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Clean & Clear Acne Treatment

By Megan Griffith

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

Clean & Clear, a brand name registered with the ampersand (“&”) in the name, is a line of products manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson for acne sufferers. These products are inexpensive. They are effective. One of the Clean & Clear products offers the strongest non-prescription strength benzoyl peroxide cleanser available in North America.

Clean and clear advantage acne treatment system
Most of the Clean & Clear products contain perfumes and other ingredients that can irritate the skin.

The problem with most of the Clean & Clear line is that most products contain fragrances and perfumes that can irritate sensitive skin. This article will tell you which (if any) Clear & Clean products are safe for your skin, and which are not, starting with the best of the product line and working down to the worse.

Summary:

  • Most Clean & Clear products contain alcohol, menthol, or other skin-irritating ingredients.
  • No Clean & Clear product offers broad-spectrum sun protection.
  • Clean & Clear products are among the least effective products available for fighting acne.

Clean & Clear Soft Purifying Cleanser

Unlike most other Clean & Clear products, it would be fair to rate Clean & Clear Soft Purifying Cleanser at “not all that bad.” It contains alpha-hydroxy acids that can exfoliate1 dry skin, opening tight pores, and salicylic acid that can open clogged pores on oily skin, although not in very high amounts, and in not in a formulation that will keep them on your face long enough to do you much good. However, there is nothing harmful in this cleanser, and it is equally safe for adults and teens.

Clean & Clear Soft Oil-Free Night Moisturizer

Clean & Clear Soft Oil-Free Night Moisturizer actually is oil-free, and suitable for normal to oily skin. It contains 3% glycolic acid, which helps2 remove dead skin, open pores, and even out the texture of the skin. It works well enough you should not have to take unused product back to the store to demand a refund.

Clean & Clear Soft Oil-Free Day Moisturizer SPF 15

Clean & Clear Soft Oil-Free Day Moisturizer SPF-15 is a light lotion that does not feel oily when placed on the skin, and does not leave the face looking shiny. It uses avobenzone to protect the skin from harmful UV-A rays3, and contains antioxidants.

Because the antioxidants are listed in alphabetical order, it is not possible to ascertain just by looking at the label which antioxidants may be available in higher amounts and which are present only in trace amounts. The SPF 15 sun protection is perfect for a summer day on the beach in Scotland, but not strong enough even for winter sun protection in much of Australia and the southwestern United States.

Clean & Clear Soft-In Shower Facial

Clean & Clear Soft-In Shower Facial is a slightly creamy soap containing plastic beads that are supposed to do the work of microdermabrasion4 in a one-minute application used in the shower. The product also contains a tiny amount of alpha-hydroxy acids that are supposed to exfoliate the skin, but the soap in the product changes the pH5 so the alpha-hydroxy acids won’t work, and they just get rinsed off the skin in a few seconds, anyway.

Clean & Clear Morning Burst Oil Absorbing Sheets

Clean & Clear Morning Burst Oil Absorbing Sheets are squares of polyethylene plastic used to mop up excess oil from the face. Most users find that the face is still shiny even after use of the sheets.

Clean & Clear Morning Burst Detoxifying Cleanser and related products

Clean & Clear Morning Burst Detoxifying Cleanser promises to oxygenate the skin. It really can’t, and that’s a good thing, because free radicals of oxygen are highly toxic to the skin6. What Clean & Clear’s Morning Burst Detoxifying Cleanser, Morning Burst Facial Cleanser, Morning Burst Shine Control Facial Cleanser, Morning Burst Detoxifying Facial Scrub, and Morning Burst Facial Scrub can do is to leave your face feeling tingly with the power of menthol. That tingle is an allergic reaction that reddens the skin and increases irritation inside pores, trapping bacteria inside even when oil is not present in excess.

Clean & Clear Deep Action and Deep-Cleaning Products

This is a group of products that includes:

  • Deep Action Cream Cleanser, Oil-Free,
  • Deep Action Cream Cleanser, Sensitive Skin,
  • Deep Action Refreshing Gel Cleanser, Oil-Free,
  • Deep Cleaning Astringent,
  • Deep Cleaning Astringent, Sensitive Skin, and
  • Deep Action Exfoliating Scrub

Let’s start with the product that is almost usable. Deep Action Exfoliating Scrub might be OK for non-sensitive skin if it did not contain menthol, but the menthol can cause redness7 and irritation in most skin types.

Deep Cleaning Astringent for Sensitive Skin also might not be all that bad except for the fact that the alkali in the soap cancels out the exfoliant ability of the salicylic acid added to the product. The product is at least not harmful to the skin. Deep Cleaning Astringent also has salicylic acid in a high-pH product that  neutralizes it, along with alcohol that can dry out the skin.

The remaining products in this group all contain so much menthol (or menthol derivatives) that they can inflame the skin. If you use them, you will certainly notice a difference, but it won’t be good.

Clean & Clear Advantage Invisible Acne Patch

At first glance, Clean & Clear Advantage Invisible Acne Patch seems like a great way to zap a zit, especially on oily skin. The tiny patch contains just a dab of salicylic acid, enough to stop inflammation and remove redness overnight. The problem is that the patch not only contains salicylic acid that removes redness, it also contains cinnamon oil that can cause redness8. But the cinnamon oil smells nice. You can take comfort in smelling like apple pie while your pimples grow redder.

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Cleanser

The Advantage Acne Cleanser contains the important skin care ingredient salicylic acid, in a mixture of ingredients that neutralize it. Even if the product had been formulated to maintain salicylic acid at the pH that helps it break up hardened oils in clogged pores, this important skin care ingredient would only stay on the face a few seconds before it was washed away. Plus, this product uses sodium olefin sulfonate for its main cleansing ingredient. Sodium olefin sulfonate dries out even oily skin, making it wrinkle, but usually leaving oil in pores.

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment is gel used to zap zits individually. The problem with the treatment is that it is mostly made of alcohol, which dries out the skin9. The alcohol can kill acne bacteria on the surface of the skin, but the drying action of the alcohol may trap other acne bacteria inside pores.

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control Kit

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control Kit looks like a bargain with its US $20 price tag. The problem with the Acne Control Kit is that it contains all of the skin-irritant ingredients mentioned above, and a few more. Like many, many kit products, it is designed to give you just enough improvement in your skin to keep you using it. It won’t “get the red out,” and the harsh, irritant chemicals will cause new whiteheads to break out just as soon as pimples heal.

It’s a lot better to start your acne care program with a kit of supplies from a reliable vendor, like Exposed Skin Care. You can get all your products from one company who knows what is healthy for your skin.

References:

  1. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. 2018;23(4):863. Published 2018 Apr 10.
  2. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:455–461. Published 2015 Aug 26.
  3. Beasley DG, Meyer TA. Characterization of the UVA protection provided by avobenzone, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide in broad-spectrum sunscreen products.Am J Clin Dermatol2010 Dec 1;11(6):413-21.
  4. Muneeb Shah; Jonathan S. Crane. Microdermabrasion. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.
  5. Gfatter R, Hackl P, Braun F. Effects of soap and detergents on skin surface pH, stratum corneum hydration and fat content in infants. Dermatology1997;195(3):258-62.
  6. Poljšak B, Dahmane R. Free radicals and extrinsic skin aging. Dermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:135206.
  7. Craighead DH, Alexander LM. Topical menthol increases cutaneous blood flow. Microvasc Res. 2016;107:39–45.
  8. Connolly M, Axtell A, Hickey S, et al. Chemical Burn From Cinnamon Oil. Eplasty. 2017;17:ic11. Published 2017 Jun 1.
  9. Lachenmeier DW. Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2008;3:26. Published 2008 Nov 13.
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