Zo Skin Health is a skincare brand that’s been highly-lauded by reviewers, and is founded by a dermatologist named Zein Obagi. Their products have won awards from Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping. The brand sells products for skin brightening, anti-aging, acne reduction and more.
But are Zo Skin Health products formulated well enough to justify their high prices? Do they really contain ingredients proven in medical studies to reduce visible signs of aging? Are there any unhealthy additive ingredients?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions as we review the ingredients in Zo Skin Health’s best-selling products: Their Exfoliating Polish (an exfoliator) and their Growth Factor Serum (an anti-aging serum). We'll share real user reviews of their products and explain our concerns over the brand's claims of clinical efficacy.
Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish Review
One of Zo Skin Health’s most popular products is an exfoliating polish. The brand claims that the magnesium oxide crystals in the formulation “slough away dead skin cells” which has the effect of “leaving skin instantly soft and smooth.” The brand does not cite these claims, and we cannot find any medical research suggesting that topical magnesium oxide has any beneficial dermatological effects.
One of the first active ingredients in Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish is sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda, and we do not understand this ingredient being used in a skincare product. The only medical trial we could find on topical sodium bicarbonate found the ingredient ineffective at improving symptoms of psoriasis.
One potentially effective ingredient is Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil. This essential oil may have the ability to improve damaged skin. A medical review on tea tree oil published in the International Journal of Dermatology documented that tea tree oil may be effective at treating acne and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) due to its antimicrobial effect.
Our issue with this ingredient listing on Zo Skin Health’s website is that the concentration isn’t listed. Tea tree oil, like most essential oils, is effective in a narrow range of concentration and may be damaging to skin at too high of a concentration. For this reason cosmetics manufacturers should always list the concentration of essential oils.
Glycerin is proven to positively impact skin hydration and skin barrier function.
This product contains an interesting compound called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate which is an ester of vitamin C. Zo Skin Health claims this ingredient “helps to brighten skin” however we would disagree with this assessment.
A medical review of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate published in 2021 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that this ingredient is ineffective for improving skin quality unless another stabilizing compound was included in the formulation (which Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish doesn’t have): “[Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate] may itself lack stability within the dermal microenvironment. This study showed that [tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate] has limited oxygen radical absorbance capacity and undergoes rapid degradation when exposed to singlet oxygen…This degradation, however, could be prevented by the addition of acetyl zingerone.”
Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish has several ingredients that we recommend consumers avoid for health reasons. Fragrance provides no dermatological benefits and may be unsafe. As we discussed at length in our recent review of Nexxus Shampoo, another personal care product containing fragrance, this ingredient may be harmful to human health based on medical research.
This formulation also contains the artificial dye Green 6. We recommend that consumers avoid putting products with artificial dye on their face. Artificial dyes can be absorbed through skin according to medical research, and may be harmful to human health. The study authors of the above-linked research review state the following: “The consuming public is largely unaware of the perilous truth behind the deceptive allure of artificial color.”
While Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish may be effective as an exfoliator, given that it contains some mildly abrasive ingredients, we cannot identify any anti-aging ingredients in this formulation, and we don't recommend it overall due to the inclusion of fragrance and artificial dye.
One of the most popular YouTube reviews of Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish is published by a channel called "rachel grace." The creator is an esthetician who explains how she uses the product for herself and her clients:
Zo Skin Health Growth Factor Serum
Growth Factor Serum is another one of Zo Skin Health's best-sellers. The brand claims that this product can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, which makes it an anti-aging product.
This formulation contains a novel compound called hydrolyzed sericin which is an effective anti-aging ingredient. A recent medical review documented the cosmetic benefits of this compound. It has anti-wrinkle effects when applied topically, and can also increase skin hydration and elasticity.
Another efficacious ingredient in this serum is dipeptide diaminobutyroyl benzylamide diacetate. This compound was studied in a clinical trial for its effects on facial wrinkles and demonstrated positive effects. 86% of patients reported reduced wrinkles around the eyes after 3 months of treatment with this ingredient, and 71% of patients reported reduced wrinkles around the upper lip.
Tocopherol is included in this formulation, and it’s a good choice for a topical serum because of its photoprotective effects. As referenced in our Beautycounter reviews article, this ingredient has significant medical backing for its ability to reduce the damaging effects of UV rays on skin.
Unfortunately, like the Exfoliating Polish, this product contains fragrance. It's free of artificial dye which makes it a healthier choice than the Exfoliating Polish in our opinion.
We consider Zo Skin Health Growth Factor Serum to be likely effective for anti-aging effects, given its multiple effective ingredients. However, we don't recommend the product overall because it contains fragrance.
One of the most popular, and the most informational, YouTube reviews of Zo Skin Health Growth Factor Serum is published by a channel called "Dr. Ania Marie, MD" which is run by a dermatologist:
Questionable Clinical Proof Claims
Zo Skin Health has a page on their site called “Clinical Proof.” It lists statistics about the supposed efficacy of some of their products based on clinical trials. The problem is the claims are entirely uncited. The brand publishes statistics claiming their products work without linking to the studies where those statistics originated from.
We urge Zo Skin Health to either provide proof of these claims of clinical efficacy, or remove them from their website. We consider this to be a red flag about the brand.
We strongly recommend that consumers entirely disregard claims of clinical backing made by skincare companies unless their products, or the ingredients in their products, are proven to be effective in clinical trials published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. This is the gold standard for product research.
When we cite medical studies on Illuminate Health, this is the type of research we're citing.
Our Skincare Recommendations
There are skincare products that contain ingredients proven in clinical trials to be effective for reducing wrinkles and improving skin quality generally.
Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum is our top skin cream pick because of its effective and clean formulation. It contains hyaluronic acid which was described as a "skin-rejuvenating biomedicine" in a medical review due to its ability to reduce wrinkles and signs of facial aging. We consider this to be the most powerful topical skincare ingredient. Most importantly, this serum is entirely free of questionable additives like preservatives or fragrance.
Interested consumers can check out Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum at this link.
HydraGlow is our top moisturizer pick. It features bakuchiol as an active ingredient which was described in a 2014 clinical trial as "clinically proven to have anti-aging effects." In the linked trial, topical bakuchiol reduced wrinkles, improved skin elasticity and firmness, and reduced photodamage (damage from UV rays). There are no questionable additive ingredients in this product.
Interested consumers can check out HydraGlow at this link.
The only oral supplement we recommend for skin quality improvement is Bulletproof Collagen Powder. Oral collagen supplementation was shown in a medical review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology to improve visible signs of skin aging as well as improve skin elasticity and skin hydration. The only ingredient in Bulletproof collagen is collagen peptides sourced from grass-fed animals. We recommend a dose of 10 grams per day.
Interested consumers can check out Bulletproof Collagen Powder at this link.
Zo Skin Health Program Review
A YouTube creator called “Sydney Nicole” published an unsponsored review of one of Zo Skin Health's programs, which is a set of multiple Zo Skin Health products that are used daily. She shares her thoughts on whether the products are worth the high price, and includes before-and-after images:
Zo Skin Health Customer Reviews
Zo Skin Health is sold on Amazon as well as their website, and we consider Amazon to be a more objective resource for customer reviews than a brand's website.
Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish has been reviewed 659 times on Amazon at the time of updating this article, and has an impressive 4.8 out of 5 star average rating. The product has an "A" grade on Fakespot, which is a software tool that detects potentially fraudulent Amazon reviews. This suggests that all of the reviews are legitimate.
This is the highest-rated skincare product we've reviewed on Illuminate Health that has an "A" grade on Fakespot.
The top positive review of the product from a verified purchaser comes from an anonymous Amazon Customer who claims the product has had an anti-aging effect:
“My aesthetician introduced me to the product and naturally when I ran out I turned Amazon to re-order. My complexion is much clearer dark spots have faded and my skin tone is smoother. I highly recommend this product!”
The top negative review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named “Eva” who claims that the product is illegitimate and not from the real manufacturer:
“I have used Z products and usually I buy it from my dermatologist, however, this time I ordered from Amazon seller. The product is diluted not 100% the real product, the box is Z obagi but the first impression when you see the box you would know that it was used and diluted.”
Zo Skin Health Pros and Cons
Here’s our take on the pros and cons of this brand generally:
- Effective ingredients
- Like to have an anti-aging effect
- Positive real user reviews
- Contains fragrance
- One best-seller contains artificial dye
- Relatively expensive
- Claims of clinical efficacy without proof