The Complete Proactiv Review: Does This Acne Treatment Work?

If you click a link on this page and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

There are a few things that everyone agrees are awful: telemarketers, traffic jams, paying taxes, and, of course, acne. More than 40 million people suffer from acne each year, most of them with mild to moderates cases. 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.

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 centerson three systems with three steps each.

Proactiv got its start 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.

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 acne treatment 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 whatskin types are they right for? Belowis 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 new ones from forming.

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 acne treatment.

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

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

The design allows the treatment to penetrate deep into the skin. It delivers twice the BPO 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 oil
  • 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 exfoliator. 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 in the morning and evening.

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 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 radiancea quarter-sized dose 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.


BPO is the primary active 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 stop acne before it has a chance to start.

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 redness or irritation.

Step One: Cleanse

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

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

Apply a health 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.

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 some 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 treatment 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, 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.

BPO operates as the centerpiece, clearing 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 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 in the mornings and evenings.

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 BPO 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.


Other acne treatments you can check out:

How Long Until Results Appearance?

woman smiling on a photoshoot with yellow flowers

Your acne is as you 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.

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 severe or cystic 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.

Editors Choice
The Complete Proactiv Review: Does This Acne Treatment Work? 1


Our #1 Recommendation

  • Contains Smart Target technology
  • Uses combination therapy to prevent acne
  • Provides fast and affordable acne treatments
  • For overall skin complexion, texture, and clarity

The Complete Proactiv Review: Does This Acne Treatment Work? 2

Avatar for Alina Jumabhoy
About Alina Jumabhoy

With almost 10 years of experience writing for the skincare industry, Alina brings her unique perspective into all of the in-depth reviews and articles she writes.