After nearly three decades, during which she’s helped her husband, Dr. Zein Obagi, build his dermatology empire, Samar Obagi is still as passionate as ever about ensuring that proper skincare is delivered to more people around the world. eniGma’s Mahmoud Al Badry spoke to this inspirational personality about her exciting journey thus far and her plans for the future.
Tell us about your first meeting with Dr. Obagi; did you ever think that you would be here today, nearly 30 years later, running his empire?
I first met Dr. Obagi in 1980. We were both married and his wife at the time was friends with my sister. Ten years later, I went to see Dr. Obagi to treat my skin because it had uneven tones, pimples, cysts, large pores, you name it. I had just gotten a divorce, and his first wife had passed away.
Later on, I attended a skin seminar that Dr. Obagi held in his clinic, and I fell in love. He was funny, intelligent and confident. We got married six weeks later, and no, I would’ve never dreamed that I would be helping him build and run his empire.
Was it tough for you to leave your career as an electrical engineer behind?
I was really happy to chart a unique path for myself in a male-dominated field such as electrical engineering. I was a huge success in the flight test department, and was admired by my peers and upper management. However, I never really hesitated for a moment to leave it all behind and start the equally unique journey of managing Dr. Obagi’s clinics. Helping him expand his teaching roles, from symposiums and educational seminars to authoring his legendary “Obagi Skin Health Restoration & Rejuvenation” book and even managing his extensive traveling schedule to allow him to share his innovative skincare methods with the world have been extremely rewarding.
What were some of the biggest struggles that you and Dr. Obagi have had to face in your careers?
When you’re successful, many people always try to put you down. When you’re creating a new science, people will fight you until you prove yourself right. The fight with the American Academy of Dermatology, for instance, went on for years. When Dr. Obagi first introduced the science of skincare, dermatology was all about finding cures to skin diseases. Dr. Obagi invented a new science; he was the first to peel black skin and combine different methods to treat difficult diseases.
On a personal level, we’ve had a lot of challenges with our large family, like most second marriages do, but we’ve learned how to deal with everything well together over the years. The worst struggle was obviously to accept the passing of our daughter, Sandra, after a five-year struggle with a brain tumor. That was really the ultimate test of life for us.
How has ZO Skin Health grown to be the empire that it is today?
To build an empire, it takes innovation and a boundless imagination. Continued innovations can only lead to more knowledge and further improvements. Dr. Obagi didn’t care much about creating a profitable company. He rather focused more on creating products that truly work, making a difference in our skins, and changing our lives in the process.
If you think ZO is big now, check back in a couple of years when we’ll be the biggest in the world when it comes to professionally dispensed skincare.
What would you say is the biggest element of marketing ZO all over the world? Are there any specific aspects that you always seek to highlight?
The basic elements that we always try to highlight are education and the sharing of information. We’ve always believed that a true scientist has to spread knowledge around. For over 30 years, Dr. Obagi has been teaching science, spreading and sharing his knowledge with thousands of doctors all over the world. ZO Skin Health is the only company that has a philosopher, creator and developer of products that also doubles as the medical director of the company. Traveling the world to teach and train local doctors has been a major reason for ZO’s successes.
All skin is the same, although it comes in different colors, textures and thicknesses, diseased or healthy.
How do you ensure that the brand is tailored for every country?
The science of skin health has truly eliminated boundaries. Everyone around the world obviously wants healthy skin in the same way that they want to have a healthy body or mind. That’s how we try to approach skincare. To us, it is a universal process that has to solely revolve around ensuring the restoration of the skin’s proper function and making it look like baby skin.
How do you feel the dermatology industry has changed over the years?
Dermatology has somewhat changed, but not enough. Most dermatologists solely focus on a disease or single problem in their treatments. We have more products, more devices and more lasers nowadays, but have still maintained many of our old philosophies. We still haven’t shifted our thinking from looking at skin problems at the surface to fixing problems on the cellular level. Dermatology can only change by understanding how to address the skin as a living organ.
Going forward, how far do you think the world of dermatology could go?
Well, we have to do a better job at bridging the gap between dermatologists and the public so that scientific skincare principles will be available to all, not just to patients who visit their doctor’s clinic. I also see a big push for prevention to be the future of dermatology. After all, it’s better to prevent diseases and aging issues from arising than having to treat them.
Do you have any goals that you haven’t already reached with ZO?
We at ZO, and Dr. Obagi in particular, have an ultimate mission to deliver skin health to all. His dream is for everyone to enjoy the benefits of healthy skin and his vision is for ZO to become a household name.
Could the company grow even more in the future?
Absolutely! There is so much more to come. Dr. Obagi is always looking for ways to improve and expand on what he has already created, always trying to raise the bar higher and outdoing himself. Thirty years ago, he created “Obagi NuDerm”, and made it the gold standard and the number-one professionally dispensed skincare company in the world. In the last few years, he reinvented skin health with the launch of ZO.
Much more is yet to come.
What tip would you give people who aspire to be as successful as you are?
To be successful, one must work extra hard. I can’t imagine that success would’ve come to us if my husband and I weren’t relentless, persistent and motivated by a vision, in which we strongly believed. Skin is Dr. Obagi’s passion, and it’s what he enjoys most in life. He honestly enjoys the challenges that he faces. The word “enjoy”, to me, is really the key to success. You have to enjoy what you do and the journey you undertake.
As a wise man once said, “It doesn’t matter where the journey will end; the journey is all that matters in the end.”