Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Review: How Effective Are Clearasil Acne Products Really?

By Dr. Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC, Double board-certified dermatologist

Clearasil is easily the world’s oldest and best-known brand of acne care products. It was created in the early 1950s by American entrepreneur Ivan Combe with the collaboration of chemist Kedzie Teller. Combe advertised his product on the long-running American television program American Bandstand, touting his product’s superior smell to other acne treatments of the time that were based on sulfur, brewer’s yeast, and garlic.

Clearasil acne
Clearasil pads are good for treating acne on oily skin.

In 1961, the brand was bought by the makers of Vicks Vapo-Rub, which sold the product line to Procter & Gamble in 1985. A few years later the brand was bought by the cosmetics giant Boots Group, which in turn was acquired by the Reckitt Benckiser Group. Despite frequent changes in ownership, little about the product has changed over the last 50 years.


  • Clearasil products are inexpensive and easy to find.
  • Clearasil pads offer the right ingredients in the right amounts and at the right pH for treating acne on oily skin.
  • Clearasil is good for back acne.
  • Clearasil products usually are not the best option for sensitive skin.

The Pros and Cons of Clearasil

Clearasil products are inexpensive, and they are easy to find. They contain a variety of acne-fighting ingredients, and the company offers a good beta-hydroxy exfoliant pad for people who have oily skin and acne. Products that provide beta-hydroxy acids in the right concentration and at the right pH can be hard to find, but Clearasil is one of the best places to find them.

The downside of Clearasil products is that they are made to smell good with fragrances that can irritate the skin and they often include harsh foaming ingredients. However, if you don’t have sensitive skin, sometimes Clearasil is the most cost-effective treatment option for on-the-spot acne care.

Most Clearasil products are based on salicylic acid, but a key few utilize benzoyl peroxide. Some people find this anti-acne chemical to be too strong for use on the face. Benzoyl peroxide, especially when used with retinoid gel, is superior to all other common over-the-counter acne care ingredients, however, for the treatment of back acne.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Daily Pads

Clearasil Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Daily Pads are a great option for anyone who tends to forget their skincare routine, especially if you wear makeup. They contain salicylic acid (a commonly used beta-hydroxy acid) in a 1.9% concentration, which is strong enough to work on oily skin, at a pH of 2.9, which is acidic enough to dissolve makeup and soap film. Salicylic acid is great for battling blemishes, but be careful when using them around the eyes. The only downside is that the pads also contain a lot of alcohol, which can dry out the skin in a bad way. We only recommend these if you have extremely oily, non-sensitive skin.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Exfoliating Wash

Clearasil Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Exfoliating Wash is ideal for non-sensitive, oily skin. Like the daily pads, its active ingredient is salicylic acid, at a slightly higher concentration of 2%. Although it contains glycerin, which is a nice hydrating ingredient for the skin, it also contains sodium lauryl sulfate and alcohol, which are both bad for dry or sensitive skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a foaming agent that can strip away not only excess oil, but also the oil the skin needs to protect itself. This leads to irritation and inflammation in those with sensitive skin, which could lead to increased acne. If your skin is fairly resistant, this product may work well for you, but if you have sensitive skin, we recommend trying Clearasil’s sensitive skin options.

Gentle Prevention Daily Clean Wash

Clearasil’s Gentle Prevention line of products is made with sensitive skin in mind, and we highly recommend sticking to these products if your skin tends to get red and blotchy after using other typical acne treatment face washes. The Gentle Prevention Daily Clean Wash differs from the Stubborn Acne Control wash in several ways. First, it only contains a 1% concentration of salicylic acid, which is much gentler and more appropriate for dry or sensitive skin. Second, it contains no sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol, which could also help cut down on any potential irritation.

Finally, it contains a few ingredients that the Stubborn Acne Control wash doesn’t. Some are good, like aloe vera extract, but others aren’t so good, like lauric acid and menthol. Lauric acid is incredibly pore-clogging, which is obviously not good for acne-prone skin, and menthol is highly irritating, which is not good for any skin type, but especially not sensitive skin. Overall, this face wash might be worth a try, but we recommend using it with caution and discontinuing use if acne worsens.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Minute Mask

If you enjoy the spa-feeling of a facial mask but don’t want to go through the trouble of making one yourself, Clearasil’s Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Minute Mask is the perfect way to refresh your skin without the hassle. As with the other Stubborn Acne Control products, we don’t recommend the mask for those with sensitive skin because it contains sodium laureth sulfate (an ingredient very similar to sodium lauryl sulfate), fragrance, and several dyes, all of which could irritate sensitive skin. This mask is best when used for oily skin. It contains 2% salicylic acid like many of the other Stubborn Acne Control products, but it also contains bentonite and kaolin, which help absorb oil. If you tend to have dark marks left behind when acne heals, this mask could also help fade those marks, using niacinamide, commonly known as vitamin B3.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Spot Treatment Cream

Although we do not recommend Clearasil’s Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Spot Treatment Cream for treating facial acne, it could be very helpful in treating truncal acne, that is, acne found on the shoulders, chest, and back. Unlike many other Clearasil products which use salicylic acid as their main acne-fighting ingredient, this spot treatment uses benzoyl peroxide to fight acne. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant, meant to help remove excess oil and dead skin cells from the pores to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads, but benzoyl peroxide is better suited for killing acne-causing bacteria and getting rid of pimples.

The reason you’ll want to avoid applying this spot treatment to your face is because the concentration of benzoyl peroxide is far too high for the fragile skin on the face. This spot treatment contains 10% benzoyl peroxide, but studies show that concentrations over 5% show no extra improvement to the skin, and only increase side effects like burning and peeling. Benzoyl peroxide should be used in concentrations of 5% or lower when applied to the face, but because the skin on your shoulders, chest, and back is much tougher, 10% may be acceptable. If you notice burning or peeling, you may want to use this product less often or discontinue use entirely.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Concealing Treatment Cream

If you have relatively fair skin and you want to treat your acne and cover it up at the same time, Clearasil’s Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Concealing Treatment Cream may be the answer. This acne spot treatment is tinted slightly so that it functions as both a treatment and a concealer. However, like the spot treatment reviewed above, it uses 10% benzoyl peroxide, much too strong for use on the face. Plus, it only comes in one relatively pale shade, making it rather useless for acne-prone skin of color. Although this product is a good idea in theory, it is too harsh to actually be used on the face, and its use is limited to a very narrow group of people with a particular skin color.

Clearasil Rapid Rescue Products

In addition to their Gentle Prevention and Stubborn Acne Control product lines, Clearasil also offers a Rapid Rescue line designed to help get rid of acne fast. However, after comparing their ingredient lists, they don’t seem to be much different from the Stubborn Acne Control products. The main difference is that many Rapid Rescue products contain various plant extracts in addition to the lab-made ingredients. Although many people are drawn to natural ingredients, they can actually increase irritation in some people with sensitive skin.

Clearasil seems like a good buy because they’re so cheap, but there’s a real risk of drying out your skin unless you have especially oily, resistant skin. If you don’t have oily skin, you will probably be better starting off with a different skin treatment system like Exposed Skin Care. It costs a bit more, but it’s a lot less likely to damage your skin.

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