Detailed Proactiv Reviews – Does Proactiv Work in 2020?

Reviewing all products offered by Proactiv Solution

ProactivMD is one of the latest versions of a very prominently advertised product. It’s all over TV and radio and many of the most popular magazines feature ads as well. However, we’re generally very skeptical when we see these huge marketing campaigns.

The reason is that often this results in far more effort being spent on selling the product than actually making it effective.

To give it the benefit of the doubt we went and spent endless hours researching forums and product review sites to see what people were actually saying.

And the results were actually surprising.

Overall, we found that it scored barely 2.7 out of 5 stars across over 5000 product reviews.

That is not a particularly good verdict, that wouldn’t really be surprising.

However, there are some people with genuine product feedback that absolutely swear by this product.

So how can there be such a divide?

The answer is that acne is completely different from person to person. Proactiv may work well for a small group of people, but the majority will find it’s not the promised relief you’re looking for.

To help you decide whether or not to give it a try, we’ve done some extensive analysis on all the ingredients to help you figure out whether your skin can benefit from it.

Table of Contents:

  1. Know What Ingredients You’re Dealing With
  2. People Behind Proactiv and why They Think it Works
  3. Proactiv’s Philosophy – The Combination Therapy For Acne Treatment
  4. Proactiv Review – The Original Formula
  5. Proactiv+ Review – Advanced Skincare Formula
  6. ProactivMD Review – Prescription Grade Acne Treatment
  7. Proactiv Vs Proactiv+ Vs ProactivMD – The Bottom Line
  8. How Long Does it Take for Proactiv to Work?
  9. Proactiv Users Before and After Photos
  10. Proactiv Membership – Things You Must be Careful of
  11. Conclusion

CAA’s Flagship Rule #1 – Know Your Ingredients

If it’s not your first time on Clear Away Acne, this won’t be of surprise to you. You can only make a good buying decision for your skin if and only if you know what ingredients you’re dealing with.

First, you need to have an idea of which ingredients suit your skin best.

But what if you’re just starting out or just haven’t paid attention towards ingredients in the past?

That’s why I talk about all the active ingredients used in every product I review (this post is no exception). Clearly describing their pros and cons, and which skin they tend to perform best for.

With all that in mind, let’s quickly jump into these 3 precisely detailed Proactiv reviews I’ve put together for you, dissecting each and every product contained in their regimen.

But first, let’s quickly discover…

People Behind Proactiv and why They Think it Works

Founders of Proactiv - Dr. Katie Rodan, and Dr. Kathy Fields

Proactiv has one of the most compelling brand stories I’ve ever read.

This massive brand of behind this best selling acne treatment was started by only two passionate dermatologists (note: not businessmen), namely Katie Rodan, M.D. and Kathy Fields.

They were originally from Stanford and had an aim to find a better, more effective way to combat acne. They knew exactly how daunting this experience of getting acne is for people of all ages, especially children and teenagers, so they wanted to make it easier for everyone to keep their acne at bay.

Fast forward to this date, the company has grown from a two-person hobby in 1980s to a billion dollar brand today. Surely, this kind of growth could’ve been impossible for a product that offered no value.

Having won 28 awards and honors from prominent skin care and beauty watchdogs, the company now claims to be the best acne treatment system in the market.

The latest Proactiv+ product line is an example of Proactiv’s strong commitment for evolution and bringing the best from science and nature to the benefit of acne sufferers.

Combination Therapy ™ (i.e. treating acne with different steps) has been the core value behind this product ever since its inception. This is nothing new in today’s world, but it was really a revolutionary thought when Proactiv was first launched in 1995.

We’ll shed more light into this concept below.

Proactiv’s Combination Therapy Solution For Acne Treatment

How Acne is Formed:

If you think you develop a pimple overnight, you’re totally wrong. That ugly breakout on your face is a result of at least a week full of unhealthy activity happening right under your skin.

It starts with dead skin cells clogging your skin pores. This blocks the way out for sebum from the sebaceous glands, which allows acne causing bacteria (P.acnes) to breed and breathe in your hair follicles. Results are seen in the form of blackheads/whiteheads, pimples, nodules, or cysts.

How Proactiv Works:

Proactiv has been designed to fight acne at each of these stages. The 3-step acne treatment regimen offered by proactiv including cleansing, toning, and hydration together with acne-fighting medicine ensures that you not only get rid of your existing acne, but also prevent future breakouts.

Now, let’s discuss exactly how each step/component of Proactiv acne treatment works toward that end goal of a clear skin.

Components of Proactiv Acne Treatment Revealed

1. Proactiv Review – The Original Formula

Proactiv - The Original Formula

This is the main product from Proactiv that started a paradigm shift in how acne treatments were formulated.

It is primarily a benzoyl peroxide acne treatment, containing the following 3 steps:

Step 1 – Proactiv Renewing Cleanser

Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide, 2.5%

Designed to prepare your skin for acne treatment by clearing away dead skin cells, oil and dirt from your skin.

Step 2 – Revitalizing Toner

Ingredients:  Glycolic acid, sodium hydroxide, witch hazel extract, and more.

Restores your skin’s PH levels and removes any remaining impurities left by the cleanser.

Step 3 – Proactiv Repairing Treatment

Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide, 2.5%

With this step, benzoyl peroxide is able to penetrate deep into your pores without hurdles. This repairing treatment ensures complete elimination of acne causing bacteria in your pores, reducing inflammatory acne breakouts on your skin.


  • Works best for teenage acne treatment.
  • Renewing Cleanser is a good alternative your ordinary skin cleansers. Its micro exfoliating beads ensure to get rid of dead skin cells on your skin and prepare ground for benzoyl peroxide to work.
  • Revitalizing Toner is alcohol free, an important feature for any toner to suit acne prone skin and restore its PH balance.
  • Can bring in results in short amount of time.


  • Starter kit, which you get for around $33 in retail, is really like a travel size kit. These tiny bottles won’t last long and might turn out to be expensive for you. You have to look for a kit that works out your needs and budget. Price is always going to be a problem when you’re opting for Proactiv!
  • This is not the gentlest acne treatment out there. People have complained about it being irritating and producing burning sensation.
  • Can cause excessive dryness, specially if your skin is dry or sensitive.


This whole 3-step system is designed to be used twice a day (morning and night).
  • Thoroughly cleanse your face with revitalizing cleanser, rinse off with lukewarm water.
  • Follow up with the toner. Use a cotton pad to apply a dime sized amount all over your face and let it dry (don’t rinse off).
  • Repairing Treatment is an important step in the treatment, and it’s also a strong one. You can apply a thin layer of it on your face 1-3 times a day. It can dry out your skin excessively, so it’s better to start off with 1 application daily. You can then gradually increase application to get best results, provided your skin responds well.


2. Proactiv Plus – Reviewing the Advanced Skin Care Formula

Proactiv Plus - Advanced Acne Treatment Formula

Proactiv is playing with the same combination therapy approach here as well. But the ‘Smart Target ™’ technology is said to be the main differentiator between original Proactiv and Proactiv Plus.

Smart Target ™ Technology Explained:

With this technology, the founders have tried to tackle the issue of excessive dryness caused by acne treatments and their ineffective, late results.

The breakthrough is the wrapping of benzoyl peroxide molecule into layers of lipid and water which makes it penetrate your pores faster and deeper.

Here’s a video of founders themselves explaining this technology:

Now let’s discuss the 3 steps involved in Proactiv+.

Step 1 – Skin Smoothing Exfoliator

Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5%

Benzoyl peroxide along with glycolic acid present in this Exfoliator make a perfect match to cleanse your skin of dead skin cells, dirt and brim on your skin.

Step 2 – Pore Targeting Treatment

Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5%

Designed to stop acne right from its source of development. This Pore Targeting Treatment delivers acne fighting ingredients right into your pores.

Step 3 – Complexion Perfecting Hydrator

Ingredients: Salicylic Acid 0.5%

With the proven pore opening properties of salicylic acid in hand, this Proactiv+ hydrator will reduce inflammation on your skin, improve your complexion, and fight post acne marks.


  • Great fit if you’re an adult and have a naturally oily, acne prone skin.
  • If you’ve tried Accutane and it didn’t work, this may finally be the treatment for you.
  • Besides fighting acne breakouts, this new formulation is also good at improving your skin tone.
  • Can deliver positive results within a week.


  • Only works well for mild cases.
  • Despite founders claiming they have eliminated the dryness issue with this new formula, large majority of users have still found it causing excessive dryness.
  • Unlike the original formula, the step 3 treatment isn’t a full-blown moisturizer. It contains salicylic acid, which, although, is there to unclog your skin pores, but can cause excessive dryness on sensitive skin.


This 3-Step treatment is meant to be used twice a day (AM and PM).
  • Cleanse your face with Step-1 Exfoliator, gently massage on your face for 1-2 minutes. Rinse it off well with lukewarm water.
  • Now, apply the Pore Targeting Treatment. Do not rinse it off, let it dry before moving on to Step 3.
  • Apply a dime sized amount evenly on your face. Again, don’t rinse off. Allow it to absorb, and if you’re going outside during the way, it’s good to wear a sunscreen.


3. Proactiv MD – Prescription Treatment Without Rx

ProactivMD - Prescription Grade Adapalene Acne Treatment Without Rx

Adapalene, a clinically proven ingredient to possess strong anti-acne properties, was considered a prescription only treatment until Proactiv MD came out.

Along with the essential steps of cleansing, toning, and hydrating your skin, Proactiv MD adds the sun protection factor to your anti-acne regimen.

What Makes Adapalene Effective Against Acne

Adapalene is a retinoid derivative. Topical retinoids have been proven extremely effective against reducing skin inflammation, but their usage is limited due to dryness and irritation issues.

Adapalene, on the other hand, is a good choice, as confirmed by several studies, for treating acne breakouts with higher efficacy and lesser side-effects.

So, there’s no doubt Proactiv made a good choice by adding this proven anti-acne ingredient into their newest product.

Now, let’s discover the 4 components of Proactiv MD:

Step 1 – Deep Cleansing Face Wash

Ingredients: Water, distearyl phthalic acid amide, polyethylene, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, jojoba esters, and more.

Cleanses your face of all unwanted debris on the skin including dead skin cells, excess oil, and dirt. Uses tiny exfoliating beads that aren’t too abrasive, yet effective enough to clear your skin.

Step 2 – Balancing Toner

Ingredients: water, witch hazel , aloe barbadensis leaf juice, rosa canina fruit extractas, and more.

Just as with all other kits, this toner is there to restore your skin’s natural PH balance and provide it with the necessary boost of nourishment.

Step 3 – Daily Oil Control Moisturizer With SPF 30

Ingredients: Avobenzone 3%, octisalate 5%, octocrylene 7%

A good defense during the day from harmful solar radiations, while not clogging your skin pores. Absorbes quickly on your skin and doesn’t leave residue.

Step 4 – Adapalene Gel 0.1%

Ingredients: Adapalene 0.1% (retinoid)

The main differentiating factor of ProactivMD. Harness the proven power of prescription grade Adapalene gel without an actual prescription. Not suitable under 12 years of age (must consult with a Derm).


  • Good at opening clogged skin pores and minimizing pore appearances.
  • If you’ve tried benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, isotretinoin, etc. and nothing has worked out, this Adapalene acne treatment might be the one for you.
  • Unlike all other kits from Poactiv, this one has sun protection factor which is essential for a healthy skin care regimen. This sunscreen is also good at controlling shine on your skin.
  • Retinoid derivative, Adapalene, doesn’t only fight acne from its roots, but it’s also effective at improving your skin texture.


  • However promising it may sound, Adapalene doesn’t suit everyone. So, make sure you do a patch test, specially when using the Adapalene gel.
  • Can cause excessive dryness on sensitive/dry skin. You may need an additional moisturizer to control effects.


  • Cleanse your face with Step-1, follow up toner in Step-2 and let it dry on your skin.
  • Use Step-3 anytime during the day when going outside.
  • Use Adapalene gel only once daily. Apply a thin layer all over your face.


Proactiv Vs Proactiv Plus Vs Proactiv MD – What’s Best for You?

As told by the officials themselves, Proactiv+ was the result of decades of research and customer data analysis that went into their labs, to make an acne treatment that delivers best results in shortest amount of time. ProactivMD is yet another testament to their commitment to innovation.

But a question you might have in your mind is that why was there a need for newly designed products?

Does that mean the original formulas were ineffective? Read on.

Proactiv and Proactiv Plus

As we discussed above, Proactiv+ was introduced to send benzoyl peroxide deeper and faster into your skin pores that the original formula failed to do. Both these formulas use the same active ingredient, benzoyl peroxide in most steps, whereas Proactiv+ utilizes added properties of salicylic acid to provide and extra boost.

Proactiv+ surely has a better formula than original Proactiv, however that doesn’t mean the latter has gone futile.

Most of the consumers still find the original formula better. This is down to the fact that even a slight change in formulation may not be tolerated well by your skin. One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

Bottom Line: The original formula is still less harsh than Proactiv Plus, that’s why they officially recommend it for treating teenage acne.


This is a totally new approach. It’s different than both Proactiv and Proactiv+, for it doesn’t rely on the conventional benzoyl peroxide acne treatment.

Adapalene has proven effectiveness against acne vulgaris, as discussed above. It has been proven to performed well against topical isotretinoin in both effectiveness and safety.

Bottom Line: If you’ve tried everything in the past and haven’t got a positive response, this is definitely an option you can consider.

How Long Does it Take for Proactiv to Work?

Skin care and acne prevention is an ongoing process. Unless you have mastered your healthy diet and hormonal balance in your body, there’s no guarantee you will never have an acne breakout.

Since Proactiv is not all natural, gentle acne treatment, it does provide visible results in short amount of time (in weeks, or even days). This usually comes with a cost of skin irritation, itching, and excessive dryness. However, if you follow the directions on the product packaging, and the tips I shared in this post, you can minimize these effects.

That’s about getting rid of your existing acne. To ensure you never get acne in future, you need to continue taking good care of your skin. In other words, continue using Proactiv. But continuing with Proactiv isn’t cheap. And it’s a decision you have to carefully make.

All About Proactiv Membership

The company knows that ordering once isn’t going to cut for a year worth of acne defense for you. So, they’ve designed a membership program.

You can subscribe for the membership program during your checkout. This will give you an account on in which you can manage your subscription. It lets you choose exactly which products you want delivered, and at exactly what schedule.

When to go For Proactiv Membership

When you’re sure this product suits your skin. In this case, it is best to go for the membership since you will get your products at reduced price than in retail.

When Not to go For it

You’re just trying it out. Because if it doesn’t suit you, you’re going to want to cancel membership. And this part has some serious problems going on.

Proactiv Membership Billing Problems

8 out of 10 members of Proactiv I’ve seen have had problems with their membership billing. Sometimes it’s over billing and sometimes it’s billing even after cancellation.

How can you tackle this situation? Read on.

How to Cancel Proactiv Membership

There are two ways you can do this. First is to sign in to your membership account, and submit a support ticket. Or, call to customer support reps on 1-800-309-4796.

If you really don’t want to use Proactiv any more, be stubborn on the call. Reps will try to sell you other products, don’t make any decisions on the phone, if you want it, do your own research first, and then call them for order.

Bottom Line: Avoid their membership if you’re just starting out with Proactiv. You should better buy it on Amazon or Drugstore, and you will be able to save much more money in the long run.

Decision Time

So, that brings us to end of this comprehensive review of Proactiv Solution.

We’ve discussed who’s behind this all-time famous brand, what programs do they offer, and exactly how each product in their different kits work.

Should You Buy Proactiv?

If you can afford the expense, and your skin isn’t too sensitive, you can definitely go for Proactiv. Otherwise, Exposed Skin Care is cheaper yet gentler and overall more effective option.

What’s your experience with Proactiv? Have you tried any of their kits? Having trouble choosing the best acne treatment for yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Sheikh has been blogging regularly at CAA for over 5 years. He spends majority of his time studying health and technology or participating in discussions about these niches (online or offline).


  1. I used the 3 step kit when I was a teen and it worked beautifully. I barely had a breakout after using only a 30 day supply and that’s it. Now 12 years later I’m 28 and started getting breakouts after kids. I ordered the 3 step one and used it ….. let’s just say my face was on fire I thought my skin was going to melt off. I waited a week and tried one more time. Bad choice. Even worse second time around. Then I decided to try the MD version. Best decision I’ve ever made I’m glad I tried it. Within a week I was blemish free and haven’t had one pop up since. It leaves my face with a natural glow. Only thing you have to watch out for is… I only requested a 30 day one. And I was automatically bill and mailed a 90 day supply of BOTH the regular and the MD. I was going to order more of the MD anyway but I never selected a on going thing for either. Now I’m stuck with 90 day supply of the face burner 3 step one. 🙁 but MD IS AMAZING. The gel took my on blemish which was huge. Away overnight. Couldn’t believe it myself !!!

    • Great to hear your amazing story with Proactiv, Heather!
      And yes, this subscription stuff is pretty daunting indeed, that’s why I’ve written a dedicated section for its caution! 😉

  2. Like anyone, I had bad acne as a teen; almost 20 years ago now. I recall the first time I used Proactiv. To me, it was amazing. I wasn’t expecting the grittiness of the face wash, but for the first time since I can remember, my face felt clean and refreshed. However, I will say, the 2nd and 3rd step made my face feel worse. I get the logic behind the combination of the three steps, but my face just didn’t feel or look as refreshed so I started using ONLY the renewing cleanser. I stopped at some point for a short while before picking it back up because I started breaking out again. For me, the Proactiv renewing cleanser is the only thing that has ever worked for me and I still use it to this day. Again, 20 years later. No 2nd or 3rd step needed.


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