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Proactiv® Reviews Agree: The Proactiv Acne Treatment System Works For Some, But…

Proactiv is a well-known, celebrity endorsed acne treatment system, but it is not our top pick. At the time of this writing 6,942 people cast their votes for Proactiv at a well-known acne forum. Out of these thousands of Proactiv reviews it scored an overall rating of 2.7/5.

That’s only slightly above average and if you look around, you can find complete acne solutions that receive a higher score. Proactiv did make it into our top 10, but it didn’t make it into our top 3.

Click here to see how Proactiv compares against our top scoring acne treatments

Proactiv Products for Acne Control

Proactiv is one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of products for acne-prone skin. The company claims that its newly formulated acne products are faster and gentler than ever before—but do they work? Let’s take a look at the leading Proactiv products for acne one by one.

Note: We review the new Proactiv Plus here.


  • Proactiv says its newly reformulated acne products heal acne faster and with fewer side effects than ever before.
  • The Deep Cleansing Wash costs about three times more than comparable products because it contains salicylic acid—which you rinse off your face and down the drain before it gets a chance to work.
  • The Advanced Blemish Treatment contains 6% benzoyl peroxide, strong enough to kill acne bacteria on contact but also strong enough to cause stinging, burning, itching, redness, dryness, and flaking skin, all of which make keep forming new blemishes.
  • The Conceal Plus Sulfur product contains 6% sulfur, which is enough both to kill bacteria and to irritate the skin.
  • The Repairing Treatment is strong enough to work but mild enough not to cause skin irritation. And it’s a whole less expensive than the Advanced Blemish Treatment.
  • The Body Pads contain ingredients that open pores, along with ingredients that close them.
  • Other Proactiv acne products also contain all the right ingredients, plus ingredients that can undo the benefits of the product.

Proactiv Deep Cleansing Wash

This Proactiv product combines salicylic acid, a useful skin peel, with polyethylene beads, a useful skin scrub. The problem with this deep cleansing wash is that you rinse the salicylic acid down the drain before it has an opportunity to peel dead skin from the openings of pores. You can get just as much benefit from a US $9.95 microdermabrasion scrubbing cloth (like the one offered by Exposed Skin Care) as you can get from the US $35 16-oz (480 ml) bottle of this cleansing wash.

Proactiv Solution Advanced Blemish Treatment

This Proactiv product fights pimples with 6% benzoyl peroxide. While this strength of benzoyl peroxide is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in over-the-counter acne products, it can cause dryness, stinging, burning, and peeling of skin in about 80% of people who use it. Most people cannot use a benzoyl peroxide product that is this strong for more than about a month before side effects become intolerable. The new formulation of Advanced Blemish Treatment, however, is less drying and irritating than the old formulation, in that the product no longer contains alcohol.

You will probably lose about 2/3 of your pimples and 1/3 of your blackheads and whiteheads during the very first month, but you are likely to find the side effects troublesome. And since Proactiv costs US $18.00 for just 0.33 oz/8 grams, you may want to check out Clearasil, Neutrogena, and Exposed Skin Care, which offer similarly effective products for a lot less money.

Proactiv Concealer Plus Sulfur Acne Treatment

Since benzoyl peroxide only gets rid of about 2/3 of your pimples (after about a month, new pimples form about as fast as old pimples heal), you may want to use a concealer. This Proactiv product claims to cover up pimples while helping them heal with the power of sulfur.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved this 6% sulfur product for use as an over-the-counter treatment for acne. The problem with this Proactiv product is similar to the problems with Advanced Blemish Treatment, in that sulfur can irritate the skin. The sulfur also gives the makeup a grainy finish which could call even more attention to your pimples than the odd orange, peachy, and pink tones used in the concealer. This product unfortunately cannot be recommended for anyone who has acne.

Proactiv Repairing Treatment

Proactiv says that its Repairing Treatment is a light and oil-free lotion containing “finely milled prescription-grade benzoyl peroxide” that you can use over your entire face. Costing just $22 for 2 oz/56 grams, this product is a relative bargain compared to the Proactiv Advanced Blemish Treatment. And even though it contains just 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, the minimum amount of the acne-fighting ingredient approved by the US FDA, it is likely to get rid of just as many pimples and blackheads with a lot less skin irritation.

What makes benzoyl peroxide “prescription grade,” by the way, is not how finely it is milled. A few products offer benzoyl peroxide microspheres which slowly release tiny amounts of the chemical into pores, enough to kill bacteria without causing irritation. The process of making microspheres involves combinations of chemicals, not additional grinding of the product.

Proactiv Clear Zone Body Pads

Although branded as “body” pads, this Proactiv product is really a salicylic acid peel intended for use in treating acne on the face. The pads contain the right amount of salicylic acid at the right pH to break up the “glue” that holds the dead skin cells together to clog pores. The problem with the product is that it also contains alcohol, which can dry out skin and create still more dead skin cells, and witch hazel, which can shrinks pores as quickly as salicylic acid opens them.

Proactiv Solution Refining Mask

This refining mask is an expensive remedy (US $28 for each 2.5 oz/70 gram tube) that contains some potentially irritating ingredients. The main ingredient in this mask is kaolin, the sterile clay used to make “mud packs.” Proactiv adds 6% sulfur to the mask, but offsets the potentially drying effects of the kaolin with the addition of flaxseed oil (linoleic acid). The mask contains essential oil of lemon grass, which increases irritation, but also tea tree oil, which fights it. If you happen to have this product at home, it’s best used on pimples but not on the rest of your skin.

Proactiv Green Tea Moisturizer

Green tea extract is popular in skin treatments, because it can shrink the sebaceous glands that make the oil that can accumulate in clogged pores. Proactiv Green Tea Moisturizer also contains glycerin and dimethicone to lock moisture in the skin. This product would be a great treatment for dry skin, except it also contains an ingredient labeled as “florentina root extract,” which is also known as iris or orris root. Unfortunately, many people are allergic to iris root, and it offers no benefits in skin care.

Proactiv Mild Exfoliating Peel

Proactiv advertises this product as a mixture of mild, calming botanicals with the sloughing action of salicylic acid. The 0.5% strength of salicylic acid in this product, however, won’t remove dead skin or debris, and the alcohol and witch hazel extract in the exfoliating peel can actually irritate the skin, increasing the amount of debris in pores rather decreasing it.

Proactiv Oil Free Moisture with SPF 15

If you use benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, or antibiotics, you need sun protection to prevent pigmentation of your skin as it heals. Proactiv Oil Free Moisture with SPF provides the minimum sun protection needed for people with acne along with propylene glycol to lock moisture in the skin. The problem with the formula is that it has been redone to include the irritating sunscreen ingredient, methylisothiazolinone. Adding the chemical to the product now means that some users can develop contact dermatitis, causing itching, flaking, and redness of the skin, just a few minutes after applying the moisturizer.

Click here to see how Proactiv compares against our top scoring acne treatments

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