By and  on February 2, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS — In an atmosphere that emotes part Grecian spa, part Beverly Hills glitz, noted dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi unveiled the Obagi Skin Health Institute on 270 North Canon Drive last month, in the heart of the district’s prestigious retail and residential area.

With eight treatment rooms in an airy 6,000-square-foot space, the institute counts as its high point a state-of-the-art surgical suite where minimally invasive procedures such as ultrasound liposuction and radio frequency ablation can be carried out. The other procedure rooms will offer processes such as Botox, injectable fillers, laser and Intense Pulsed Light therapies.

Obagi said he wants to focus on “skin health restoration ” at the center.

The spa’s opening coincided with the Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to investigate the use of hydroquinone in skin products — an active ingredient in some of Obagi’s skin care items, such as NuDerm and CRx, each of which contain 4 percent hydroquinone. The skin-bleaching ingredient was banned by the European Union in 2001, and has been linked to increased risks of cancer. The FDA is reviewing public comments on the proposed ban, but a final decision still might be months away.

Obagi agreed that there had been “unethical and nonmedical” use of hydroquinone in cosmetic products, and a distinction had to be drawn between using the ingredient for purely aesthetic rather than medical reasons.

“This product is badly abused by many people, especially those who try to lighten or whiten their skin without medical supervision,” he said. “This is not something that should be purchased over the counter.”

The ban would only affect items sold over the counter, not items sold under a prescription.

He said he includes hydroquinone products in treatment regimens he draws up for his patients, but that the condition must warrant it; these include problems regarding pigmentation, melasma and ethnic skin that needs pigmentation correction.

“We have had no problems for the last 35 years with the medical usage and the proper concentration and application of this product,” he said. However, additional Obagi products will bow this year that will not contain hydroquinone.

“We have antiaging products in the pipeline and tremendous breakthroughs in the treatment of acne without the use of hydroquinone,” he said.For now, Obagi is focusing on the new institute.

“We wanted to make this place friendly, to show that we are not doing invasive things, but instead [are] trying to implement the concept that people can look their best forever if they work on it.”

He said he and his staff do not automatically resort to laser treatments or surgery as an immediate cause of action.

“Instead, we offer proper care programs and implement the idea of education. An educated patient is a better patient,” he said.

Still, the center was also designed to offer comfort and luxury to patients. With the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the lobby area looking out into the street, and a fountain constructed around tall, slender columns surrounded by a pool, the space features plenty of white granite, clear walls and white furniture accented with stainless steel. Warmer touches are provided with dusky blue suede seating and pearwood-surfaced walls.

“I wanted a place that was roomy with plenty of natural light, which helps the mood,” he said. “Patients these days look for these things. We also wanted to offer more services that fit into my concept of promoting healthy skin.”

Obagi, who specializes in correcting serious skin conditions such as facial melasma and precancerous lesions, has previously worked out of an office on nearby Wilshire Boulevard. But with the opening of the skin health institute, he and his aestheticians intend to highlight offerings such as antioxidant and spot-reduction facials. Obagi also said services such as skin tightening, pigment control and acne prevention are “medically based,” falling outside the realm of most spa treatments, which focus primarily on relaxation. Prices reflect their specialized nature: a Clarifying Facial costs $155 and a Rejuvenating and Stimulating Facial Peel is $250.

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