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Proactiv Plus Acne System – Do Proactiv Products Really Work to Cure Acne?

by Christine GlasgowJune 3, 2017

No one likes acne. No one wants to deal with pimples. So, the acne treatment business is a big one, and the acne products market is huge. There are literally hundreds of different treatment options out there for those who battle with acne to choose from to try and help them win their ‘war on zits’.

Chances are that if you suffer with even occasional acne you have at least heard of Proactiv, even if you haven’t ever quite got around to dialing that toll-free number at the end of the infomercials.

Often mistakenly referred to as Proactive – there is no ‘e’ folks, check the bottles – Proactiv is an ‘acne treatment system’ that first began popping up on those late-night infomercials back in 1995. Since then it has become one of the best-known acne treatments on the market in the US, the UK, Europe and a few other global markets. But is it really the ‘miracle cure’ that those rather hard sell, shouty mid Ninties commercials – which have been dropped in recent years in favor of a ‘softer’ sell – used to claim it was? Or is it just another way to hook desperate folks into a monthly subscription they don’t really need? We decided to take a closer look.


Proactiv Beginnings

If you did ever see those early Proactiv commercials then you’ll remember that one of the biggest selling points was that this was a skincare system developed by two “Stanford Educated Dermatologists”. And that was actually true.

Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields did meet at Stanford University School of Medicine back in the late 1980s, and it was indeed while they were still in school that they began developing their product line, mainly in their kitchens. After they graduated and began practicing the project continued on a part-time basis until the pair felt they had something worth sharing. They tried to sell it to big name companies like Neutrogena but were turned down. So, using what they admit today was a ‘cheesy’ marketing idea they turned to the world of infomercials. And a billion-dollar brand was born.

In 2002 they sold Proactiv to start up a new line of skincare products – Rodan + Fields also known as Rodan and Fields, which is every bit as successful, and a little more high end – to one of the companies who had originally turned it down, Gunthy Renker. Nestle bought a big share in 2016 as well.

Even without its founders Proactiv is still a big seller, and it has been used by thousands and thousands of acne sufferers at this point. But again, the big question is, does it work and is it worth the money?

The Proactiv System Explained

Years ago, when it first launched Proactiv was a three-product skincare system – a cleanser, a toner and an ‘acne lotion’. And although numerous other products were added over time it is still these three ‘steps’ that are at the core of the system, which is for the most part a subscription service that costs around $20 a month in the US and £19.99 in the UK. The formulation of the products in the kits varies between the two countries though, for reasons we’ll get into later.

In the US Proactiv kits the cleanser is a creamy, low froth affair that contains a 2.5 percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide, as does the ‘third step’ lotion. The toner has both witch hazel, which is an astringent, and glycolic acid, an exfoliant. Used together they are designed to treat and prevent mild to moderate acne. There is now a ‘stronger’ version of the kit available, the Extra Strength, with a 7 percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide that is designed for use by those suffering from more serious acne.


How to Use the Proactiv Skin Care System

Although you should always follow the inserts that come along with the Proactiv system, the basic instructions for use are simple, and are as follows:

Step 1: The Cleanser

  • Dampen, but don’t drench, your skin with lukewarm water
  • Massage a generous amount of cleanser over the entire face, avoiding the eyes.
  • Keep massaging for 1 to 2 minutes
  • Rinse cleanser over thoroughly with more lukewarm water.
  • Pat your face dry.

Step 2: The Toner

  • Ensure your face is dry
  • Using clean cotton balls, apply a thin layer of the toner across the whole face.
  • Allow to dry and DO NOT rinse

Step 3: The Repair Lotion

  • Apply a thin layer of lotion across the whole face
  • Allow to dry and DO NOT rinse off

The process should be repeated twice daily, once in the morning, once at night.

Proactiv Extras

Now that the Proactiv system has been around for a couple of decades – and it’s now owned by a big company – it’s no surprise that the ‘basic range’ of products has been significantly expanded. If you sign up for the original three step system you can be expect to be offered the chance to purchase all of the following to add to the standard subscription offering:

  • Proactiv Skin Hydrator
  • Proactiv Repair Lotion with Salicyclic Acid
  • Proactiv Night Cream with Retinol
  • Proactiv SPF Moisturizer
  • Proactiv Acne Fighting Face Mask
  • Proactiv Acne Concealer Stick

These, and other products that are added from time to time, are all sold separately, so they can get a bit expensive!

Does Proactiv Really Work?

So, we’ve covered the history of the Proactiv System and the basics of how it works. And for many people it is a system that’s worked. They may have been drawn to it because of the hype – and the many celebrity ‘endorsements’ that have been publicized over the years – but the system is based on sound skincare science and, when used as it should be, on a daily basis, if you have mild to moderate acne the chances do seem to be good that you’ll see an improvement in the condition of your skin.

It should be remembered though that this is not a miracle cure, whatever Justin Bieber might have said about it in the past. The most effective ingredients it contains are the benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid, both great acne fighters, but both take their time to produce any visible results.


Proactiv Plus: Pros and Cons

Like almost anything else, Proactiv plus has its pros and cons. Here are some of ours, after taking a close look at the products.


  • It’s a decent solution for mild to moderate acne control
  • The set routine is easy to follow.
  • The doorstep delivery saves you time and helps keep your routine on track
  • It has been around for a long time now and has been widely tested
  • For most people $20 or so a month is a reasonable amount to spend on an everyday acne prevention routine.


  • The hard sell. There are now more than a few ‘extra’ products in the Proactiv line, everything from concealers to moisturizers and if you subscribe to the basic kit you will be solicited OFTEN to try the others, which can be annoying. And if you are persuaded to buy some of them they can be very expensive compared to alternative products.


  • Benzoyl peroxide is not for everyone. If you have sensitive skin it can cause redness and burning that can be worse than the mild acne you were trying to treat. In the UK Proactiv is now formulated with salicylic acid not BP, as several cases of actual third degree burns caused by the harsher ingredient led to something of an outcry.


  • This is not a product line for those who suffer from serious acne, even if the commercials seem to imply it is. If you have cystic acne it’s going to be of no more help than other mild OTC products you’ve probably tried and been disappointed with.


In the end, it’s reasonable to say that, for some, Proactiv will work. Not miracles, but you’ll see an improvement in cases of mild acne. Is it the best solution out there? Almost certainly not, as it can’t address more severe acne. It is however readily available, convenient if you are very busy – and aren’t we all? – and it does make it easy to set up a proper skincare routine.

Should You Buy Proactive to get Rid of Your Acne & Acne Scars?

While the products contain all essential ingredients that you need to combat acne, such as benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid, there are certain other ingredients that have raised eyebrows from hawk-eyed users. For starters, why would a company that’s creating an acne cleanser use silicone in its products?

The addition of silicone is one of the main reasons why it gives you such a smooth feeling during application. Some might go so far as to say that this gives it a “fake” feeling when applying. Personally, I would prefer using a product that doesn’t contain silicone.

I think the company suffers from a classic case of overhyping a product. The marketing campaigns designed by Proactiv made it seem that it’s some revolutionary product that can get rid of your acne overnight . The reality, I’m afraid, is not that. Having used it myself, I can confirm that the product actually makes your skin quite dry, which ultimately causes irritation and reddening of the skin.

Does that mean that all of the other products available in the market are fake and based purely on hype? Certainly not! There are a host of other treatments and acne cleansers out there that provide far better results than Proactiv Plus did for me. For instance, let me tell you about this fascinating product called Exposed Skin Care. The company provides a line of different acne cleansing solutions, and I have to say, it actually works wonders. In fact, if you can’t find Exposed Skin Care products in the market, you can also check out Zenmed Derma Cleanse. Both have provided amazing results in the past for me, and I can easily say that they do a much better job than Proactiv. I would recommend these two over Proactiv.


Now we’d like to hear from you. Have you ever tried Proactiv? If so, were you happy with the results? Have you since found something that works better and made a switch? We really are interested in reading and hearing about your thoughts, experiences and opinions, so why not share them?

Christine Glasgow
Canadian girl addicted to beauty and fashion. I'm a Blogger, Entrepreneur and web influencer 👑 I mostly talk about anything related to skin care and beauty. I created this site to share science-based information on skin conditions, treatments and skin care.

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