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.

For some people, Proactiv does a good job of clearing up acne (or at least keeping it under control). But for others, Proactiv just isn't effective. The result you get is completely dependent on your skin and the severity of your acne. The more important question becomes whether Proactiv works for you.

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi 

Active 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 (OTC) 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 Proactiv line also contain sulfur. Sulfur also helps cleanse out pores and reduce oiliness.

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.

When Proactiv May Work for You

If you have these characteristics, you are more likely to benefit from Proactiv.

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

When Proactive May Not Work for You

Proactiv is less effective for people with other characteristics.

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.

Deciding to Try Proactiv

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.

A Word From Verywell

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.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sagransky M, Yentzer BA, Feldman SR. Benzoyl peroxide: a review of its current use in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2009;10(15):2555-62. doi:10.1517/14656560903277228

  2. Sharad J. Glycolic acid peel therapy - a current reviewClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2013;6:281–288. Published 2013 Nov 11. doi:10.2147/CCID.S34029

  3. Keri J, Shiman M. An update on the management of acne vulgarisClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2009;2:105–110. Published 2009 Jun 17. doi:10.2147/ccid.s3630

  4. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

  5. Kraft J, Freiman A. Management of acneCMAJ. 2011;183(7):E430–E435. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090374

Additional Reading
  • "Acne." American Academy of Dermatology, n.d. Web.

  • "Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). 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.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.