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Is There an Acne System That Works?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

The advantage of an acne system is that you can get multiple products to fight acne in multiple ways. And since you are getting all your products from the same vendor, you avoid buying duplicate products and you pay a little—or a whole lot—less for each unit of product. Different acne systems, however, offer differing levels of skincare results. Let’s look at the most popular acne treatment systems in terms of pros and cons.

proactiv pore cleansing system
The Proactiv pore cleansing system is inexpensive, but it uses alcohol which can dry the skin.


  • Proactiv is one of the most popular acne treatment systems on the market, but it may not be the best option for everyone with acne-prone skin.
  • If you’re looking for a luxury skincare brand to take care of all your skin’s needs, Drunk Elephant is the best place to find top-notch products.
  • The Ordinary is a great brand for anyone who knows their skincare chemicals and feels prepared to mix and match the appropriate treatments on their own.
  • Krave Beauty is all about getting back to the basics, offering only four products to take care of all your skin’s needs.
  • Exposed Skin Care combines scientific and natural ingredients to create formulas that are tough on acne but gentle on your skin, plus it comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.

Proactiv Solution 3-Step System

Proactiv is one of the most well-known acne treatment systems in the world, but does it actually work? That all depends on your skin type and what kind of acne you usually deal with.

The Proactiv Solution 3-Step System comes with a Renewing Cleanser, a Revitalizing Toner, and a Repairing Treatment, and together these products are best suited to treat resistant skin that is particularly prone to pimples rather than blackheads or whiteheads. Two of the three products in the system contain 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, one of the best pimple-fighting ingredients on the market1. However, only the toner contains any kind of exfoliating acid. Exfoliation is the key to reducing blackheads and whiteheads, so if those are your primary acne issues, we recommend trying one of the other systems in this list. We also recommend that those with sensitive skin try another brand because Proactiv includes a few ingredients that may not react well with sensitive skin, like fragrances and witch hazel.

You can buy Proactiv from their website, but we recommend purchasing from Amazon instead. This is because Proactiv is infamous for trapping people into their subscription, even after repeated calls asking to cancel. On Amazon, you can buy a 60-day supply of all three products for $56.00, a relatively affordable price for high-quality ingredients, without the hassle of a subscription.

Drunk Elephant The Littles Kit

Drunk Elephant is a luxury skincare brand that offers products for every possible skincare need, including acne. The Littles Kit provides a sample-size version of some of their best products, and it’s a great way to test out Drunk Elephant products to find what works for your skin without spending a small fortune on the full-sized versions. The Littles Kit is the ideal acne treatment system for anyone looking to experiment with their skincare, but the products included work especially well when treating blackheads, whiteheads, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

So what all is included? With The Littles Kit, you get:

  • 30ml Beste™ No. 9 Jelly Cleanser
  • 8ml C-Firma™ Day Serum
  • 8ml B-Hydra™ Intensive Hydration Serum
  • 8ml T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum
  • 8ml Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
  • 15ml Protini™ Polypeptide Cream
  • 15ml Umbra Tinte™ Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
  • 5ml C-Tango™ Multivitamin Eye Cream

Out of these, the best products for acne are the Jelly Cleanser, the Glycolic Night Serum, the Marula Oil, and the Daily Defense SPF, but if you struggle with PIH, the Day Serum is essential as well. The biggest issue with the Drunk Elephant The Littles Kit is that none of the products contain tea tree oil or benzoyl peroxide, so there is no effective way to fight pimples if you get that kind of acne. One other downside is also the price. Despite their miniature size, this kit still costs $90, and may be unaffordable for many.

The Ordinary No-Brainer Set

If you have been dealing with acne for years and feel like an expert on the subject, The Ordinary is the best skincare brand for you. The Ordinary is all about providing straightforward products with as few miscellaneous ingredients as possible, meaning you really need to know what you’re doing in order to use their products appropriately. One of the best parts of The Ordinary is the ability to mix and match the products to suit your skin’s individual needs, but if you’re looking for a kit that’s ready to go, they offer a No-Brainer Kit. This kit comes with their Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, and Multi-Technology Peptide Serum (AKA, “Buffet”).

The main acne-fighting ingredient in this system is the retinoid complex used in the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, although the moisturizing agents in the other two products are also essential for preventing inflammation that could lead to acne. Retinoids set a healthy pace for skin cell production to keep the pores from getting clogged2, helping prevent all kinds of acne, from blackheads to pimples. The No-Brainer Set is also a great option for those with adult acne because many of its ingredients fight signs of aging as well as acne. Our favorite part? The price. The No-Brainer Set only costs $29.

Krave Beauty Products

Krave Beauty doesn’t offer a specific system or kit for treating acne, but that’s likely because they only make four products total: their Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser, The Beet Shield, Kale-Lalu-yAHA, and Great Barrier Relief. If your skincare routine has gotten away from you a bit and your bathroom is starting to look like a Sephora, get back to the basics with these simple, effective products from Krave.

Krave’s Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser is a great option for anyone with dry, acne-prone skin. Many acne cleansers are too harsh for dry skin, but this cleanser is full of hydrating ingredients like hemp seed oil and vitamin B, and it skips all the harsh ones, like sodium lauryl sulfate. The Kale-Lalu-yAHA product has a bit of a strange name, but again, it is perfect for exfoliating dry skin without causing irritation or increased acne. It contains a mild, low concentration of glycolic acid, just 5.25%, that can help clear away dead skin cells without stripping the skin completely3. Plus it obviously contains kale, which is rich in antioxidants4 which help repair damaged skin, a common problem for dry skin. The Beet Shield is a moisturizer, further protecting the skin from damage and irritation with beetroot extract, vitamin C and SPF, and thus helping to reduce acne formation. Finally, The Great Barrier Relief is an excellent product to add if you deal with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). It contains tamanu oil and niacinamide, both of which are known to help reduce PIH5.

There are a few downsides to Krave’s simplicity. For instance, none of their products contain ingredients designed to kill p. acnes bacteria, and their products are far too gentle for particularly oily skin. Plus, their price is steep: it costs $89 to purchase all four products.

Exposed Skin Care Expanded Kit

Exposed Skin Care is one of the best skincare companies out there right now. You really can’t go wrong with any of their acne treatment kits, but we like to recommend the Expanded Kit as a good place to start. The Expanded Kit comes with a Facial Cleanser, Clearing Tonic, Acne Treatment Serum, Clear Pore Serum, and Moisture Complex. Together, these products exfoliate the skin, treat existing acne, and help prevent future acne from forming, all without irritating even the dryest, most sensitive skin. Exposed Skin Care works so well because of the formula of each of their products. They include a wide variety of acne-fighting ingredients, including benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, green tea extract, and more, but they’re all used at safe concentrations that won’t irritate the skin, even if you’re skin is on the sensitive side.

We also like to recommend Exposed because they are more affordable than many of the other options out there. For a 60-day supply of all five products, it only costs $69.95, and it goes down to $59.95 if you choose to enter into their subscription service. Unlike Proactiv, it is possible (and easy) to cancel your subscription if you change your mind. Plus, with a one-year guarantee, you have all the time you need to make sure the products are right for you without risking losing your money.


  1. Kosmadaki M., Katsambas A. Topical treatments for acne. Clinics in Dermatology. 2017;35(2):173-178.
  2. Beckenbach L., et al. Retinoid treatment of skin diseases. European Journal of Dermatology. 2015;25(5):384-391.
  3. Fartasch M., et al. Mode of action of glycolic acid on human stratum corneum: ultrastructural and functional evaluation of the epidermal barrier. Archives of Dermatological Research. 1997;289(7):404-409.
  4. Sikora E., Bodziarczyk I. Composition and antioxidant activity of kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala) raw and cooked. Acta Scientiarum Polonorum Technologia Alimentaria. 2012;11(3):239-248.
  5. Grimes P. Management of hyperpigmentation in darker racial ethnic groups. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2009;28(2):77-85.


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