forehead near my hairline. The dark patches were so severe that even the thickest Jane Iredale BB Cream wasn't effectively covering it! Within weeks of really consistent use, the dark patches have faded CONSIDERABLY. My skin also has a much more softened texture (probably the glycolic and retinol doing their job). I'm definitely ordering more - I wish I had had this secret sauce YEARS AGO!Lisa on Nov 23, 2019
Finally; Relief for Poikiloderma of Civatte skin conditionThe Ultimate Pigment and Sun Damage Repair Kit has made an amazing difference in my longstanding Poikiloderma of Civatte skin condition. I've tried so many products that never made much difference. IPL and Microneedling were of no benefit. I'd almost given up after ten years of trying to find relief for this condition while spending a few thousand dollars doing so. The combination of these products has reduced my symptoms by 50% in two months! I 've reduced the amount of heavy coverage makeup on the lower face and neck areas. as the discoloration fades. Plus the kit has improved the overall texture and appearance of my entire face. I anticipate even more improvement over the next few months. Very grateful I took the chance on this kit as it has exceeded expectations and is helping me regain confidence in my appearance.Ms Green Eyes on Jan 05, 2019
Step 5. Obagi Nu Derm Treatment is a great prep for other cosmetic dermatology procedures that really create beautifully rejuvenated skin.
We often start laser and/or intense pulsed light (called BBL in my office) treatments, or a series of chemical peels and/or microdermabrasion maintenance treatments once we are done with the Nu Derm system. It's why I love doing Nu Derm in the fall - it gives us the winter and early spring to complete cosmetic procedures and laser/light treatment series. By spring, wow! We have new skin and a new look and it's absolutely fun and amazing.
Finishing 3 to 4 months of Obagi Nu Derm or my Ultimate Pigment and Sun Damage Repair Kit has the skin perfectly ready to begin an IPL (BBL) series, or ProFractional Laser and/or MicroLaserPeel treatments, all with supportive aesthetician skin care treatments. Any stubborn pigment or skin issues can be cleaned up this way. We also look at skin volume and may use a little Juvederm filler to soften skin contour issues.