The Complete Proactiv Review: Does This Acne Treatment Work?

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There are a few things that everyone agrees are awful: telemarketers, traffic jams, paying taxes, and acne. More than 40 million people suffer from acne each year, most of them with moderate to mild acne. It’s natural to look at those blemishes or red marks and wish they would disappear.

If you’ve spent even a small amount of time looking at acne treatments, you’ve probably heard of Proactiv. It’s one of the most recognizable brands, but the true test of acne products is how they fit with your skincare routine. We hope this Proactiv review will help you decide if Proactiv is right for you.

Gone are the days when acne was simply dubbed a teenage affliction that would clear out eventually if you kept your sugar and dairy intake low. Acne in adulthood has become very common and the beauty industry has moved to fill this niche with products to help combat acne and clear your skin.

Proactiv is one of the most popular acne-control products and it has built its reputation over a span of thirty years with celebrities like Justin Beiber, Olivia Munn, and Kendall Jenner backing it. Well, we are all aware that celebrities and influencers will say anything for a check but is there some truth to their claims? Find out whether Proactiv is for you below;

About Proactiv

Proactiv is a heavyweight in the acne treatment industry. The company markets itself as America’s number one acne brand, selling more products than every competitor in 2019.

More than 20 million people worldwide use Proactiv each year, which centres on three systems with three steps each.

Proactiv started in 1995 as the brainchild of two dermatologists, Kathy Fields and Katie Rodan. The duo initially formulated the idea after meeting at the Standard University School of Medicine in the late 1980s.

Their goal was to provide fast and affordable acne treatments.

Direct-response marketing company Guthy-Renker agreed to create commercials and distribute Proactiv starting in October 1995.

The original Proactiv Solution, which contains a cleanser, lotion, and toner, was an instant hit. Subsequent years saw Proactiv roll out new products to keep up with market demand.

The company released a Proactiv line in 2010 with benzoyl peroxide balls for quicker and gentler results. Three years later, it launched Proactiv+ to fight acne and aging simultaneously.

ProactivMD is the latest innovation, a gel 30 years in the making. The adapalene-powered solution marks the first over-the-counter FDA-approved remedy for treating acne with adapalene.

While it’s easy to get swept up in Proactiv’s volume and valuation, the results are what’s important.

Do these acne treatments work, and what skin types are they right for? Below is a quick overview of Proactiv’s three acne treatments. To learn about any of these more in-depth, visit


proactiv plus products

Proactiv+ uses combination therapy to prevent acne.

This multi-step skincare treatment includes an acne-fighting formula that quells existing breakouts and prevents future breakouts.

The comprehensive approach to skincare is one of the hallmarks that made Proactiv what it is today.

Proactiv+ contains Smart Target technology, making it precise and effective. Smart Target contains benzoyl peroxide (BPO), which experts consider a high watermark in treating acne.

The compound eliminates acne causing bacteria in the pore, so acne doesn’t have a chance to start.

While the modest 2.5% benzoyl peroxide content can sometimes cause skin irritation, Smart Target contains the benzoyl peroxide in a gel-like liquid.

The design allows the treatment to penetrate deep into the skin. It delivers twice the benzoyl peroxide power but a fraction of the irritation.

Don’t just take our word for it. Proactiv performed a 13-week trial of Proactiv+, and each participant saw their skin quality improve. Some of the other perks included the following:

  • Better overall skin complexion, texture, and clarity
  • Improved skin hydration
  • Less irritation
  • Less oily skin
  • Less redness
  • Reduced appearance of acne marks
  • Smaller-looking pores
  • Smoother-looking skin

Proactiv+ is as easy as one, two, three. Many users experience a complete skin transformation in as little as six weeks with the three-step routine. Here’s how it works:

Step One: Cleanse

The first step in the Proactiv+ system is a skin-smoothing gentle exfoliant. This cream cleanser removes dead cells, oil, dirt, and other particulates to restore a healthy complexion.

Proactiv recommends applying the solution twice a day, preferably morning and night.

Place a dollop of exfoliator on slightly damp skin. Massage the cream into your face using a circular motion for one to two minutes. Cleanse your face with warm water before patting it dry.

Step Two: Treat

The pore-targeting treatment serves as the heart and soul of Proactiv+. The formula kills bacteria inside the skin that otherwise leads to blemishes, thus stopping the acne before it starts.

woman washes her face at the bathroom sink

Put at least two pumps of pore-targeting treatment onto your dry skin. Rub the cream across your face and let it stand. You should wait until your skin absorbs the cream before moving onto the final step.

Step Three: Repair

The complexion-perfecting hydrator provides radiance quarter-sized doses at a time. This moisturizing medication helps restore your skin’s plumpness while adding a healthy sheen.

You’ll also notice an improved tone and color without pesky red bumps or post-acne marks.

Apply the hydrator to your dry skin and rub it over your entire face. Let the skin absorb the cream and reapply as needed during the day.

Apply sunscreen in combination with the complexion-perfecting hydrator if you decide to go outdoors.


Benzoyl peroxide is the primary ingredient in the skin-smoothing exfoliator and pore-targeting treatment. The complexion-perfecting hydration features 0.5% salicylic acid. Be sure to check out our favorite exfoliator BOA Skincare as well.

The acidic compound dissolves dead cells that clog pores and lead to acne.

Salicylic acid exfoliates skin for over-the-counter and prescription products. It provides proven relief from whiteheads and blackheads while reducing the chance for future blemishes.

However, using salicylic acid more than three times can cause dryness.



proactiv md

Proactiv touts ProactivMD as its most advanced formula.

The three-step system is ideal for mild and moderate acne and oily, dry, and sensitive skin types.

The thing that makes ProactivMD unique is adapalene.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently greenlit adapalene for over-the-counter medicines.

The topical retinoid medication garnered pharmaceutical attention for increasing cell turnover and clearing pores. Adapalene works to prevent breakouts.

Most acne occurs because dead skin cells collect inside your pores. Adapalene removes these potential blemishes, making it a highly sought-after treatment.

It also comes with anti-inflammatory properties, so there’s no need to worry about getting an allergic reaction.

Step One: Cleanse

Exfoliation breathes new life into your skin, removing old skin cells for unmistakably healthier clear skin.

The deep-cleansing face wash contains exfoliating beads to rejuvenate your face, making your skin healthy. Proactiv recommends the cleansing solution for anyone with moderate or persistent acne.

Apply a healthy dollop of face wash to slightly damp skin. Massage it into the skin using circular motions for one to two minutes, treating the entire face. Cleanse your face with warm water until the face wash is no longer visible.

Step Two: Protect

Step two instills your skin with vibrance and lushness. The daily oil control moisturizer hydrates your skin for a long-lasting glow.

Proactiv recommends using the moisturizer once in the morning after the exfoliation step, for glowing, clear skin.

Apply the moisturizer the same way you use sunscreen, making sure to cover your neck and face.

The cream comes with SPF 30, which is more than enough if you want to enjoy the sunshine. You can wear the moisturizer with makeup too.

pretty black woman applying moisturizer on her face in the morning

Step Three: Treat

The star of the show is the adapalene gel 0.1%. The trace dosage of adapalene provides adequate treatment with a single drop per day.

Cover the afflicted area with a fine layer of gel and let it sit until it’s no longer visible.

We recommend using the moisturizer before the adapalene gel 0.1%. Too much adapalene can dry out your skin, which is why the gel contains a small dose. ProactivMD is also best for people over the age of 11.


Adapalene is the critical ingredient, but all three steps optimize the skincare treatment’s results. They work in unison to clear and refresh skin without irritation.

Other active ingredients include avobenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene.

Dermatologists have used ProactivMD in the clinical setting with stirring results. Participants’ demonstrably clearer skin made the acne remedy a first of its kind, paving the way for other topical retinoid medications.

Some additional benefits include smaller-looking pores and improved ultraviolet light protection.


Proactiv Solution

proactive solution products

When Proactiv launched in 1995, the original Proactiv Solution was at the forefront.

It’s the treatment that transformed Proactiv into a household name with spokespeople, such as Adam Levine, Britney Spears, and Justin Bieber.

The original solution’s success vaulted it into tens of millions of American households.

Benzoyl peroxide operates as the centerpiece, clearing body breakouts and reducing the number of dead skin cells.

The compound keeps pores clear, but it’s not the reason for Proactiv’s effectiveness. Glycolic acid creates a one-two punch that improves cell turnover and skin radiance.

Glycolic acid is a form of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that appears in fruits and sugar canes. It separates dead skin cells from the underlying dermis, revealing a fresh layer of skin.

The AHA also brightens complexion, stimulates collagen growth, accelerates healing, and improves skin tone.

Step One: Cleanse

Say goodbye to old skin and hello to unclogged pores and exfoliation. The renewing cleanser washes away sweat, oil, makeup, and dirt that make it hard for your skin to breathe.

This first step provides a clean foundation for subsequent makeup or moisturization.

Apply a quarter-sized amount to slightly damp skin. Massage the cleanser for one to two minutes before rinsing your face. Pat your skin dry before moving to the second stage.

Step Two: Tone

The revitalizing toner acts as Robin to the cleanser’s Batman. It purifies your skin, wiping away impurities and replacing them with an unmistakable sheen.

The exfoliating cream leaves skin feeling younger and fresher than ever.

Place a dab of toner on a cloth or cotton ball. Rub the moist surface along your face in an upward motion, repeating the exercise both morning and night.

Allow the skin to absorb the toner while making sure not to rinse or rub your face.

Step Three: Treat

The repairing treatment stands as the unsung hero of the Proactiv Solution trio. It does the dirty work, digging in pores to remove the bacteria that causes acne.

The solution contains small benzoyl peroxide crystals, which target microbes at the source.

Spread a small amount of repairing treatment over your face. Let the treatment dry before adding makeup or other skincare products. Use the three-step treatment twice a day for optimal results.


BPO is the active ingredient in the cleaner and repairing treatment, while glycolic acid does the heavy lifting in the toner. The combination therapy works because the ingredients target acne beneath the dermis.

The precision approach allows each component to repair and soothe skin, improving blemishes, redness, or post-acne marks, and giving you clear skin.


Other acne treatments you can check out:

What is benzyl peroxide?

Benzyl peroxide is a recurring ingredient in the Proactive franchise which begs the question; What actually is this ingredient and what does it do for the skin?

Benzyl peroxide is a topical acne treatment that acts as an antiseptic killing off acne-causing bacteria. It also exfoliates the skin to facilitate cell turnover and control oil production which reduces breakouts. The benzyl peroxide formula is usually prescribed in cleansers and toners for mild acne however severe acne is treated with direct application of the product to your face.

This product usually comes packaged as a gel or cream. Benzoyl peroxide has proven time and again to be effective in acne treatment however it is accompanied by mild irritation and dry and flaky skin. When using this product, always ensure your face is completely dry after cleansing to avoid deeper penetration into the skin which may lead to severe irritation.

Is there a difference between benzyl peroxide and adapalene?

Proactiv’s most recent rollout includes a new ingredient, adapalene, which may cause a little confusion when picking out a treatment. Adapalene is a retinoid that can help control acne. This ingredient increases cell turnover and controls excess oil production relieving the skin.

While using adapalene, you can expect purging, redness, dryness, and flaky skin over the first few weeks followed by a drastic improvement in your skin. Although the two work differently, they both achieve the goal of healthier, acne-free skin. Unlike benzoyl peroxide, adapalene does not treat acne but simply helps control its effects and clear your skin.

How Long Until Results Appearance?

woman smiling on a photoshoot with yellow flowers

Your acne is as unique as you are, which means treatment results will vary. Some people see results within the first three weeks—our tester did—but most people notice clearer skin within two months.

We recommend contacting a dermatologist if you have an adverse reaction or don’t see results in the first six weeks.

Here’s what one of our helpful staff skincare testers experienced when using Proactiv in her words:

  • Week 1: My skin seemed to be adjusting to the treatment. I experienced some dryness and flaking.
  • Week 2: My pores began to clear, and the dryness and flakiness subsided. My skin also felt suppler.
  • Week 3: This was when I started to see visible progress, with blemishes gradually receding from sight. I had some hyperpigmentation, and it began to even out as well.
  • Week 4: My skin looked and felt smoother and healthier. My face was clear for the first time in a long time.
  • Week 5: More substantial blemishes, like post-acne marks, started disappearing, and my skin was glowing.
  • Week 6: Lookout Fashion Week because my skin looked healthier and brighter than ever!

We’re not saying Proactiv is a miracle cure. Even the best acne treatments take time to reduce visible acne marks and blemishes. Follow the directions, though, and results will follow.

Proactiv treatments typically take up to six months to achieve their full effect.

If Proactiv doesn’t work for you, it’s worth considering another premium treatment. Exposed Skin Care offers state-of-the-art cleansers, tonics, and serums with natural ingredients.

proactiv products

The integration of science and nature makes it an attractive alternative to Proactiv products.

Can I use Proactive during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is known for causing hormonal fluctuations that may result in acne. Fortunately, you do not have to wait the entire 9 months to care for your skin. Benzyl peroxide is safe to use in pregnancy as a very small amount is absorbed into the bloodstream. Naturally, we recommend sticking to low concentrations to avoid harming the fetus. Adapalene on the other hand may be a very grey area in pregnancy. 

While some experts believe retinoids can be used safely during pregnancy, there’s another group that suggests steering clear of this ingredient. We agree with the latter as this ingredient can cause devastating harm to a fetus. While deciding whether to move forward with these products, keep in mind that all evidence supporting the use of these ingredients in pregnancy is inconclusive as there has been very little research to say for sure.

Proactiv Review – Final Verdict: Are Proactiv Products Worth It?

We’ve reviewed a lot of products, and few of them can stack up with Proactiv. They have built a name for themselves on innovative and effective treatments that offer actionable solutions for mild and moderate acne.

Proactive products are not miracle workers, though, and a visit to a dermatologist is a better bet for cystic or severe acne.


However, Proactiv acne treatments will treat a wide range of skin issues. The original formula is the industry gold standard for treating pimples, while Proactiv+ provides a three-pronged attack on pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads. ProactivMD stands out for anyone with sensitivity, dryness, or hyperpigmentation.

All Proactiv products come with rigorous clinical research to ensure the best results. The easy-to-use treatments fit naturally into any morning or evening skincare routine.

It’s one of the many reasons Proactiv reviews—like ours—are so overwhelmingly positive.

Get started with America’s number one acne brand by visiting Proactiv offers subscription and single-use packages, so you can find a product that fits your routine.

You can also find Proactiv wherever acne treatments are available.

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Avatar for Megan Foley

Megan has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. In that time, she’s penned a diverse collection of articles for online publication, with a focus on skincare and beauty. From in-depth product reviews to concise marketing content, Megan is passionate about developing content that informs, entertains, and inspires.