Does Proactiv Work to Clear Acne?

You hear about Proactiv all the time, and you're thinking about trying it.  But you don't want it to be just another product that doesn't live up to its claims.

Proactiv is probably the most widely-known of all over-the-counter acne treatment products. They have TV commercials, kiosks in the mall, and a long list of celebrity spokespeople that include Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Adam Levine. It's no wonder you see it everywhere.

Does Proactiv Work?  For Some People, Yes

Does Proactiv work? For some people, yes, it does a good job of clearing up acne (or at least keeping in under control).

But for others, Proactiv just isn't effective. The result you get from Proactiv is completely dependent on your skin and the severity of your acne.

So, the more important question becomes: will Proactiv work for you?

Proactiv Contains Effective OTC Acne Treatment Ingredients

Proactiv contains proven acne-fighting ingredients, so it definitely has good science on its side. The backbone of the Proactiv system is benzoyl peroxide.

Benzoyl peroxide is the most effective over-the-counter acne treatment ingredient. It helps clear breakouts by reducing the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Benzoyl peroxide also helps to fight against pore blockages.

Glycolic acid is another ingredient found in certain Proactiv products. Glycolic acid works in a different way, by removing dead skin cells and helping to keep pores cleared out. Exfoliating ingredients like glycolic acid are an important component in any acne treatment routine.

Some products in the Proctiv line also contain sulfur. Sulfur also helps cleanse out pores and reduce oiliness.

So, as far as the ingredients go, Proactiv certainly has the potential to be effective. While there's no way to predict exactly how your acne will react to any treatment, there are some clues.

Proactiv May Work for You If:

Your acne is generally mild. Proactiv works best for those who have mild acne, minor pimples and blackheads. It's less effective for moderate acne (and you'd get better results from prescription medications in this case anyway).

You haven't yet tried OTC acne treatment products containing benzoyl peroxide. If you've been relying on soap and water or salicylic acid, stepping up to a benzoyl peroxide product like Proactiv would be a good next step.

You want a complete skin care kit. Maybe one of the best things about Proactiv is it's a complete skin care product. You get your cleanser, toner, and treatment lotion all in one kit. You could put together a similar routine with products from the drug store, but if you'd rather take the guesswork out of it, Proactiv makes it easy.

Proactiv Probably Won't Work for You If:

You have moderate to severe acne. OTC products, even Proactiv, just aren't strong enough to clear this type of acne. Save yourself some frustration and heartache, and skip the Proactiv in this case. You'll be so much better off going straight to a prescription treatment instead.

You've tried numerous over-the-counter products already without success. It may have been developed by dermatologists and endorsed by a legion of followers but when it's all said and done, Proactiv is still just an OTC acne product. So, if you've already tried a slew of them, you'll probably get the same disappointing results from this product. Again, in this case, it's time for a prescription.

A Word from Verywell

As you can see, Proactiv isn't a scam product but it isn't a miracle cure either. When it's all said and done, Proactiv is an over-the-counter acne treatment system that's best for mild acne.

If you do decide to give Proactiv a try, make sure you use it every day exactly as directed. To do otherwise would be wasting your money, because acne treatments need to be used very consistently if you want to see results.

Proactiv isn't the only complete acne treatment kit on the market, either, so if you're not in love with their products try a different brand. Acne Free, Neutrogena, Murad, and more all have OTC acne treatment sets. You can even create your own acne treatment regimen with products you choose off the store shelf. (Need help choosing a product? We've got this article that breaks it all down for you: How To Choose an OTC Acne Product.)

Remember that all acne treatments, Proactiv included, will take some time to work. Stick with any OTC product for at least eight to 10 weeks before expecting any improvement of your skin.

If you're not seeing some clearing after 12 weeks use, OTC products might not be right for you. The next steps are prescription acne medication.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • "Acne." American Academy of Dermatology, n.d. Web.
  • "Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.
  • Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.