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ShopSmart On Acne Products

For over 75 years, American shoppers have relied on the monthly reports of consumer product values published in Consumer Reports. Printed by the American Consumers Union, Consumer Reports buys and tests products in its own laboratories and publishes the results in its magazine, which is read by 7.3 million people. In 2006, Consumer Reports launched it ShopSmart guide, which recently reviewed a few of the top acne treatment products. Here’s what ShopSmart had to say for American readers.

Multifaceted Acne Treatment
In order to get the best results when fighting acne, it’s best to use a multifaceted treatment.

Since Proactiv markets a benzoyl peroxide product with endorsements from Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, and AcneFree claims to be the top brand, ShopSmart compared the more expensive ProActiv and AcneFree products against a much cheaper brand called OxyMaximum. There is considerable difference in cost:

  • ProActiv charges $20 for a kit that lasts about a month. The kit includes a face wash containing 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and a repair lotion containing 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, plus a toner. ProActiv is available online and at kiosks in shopping malls.
  • AcneFree charges $20 for a kit that lasts about two months. The kit includes a wash containing 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and a repair lotion containing 3.7% benzoyl peroxide, plus a toner. AcneFree is available at drugstores and discount stores.
  • OxyMaximum charges $10 for a bottle of face wash that lasts about three months. There is an explicit warning that the face wash might cause some irritation on sensitive skin. OxyMaximum is available online and at drug stores and discount retailers.

The ShopSmart review informed readers that none of the products got rid of all pimples for anyone who tested it, and that all of the products got rid of at least 40% of pimples for anyone who tested it. The parent publication also ran a story about a columnist whose son asked his acne dermatologist three questions:

  • Does benzoyl peroxide stop pimples? The doctor answered “Probably.”
  • Does popping pimples cause scars? The doctor answered “Probably.”
  • Is ProActiv worth the money? The doctor answered “Absolutely not.”

But there’s a lot to the story that got left out. Consumers Union didn’t run a controlled test. They just gave samples of the products to people who had acne and told them to see how they worked out. It’s possible that none of the products had any effect at all, and all the changes were due to better basic skin care and avoiding chocolate.

The story doesn’t mention whether or not any of the products caused side effects1. A 10% benzoyl peroxide gel, or, for that matter, a 5% benzoyl peroxide gel, usually causes itching, inflammation, drying, and peeling skin. A 10% benzoyl peroxide wash does not because it is off the skin almost as soon as it is put on. A 2.5% gel usually does kill2 acne bacteria without damaging the skin, although the 2.5% face washes offered by ProActiv and AcneFree are also of questionable value.

ShopSmart just didn’t run a scientific test. And they know it. And they don’t care. But benzoyl peroxide was not the only type of acne product tested.

The ShopSmart testers also looked into the effectiveness of a set of products known as “zit zappers.” They tested two of the most heavily advertised skin heating devices, asking 26 volunteers to use the test device to treat pimples on one side of their faces for two days. ShopSmart tested:

  • The Zeno Spot, which costs $40 for 80 uses. The Hot Spot is advertised as suitable for treating a few pimples at a time with the advice “if you don’t have a lot of pimples, you don’t need anything else.” Hot Spot is sold online and in drugstores and discount stores.
  • No! No! Skin, which costs $180. Advertised as the right device for people who have lots of outbreaks, its selling point is that it can be cheaper over the long run because it’s rechargeable. No! No! Skin is available online and in drugstores and discount stores.

ShopSmart reports that the devices erased blemishes about 13% of the time, and usually made pimples smaller. Actually, we’re a little surprised that these devices worked even that well. But we would consider them just about the worst possible way to spend your acne treatment dollars.

The kind of acne treatment that works is always multifaceted. If you go to a dermatologist, chances are you won’t be given just an antibiotic or just a retinoid treatment like Accutane. You are far more likely to be prescribed one or two antibiotics plus benzoyl peroxide to get rid of any acne bacteria that may have survived the first two treatments. You won’t just get a retinoid cream to open up your pores, you’ll also be prescribed an antibiotic to prevent infection from spreading when your cysts open up plus a sunscreen to prevent discoloration of your skin3.

And that’s the approach the best over-the-counter acne treatment systems take, too. That’s why so many pages on this site link to Exposed Skin Care. It’s also better to fight acne every way you can.

You don’t just need to kill acne bacteria, which is all benzoyl peroxide of the Zeno Spot or No! No! Skin zit zappers can do. You need to keep oil from accumulating4 in your pores and on your skin. That requires a cleanser. You need to keep flakes of dead skin5 from clogging your pores. That requires an exfoliant or a peel. You need to erase existing damage with microdermabrasion and you need probiotics to prevent inflammation6.

All of these techniques together are what gets rid of acne for good.

One good thing the Consumer Reports/ShopSmart article points out is that single methods usually don’t get great results. The benzoyl peroxide products got about 40% of pimples. The zit zappers got less than 20% of pimples, and neither product gets rid of blackheads or whiteheads.

On the other hand, a multi-faceted approach like Exposed Skin Care gets rid of 96% or more of blemishes for 98% of customers—not overnight, but over a period of about 30 days. The acne treatments that really work take more effort and you have to wait a little longer to see results, but you actually will see results when you use products like Exposed Skin Care.


  1. Matin T., Goodman M.B. Benzoyl Peroxide. StatPearls. 2019.
  2. Leyden J.J., Preston N., Osborn C., Gottschalk R.W. In-vivo Effectiveness of Adapalene 0.1%/Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5% Gel on Antibiotic-sensitive and Resistant Propionibacterium acnes. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2011;4(5):22-6.
  3. Mizuno M., Kunimoto K., Naru E., Kameyama K., Furukawa F., Yamamoto Y. The effects of continuous application of sunscreen on photoaged skin in Japanese elderly people—the relationship with the usage. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. 2016;9:95-105.
  4. Sparavigna A., Tenconi B., De Ponti I., La Penna L. An innovative approach to the topical treatment of acne. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. 2015;8:179-85.
  5. Mukhopadhyay P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2011;56(1):2-6.
  6. Roudsari M.R., Karimi R., Sohrabvandi S., Mortazavian A.M. Health effects of probiotics on the skin. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2015;55(9):1219-40.
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