Get to Know Dr. Suzan Obagi

Dr Suzan Obagi

What made you interested in the dermatology field?

I was introduced to dermatology from a very young age. My father was one of the founding dermatologists in the realm of cosmetic dermatology. Prior to the work of he and his colleagues, there really was no field of cosmetic dermatology. So that all started to come into the forefront probably in the 1980s.


I had an opportunity even at a young age to work firsthand in his office, side-by-side with him and kind of shadow him and see what he does. That was my first true exposure into the field.

When I went to medical school, I kept an open mind on different specialties that I wanted to pursue. Of course, I fell in love with dermatology regardless. I kept coming back to that.


What was it that kept gravitating you towards the field?

I think what's fascinating is that you can learn so much about a patient, their health lifestyle, age, and any underlying problems, through their skin. To me, it's as if I'm looking at a picture book and being able to assess somebody strictly by what you're seeing on the surface. And it gives you so much insight into what's going on inside of them.


So when I went into dermatology, I, within that time kept getting drawn also into the procedural part of it. I love to do the procedures, removing different lesions, removing, skin cancers, closing them, getting a very nice outcome. And that's right around the time when things are to take off in the realm of cosmetic dermatology, even more with regards to procedures.


Technology has advanced quite a bit since you began practicing. What has changed?

Around the time I was in training is when we started to see the procedures catch up. We started to see new lasers, then came injectables. Initially there was only collagen, and then we started to see all the different injectables that came out since then. And then we saw the introduction of the neuromodulators like Botox and the advancements in about 20 different laser categories. It was an exciting time to go into that field. And that's what really drew me.


If you take the knowledge you gained in skin management with learning how to control pigmentation of the skin, learning how to make it safe to treat all skin types, then you could take all this new technology and basically treat a lot patients that were for the longest time relegated to the arena of do not touch because anything you did on their skin was risky.


What is your mission when it comes to educating other providers?

My goal is to educate dermatologists and other providers on how to safely treat patients with all different skin types that come through their doors. We can treat just about everybody. I decided to stay in academics and I've been in academics from day one, and that was about 20 years ago. I have trained residents of all different specialties. I trained physicians from all over the world and it's with this philosophy in mind that you can really treat every single patient that comes through that door. If you think about it carefully and formulate a plan and engage the patient in that plan, all it takes is a little bit of education, even for the patients to understand how they can have things done effectively and safely.


What’s your favorite part of being a dermatologist?

For me, it's seeing patients every day. I truly love the interaction. When we had the pandemic and we had to do things virtually, that allowed us to stay in touch with some patients, but there's nothing like being able to see a patient in person and be able to talk. A lot of the procedures that we do cannot be done virtually. To be able to see patients  and to be able to treat them in person, those are the highlights of my day.


Can you describe the feeling that you get when you’re able to help a patient transform their skin?

Well, it never fails to amaze me and excite me that when I'm doing the treatments on the patients, I get just about as excited as they to have the treatment done. I'm their biggest cheerleader. I also have many of the same concerns that they do. If they're a want to improve their skin pigmentation, I'm right there with them. I've suffered too. I've had sun damage and I want to make my skin look that much better. I want to age the best I can. I don't want any acne marks to show. I can understand what my patients are seeking and what their motivation is. I don't think you can get tired of seeing your work transform someone's skin, which then in turn transforms their self-confidence.


What’s the most common request from patients?

The number one thing patients come in to see me for is how to keep looking their best that they can. They always say right now that they don't want to look different. And I think we've seen way too much of cosmetic dermatology and plastic surgery go to the other extreme. I think what's driving my patients more and more is the understanding that they can come and seek these treatments without having to risk looking artificial. But the first thing they say, almost always hands down is, “I just want to look better.”


What’s the biggest misconception when it comes to skincare and skin health?

The biggest misconception is that everyone thinks there's something out there that’s just one and done. They think, “if I have a facelift, I don't need to do Botox or fillers,” or “if I do a skin peel or have a laser done, that's all I have to do.” And they don't understand that everything is about upkeep.


I always use the example, if you go to the gym every day and finally get into the shape you want to be in, you don't stop going to the gym. because you quickly will lose the benefit. I teach them that this is an investment in themselves.


What’s the best way to protect that investment?

The best way to ensure that they're making a wise investment is to put their effort towards a good skin care regimen. That's going to prime their skin. And, for the right patient, it may fix 80-90% of what they want without having to do a procedure. And then we use the ancillary procedures in the office from peels and lasers and neuromodulators and fillers and resurfacing devices to get that other 10 or 20% improvement. But then I teach them how to take care of their skin afterwards, so that they're maintaining the results as quickly and as long as possible, knowing that the aging process is still going to continue. If they're taking care of their skin, we're going to have to do it less frequently. If we're taking care of their skin and maybe the next treatment won't have to be quite as aggressive.


If you could only give one skin care tip for the rest of your career, what would it be?

Start at a young age. I think that people are understanding that more and more and I'm seeing it. My patient population is starting to shift to a younger and younger demographic. They're understanding that you can go seek professional help and advice on your skin at a young age so that you take good care of it going forward.


And more importantly, the biggest word of advice I could give anyone going forward is if you're going to do only one thing for your skin, use a daily sunscreen with broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher protection. That's going to be your biggest defense first against aging your skin. Other things we have allow us to rebuild and correct some of that damage, but the prevention would be the key.


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