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 acne products are very well-known. A foaming, peach acne cream squeezed out of a tube, Clearasil was the most popular acne care product for tens of millions of Americans in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In fact, for most Americans, it was the only acne care product for decades before other treatments reached the market.

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

Clearasil produces inexpensive acne treatments, but are they really effective acne treatments? Let’s look at the leading Clearasil products that work well, some that work well but don’t do what they are advertised to do, and a few that don’t work at all. Plus, we’ll give you our suggestions for other products that really work.


  • Clearasil products are inexpensive and easy to find.
  • Their acne pads can be effective in treating acne on oily skin, but could also create new blemishes.
  • The washes will cleanse, but won’t clear up acne.
  • Clearasil products are not good for sensitive skin.
  • There are many Clearasil products available, which can be confusing when creating your own skincare routine.

Overall, we think there are much better (and safer) options available. For example, we prefer the ingredient list, potency and simplicity of Exposed Skincare.

Clearasil Acne Products: Pros and Cons

Clearasil products are inexpensive and easy to find. They contain a variety of acne-fighting ingredients, and the company offers a 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 offers one.

The downside of Clearasil products is that they are made to smell good with fragrances that can irritate the skin. They also include harsh foaming ingredients. We prefer acne products with no added fragrances or other irritants, like parabens or sulfates.

Most Clearasil products are based on salicylic acid, but a few use high levels of benzoyl peroxide. Some people find this anti-acne chemical to be too strong for use on the face. In general, we think the levels of benzoyl peroxide in Clearasil products are too high. Instead, we recommend a product line with lower levels of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to avoid further irritating the skin.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Daily Pads

Clearasil Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Daily Pads may seem like an option for anyone who tends to forget their skincare routine, especially if you wear makeup.

At first, these pads seem effective. 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 around the eyes.

However, the pads also contain a lot of alcohol, which can dry out the skin in a bad way and actually stimulate sebum production (which we are trying to avoid). They also contain sodium hydroxide, which is also known as lye. The sodium hydroxide used to remove oil and makeup neutralizes the salicylic acid so that it can’t do its job—which is a problem.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Exfoliating Wash

Clearasil Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Exfoliating Wash is marketed 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 (SLS) and alcohol, which are both bad for dry or sensitive skin. SLS 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.

In general, this wash is just too harsh on the skin, and could make skin look worse. Instead, we recommend this Facial Cleanser because it contains a low, yet still effective amount of salicylic acid at 0.5%. Combined with pro-vitamin B5 to regulate oil production and sage extract to prevent dryness, this Facial Cleanser not only fights acne, but also improves the appearance of your skin. Plus, it’s SLS-free, unlike the Clearasil wash.

Gentle Prevention Daily Clean Wash

Clearasil’s Gentle Prevention line of products is made with sensitive skin in mind. The Gentle Prevention Daily Clean Wash differs from the Stubborn Acne Control wash in several ways. It contains a lower concentration of salicylic acid (1%) and contains no SLS or alcohol.

However, it also has 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 use it at your own risk.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Minute Mask

Clearasil’s Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Minute Mask is marketed for oily skin. 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.

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.

We like the addition of bentonite in this mask, but found a better option. The Clarifying Mask that we recommend also contains bentonite to remove toxins and absorb oil. But, even better, it has 3% sulfur and resorcinol, a powerful (but still gentle) combo to purify skin and visibly minimize pores.

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 work for 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 kills acne-causing bacteria and getting rid of pimples.

Avoid applying this spot treatment to your face. 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.

If body acne is an issue for you, we have a better recommendation. We like the combination of this Body Wash plus this Acne Treatment Serum. The Body Wash has salicylic acid to unclog and shrink pores, and the Acne Treatment Serum has 3.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide to kill acne bacteria. This combo together truly knocks out body acne quickly and safely, without further irritating skin. Get both products in this Body Acne Kit, plus a special microdermabrasion body cloth to slough away rough, dull skin.

Plus, this Acne Treatment Serum that we recommend from Exposed Skincare actually is safe to use on your face. That’s because it only has a 3.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide, making it effective but not overly harsh.

Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Concealing Treatment Cream

Clearasil’s Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Concealing Treatment Cream 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. And it only comes in one relatively pale shade, making it rather useless for most people who don’t match that shade. 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 Acne Kit

Clearasil offers a Rapid Rescue Kit 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 kit includes the harsh cleansing pads, spot treatment and cleanser with the same high levels of active ingredients that can further damage your skin’s moisture barrier and cause problems.

If you like the idea of a pre-made kit, you need to try one of the Exposed Skincare kits. These pre-made kits make it foolproof to stick to a consistent acne-fighting skincare routine. You can choose the kit level based on how involved you want your skincare routine to be.

There are a lot of things we like about Exposed kits, which is why we recommend them so often. Here are a couple of the pros of Exposed Skincare:

  • The kits are cost-effective, especially if you become a member.
  • The brand uses lower levels of acne-fighting actives, meaning you aren’t destroying your skin while trying to fight acne.
  • Exposed products are SLS- and paraben-free, use naturally-sourced ingredients and are made in North America.
  • The company offers a money-back guarantee. You can return your kit within a year and get your money back, which is almost unheard of in the skincare industry.
  • We’ve seen the results. Click here to see some before-and-after photos of Exposed users.
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