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Clearasil Acne Products Reviewed

Clearasil is easily the world’s oldest and best-known brand of acne care products. It was created in the early 1950’s 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 pads for oily skin
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.

Summary:

  • 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 10% benzoyl peroxide, more than most other over-the-counter brands, 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.

The downside of Clearasil products is that they are made to smell good with fragrances that can irritate the skin1,2. 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 benzoyl peroxide. Some people find this anti-acne chemical to be too irritating3 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 acne4.

StayClear Acne Fighting Cleansing Wipes

Clearasil Acne Fighting Cleansing Wipes are a great option for exfoliating oily skin, especially if removing makeup is a problem. They contain salicylic acid (the only commonly used beta-hydroxy acid) in a 2% concentration, strong enough to work on oily skin, at a pH of 2.9, acidic enough to dissolve makeup and soap film. Salicylic acid is great for battling blemishes5, but be careful when using them around the eyes.

StayClear Daily Face Wash

Clearasil’s StayClear Daily Face Wash is good for extremely oily skin. It is too foamy for use on dry skin, and people who have Asian skin types should avoid it.

StayClear Daily Face Wash for Sensitive Skin

Clearasil’s StayClear Daily Face Wash for Sensitive Skin is good for most skin types—except sensitive skin. This product contains ingredients that can dry out the skin, although it is free of ingredients that can cause skin allergies.

StayClear Oil-Free Gel Wash

Clearasil’s StayClear Oil-Free Gel Wash contains salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that can loosen dead skin and debris and relieve inflammation5. If you only have the product on your face for a few seconds, however, it won’t remove much dead skin and debris. It may reduce inflammation and make red pimples less noticeable.

Don’t use this product around the eyes, since it may sting and burn.

StayClear Skin Perfecting Wash

Clearasil’s StayClear Skin Perfecting Wash is really a skin scrub. It contains microscopic particles of polyethylene plastic that have an abrasive effect on the skin while causing less redness than natural abrasives (but may be more damaging to the environment)6. You can’t rub your pimples away, however, and you should not use this product on patches of skin where pimples have broken out. It will only irritate and inflame7 the skin around pimples, opening tiny cuts and cracks where even more infectious bacteria can get inside. If you have nearly perfect skin, however, this product is a good option for keeping it that way.

StayClear Daily Pore Cleansing Pads

Clearasil’s StayClear Daily Pore Cleansing Pads work best on oily skin, and they actually work better if you use them only every other day. Most users will find the menthol in the pads to be “tingly.” Some users will find the menthol in the pads to be irritating. Trial and error will tell you whether you will experience inflammation as a result of using the pads, but if you have oily skin, and you don’t have skin allergies, they are a good choice at a low price.

StayClear Daily Facial Scrub

Clearasil’s StayClear Daily Facial Scrub is a facial scrub that is actually labeled as a facial scrub. It contains tiny particles of polyethylene plastic that can lift dirt and grime off the skin7. As with the StayClear Perfecting Skin Wash, however, this product should not be used directly over pimples, only around them. The salicylic acid in the scrub may make the skin around pimples less noticeably red5.

StayClear Adult Acne Care Treatment Cream

Clearasil’s StayClear Adult Acne Care Treatment Cream contains germ-fighting sulfur and resorcinol7 in  higher-than-average concentrations. There is no doubt that this product definitely will kill acne bacteria. The problem is that it contains so much sulfur and resorcinol that many people should not use it. How can you tell if StayClear Adult Acne Treatment Cream is not for you? If you rinse the product off your face, and your face still feels tingly, then the product is too strong for your skin.

StayClear Tinted Acne Cream Treatment and StayClear Vanishing Acne Cream Treatment
Clearasil’s StayClear Tinted Acne Cream Treatment and StayClear Vanishing Acne Cream Treatment both provide 10% benzoyl peroxide, enough benzoyl peroxide to kill acne infections fast3. The Tinted Cream product has a peach-colored tint that masks the redness of a pimple, although sometimes “peach face” can be more noticeable than the pimple it is used to treat. The StayClear Vanishing Acne Cream Treatment is the same product minus the peach-colored tint, making it easier to use with makeup. Both products are good for treating pimples that have not responded to other products.

Clearasil “Ultra” Products

Clearasil’s Ultra Daily Face Wash, Ultra Gel Wash, Ultra Deep Pore Cleansing Pads, Ultra Acne Clearing Scrub, Ultra Rapid Action Treatment Cream, and Ultra Acne Solution System are all a little too “ultra” for their own good. These products contain alcohol that can dry out the skin and menthol which can irritate the skin9. The Ultra Acne Solution Kit only contains one useful product, the Quick Start Treatment Cream with 10% benzoyl peroxide3. If you are starting with 10% benzoyl peroxide, however, you may discover that your skin is sensitive to the product.

The Ultra Acne Solution System seems like a good buy, but there’s a real risk of drying out your skin unless you happen to have especially oily skin. (In general, all Clearasil products are best for very oily 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 more, but it’s a lot less likely to damage your skin.

References

  1. de Groot AC, Frosch PJ. Adverse reactions to fragrances. A clinical review. Contact Dermatitis. 1997 Feb;36(2):57-86
  2. Position Statement on The Chemical Identity of Fragrances. American Academy of Dermatology
  3. Matin T, Goodman MB. Benzoyl Peroxide. 2019 Jan 2. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537220/ PubMed PMID: 30725905.
  4. Back acne: How to see clearer skin. American Academy of Dermatology
  5. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Aug 26;8:455-61.
  6. Chang M. Reducing microplastics from facial exfoliating cleansers in wastewater through treatment versus consumer product decisions. Mar Pollut Bull. 2015 Dec 15;101(1):330-333
  7. Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012 May;5(5):32-40.
  8. Microplastics in Facial Exfoliating Cleansers. Michelle Change, University of California Berkeley
  9. Can Menthol Have Harmful Effects? National Capital Poison Center
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