You’ve seen the Proactiv plus ads, the vending machines, the commercials, the insane list of celebrities endorsing the brand; it is like they are everywhere.
Wherever you go, you will hear, or see the brand. That is absolutely impressive.
With such insane marketing campaigns, it is no surprise that Proactiv+ has been the best-selling acne treatment for the last decade.
But if we simply consider the products without being inluenced by the gorgeous celebrities who keep praising these acne treatments, is it still worth it ? This time, our tester, elena, did all the testing job. Thank you for her super help and review.
Proactiv brand overview
Proactive wasn’t some brand that came out of the woodwork and planned to take over the world. Instead, they were two dermatologists, Katie Rodan, M.D. and Kathy Fields, M.D. who came from Stanford and wanted to find a healthier way to battle acne. They remembered their “war stories” from childhood and wanted to make it easier for everyone.
Today, Proactiv+ has taken monopoly control over the skincare industry, having been recognized with 28 awards and honors from the beauty industry. They have expanded from a simple infomercial to a company that actually has vending machines in malls!
ProactivPlus is actually the latest adventure from Proactiv (the older version), and it aims to tackle the issue of acne as well as other skin problems, in hopes to create a skincare system, not just an acne system.
Product and claims
It is a 3-step system that claims to quickly hydrate and treat acne by turning your clogged pores into healthy ones with nano-sized particles.
How Does It Work?
It uses Benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria that causes pimples and clogged pores. In fact, 48 hours after benzoyl peroxide is used on a pore, more than 99% of the bacteria is dead!
What’s New About Proactiv Plus?
As I told you, the “plus” sign simply indicates the new version of this acne 3-step system.
Proactiv Plus actually marks a significant improvement on other products in the line. Adjectives such as “healing,” “revolutionary,” and “significant” have been used to describe the line and it’s improvement over the old Proactive.
The benzoyl peroxide that we talked about in the last section gets deeper into your pores with this new system. Older products are too thick to really get into those small pores, so Proactiv Plus was developed with small particles that allow the medicine to get deep within the pores and passed the “gunk.”
It also doesn’t cause inflammation like the older products did. Peroxide, even in small amounts, can be extremely irritating to the skin. You might become red, itchy, or swollen if you use one of those generic products. Many companies have reduced their benzoyl peroxide levels to 2%, but that nearly renders it ineffective.
Here, it takes the benzoyl peroxide particles at about 2.5%, which is still highly effective at killing that acne-causing bacteria, and coats them so that they don’t cause the inflammation, but can still get to work in your pores. The result? Clear, clean skin that is free of blemishes and redness.
They claim to use a patented delivery system called “Smart target ® technology”, which is supposed to coat benzoyl peroxyde with a capsule that will help it reach with laser like precision the pores…
Note: As a general rule, up to 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gel or up to 5.5% slow-release benzoyl peroxide usually do not cause significant irritation after the first use. The percentage of benzoyl peroxide ranges from 2.5 to 10 percent. At 10 percent, some people will face problem areas, especially people who have darker skin. Think about when you are doing laundry: if you add too much peroxide to get out a stain, you discolour the fabric. Research also suggests that when it comes to cleaning out your skin, 10% isn’t much different from the 2.5%, as they both just clean out the gunk – once it’s gone, it doesn’t matter how strong the peroxide was.
Always start with lowest concentration, and work your way up if your skin doesn’t respond. Starting higher percentages right away can result in irritation and flaky, dry skin.
But “plus” at the end of the name also stands for some aditional features. As it turns out, Proactive Plus also moisturizes your skin, which helps to trap the peroxide in your pores. The moisturizer will also help with some of the other issues that you may have: fine lines, wrinkles, or dark spots. You will have smoother, more even skin in just a few treatments!
Proactiv+ also contains some of the active ingredients found in aspirin ( a chemical cousin- acetyl salicylic) such as salicylic acid to help stop your inflammation, itch, and redness.
The official website has the following steps listed for best results:
Step one: Cleanse
Use the Skin Smoothing Exfoliator to rid your skin of excess oil, dirt, and other impurities on a daily basis.
How To use: apply a quarter-size amount to damp skin and massage in a circular motion for 2-3 minutes. Rinse with warm water and pat dry.
Step two: Treat
The Pore Targeting Treatment is used to kill acne causing bacteria deep within your pores.
How To use: apply at least 2 pumps to clean and dry skin, smoothing over your face. Do not rinse and allow to sit for at least five minutes.
Step three: Repair
Apply the Complexion Perfecting Hydrator to soothe irritation, brighten tone, and reduce acne marks without clogging your pore.
How To use: Apply a quarter-sized amount onto dry skin and smooth out – do not rinse. Reapply as needed.
Proactive also recommends using at least SPF 30 when going outside.
There are other products in the Proactiv Plus line, but they are not as necessary as the ones listed above, especially when you are just starting out.
Ok, that was more or less the “official” elements given by the brand, let’s review those products now.
Our Brutal Proactiv plus Review
First let check the proactiv plus ingredients, as they are the foundations of a good product and our first impressions.
If I want to eat a great ice cream (ok I am hungry while writing this post lol), I want to make sure, it is made of quality premium ingredients, and not of fillers and stuff…. that are not worth your hard earned money.
Step One: Skin Smoothing Exfoliator
Active Ingredient(s): benzoyl peroxide 2.5% – Inactive Ingredients: water, sodium cocoyl isethionate, glycerin, polyethylene, lauryl/myristyl benzoate, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, butylene glycol, dimethicone, ethylhexylglycerin, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, glycolic acid, sodium hydroxide, phenoxyethanol, fragrance
Without much surprise, we can find 2.5% of benzoyl peroxide, that is the acne killer.
This cleansing product is very basic, with generic ingredients that are known to be basic for a gentle cleanser. I mean I am not so strict with the cleanser as basically, you won’t keep it on your skin.
I like the addition of glycolic acid, and the small microbeads to better exfoliate and clean the pores.
But yet, I am not comfortable with the silicone they added. Why would they use it in an acne cleanser? I mean I know why; that gives you the super fake smooth feeling of a soft and silky skin and it also gives a nicer texture and more gliding power to the end product. The silicone I am talking about is the ingredient called Dimethicone.
For me, it is an ingredient that should be avoided or at least be used as little as possible especially in a daily acne skin care product, as it kinda forms a sort of plastic barrier right over your skin, that may trap everything under it (Sebum, impurities, bacteria etc…) which is what you obvisouly what you want to avoid…
The cleanser is pretty gentle, with a nice creamy and very lightweigh texture, and will clean your face without your skin feeling tight and uncomfortable afterwards. I was a bit afraid that the beads would irritate my sensitive skin but it is pretty mild so that is a plus. I don’t like the scent but that is totally subjective 🙂
Step Two: Pore Targeting Treatment
Active Ingredient(s): benzoyl peroxide 2.5%
Inactive Ingredients: water, ethoxydiglycol, glycerin, prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil, polysorbate 80, polysorbate 60, sorbitan stearate, carbomer, potassium hydroxide, disodium EDTA, fragrance.
The second product also includes 2.5 % of benzoyl peroxyde, which should not surprise you either as it is the main active which will fight and kill the acne causing bacteria. Yet, this percentage is a bit weak for a topical treatment. (For the cleanser that was ok as it was not going to stay long on skin anyway…) I know they claim that the smart target ® technology enables to deliver more precisely the actives, so you don’t need as much BPO (benzoyl peroxyde) but to be honest, I feel it is more a marketing trick… (Just my opinion)
This light treatment formula is very simple which is good as the focus must be on the active. This is more or less the serum step, before applying the moisturizer. So for this serum, a light base is more than enough, for a non-greasy and fast absorbing product.
I also like the addition of glycerin, which is a powerful humectant that will help hydrate your skin. Yet, it is a very generic active that we find almost everywhere…
It is a very lightweigh gel cream, that really absorbs well and quickly so you don’t need to wait hours before applying the moisturiser. I mean having acne is already a bad thing, wasting time for a product to penetrate would be torture I am not willing to endure. The other good point is the nice matte finish. (yeah hate the frying pan look 🙂 )
Step Three: Complexion Perfecting Hydrator
Active Ingredient(s): salicylic acid 0.5%
Inactive Ingredients: water, butylene glycol, cetearyl alcohol, dimethicone, sodium polyacrylate, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, sophora angustifolia root extract, morus alba root extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, arctostaphylos uva ursi leaf extract, kojic acid, zinc gluconate, alpha-glucan oligosaccharide, sodium hyaluronate, bisabolol, allantoin, squalane, safflower oil/palm oil aminopropanediol esters, C12-15 alkyl lactate, caprylic/capric triglyceride, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, glycerin, ethylhexyl palmitate, hydrogenated polydecene, hydroxypropyl cyclodextrin, PPG-5-laureth-5, polyquaternium-11, ceteareth-20, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, polysorbate 60, hexylene glycol, PPG-2 myristyl ether propionate, sodium hydroxide, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, fragrance.
I definitely like the addition of salicylic acid that is a beta hydroxy acid, to help exfoliate the skin. Yet, the dosage is a bit low…. it could probably be a bit higher to get a more effective treatment.
The moisturiser is packed with nice botanical actives such as kojic acid, licorice extract and bearberry that are known to brighten complexion and fade the acne scar marks.They also used some actives to hydrate and soothe the skin during the treatment.
They used again some silicones in this moisturizer which is not a smart move as it creates, as we told you, a “plastic” barrier which prevents your skin from “breathing” and can easily clog your pores. If it was used at a lower percentage, that would be less troublesome, but here from the list on ingredients, you can definitely see it is the 4th ingredient in the list, which means a pretty high percentage in the cream.
The other thing that bothers me a little is the formulation uses a lot of “transformed” of synthetic skin conditionning agents such as PPG-2 myristyl ether propionate, hydrogenated polydecene, that definitely gives a good touch and feeling but without really nourishing the skin as more natural oils would.
It is paraben free, like the other 2 products, which is good. Better be safe than sorry….
When I applied the cream for the first time, it felt a bit sticky and “plastic”at first but the cream penetrates quickly so the sticky feeling does not last long but I felt the cream was a little too occlusive. I found the cream was not hydrating enough, and had to reapply some more cream throughout the day. And to some extent, when you apply too much, it starts to be a bit heavy. So it is not thick per se but it felt a bit occlusive. I prefer products that are lighter especially for oily parts of my face.
So ingredient wise, the Proavtiv+ products do not have any overtly dangerous chemical ingredients, which could be harmful to the skin. Besides, the doses of active ingredient are quite low. So the good point is that your skin should not over react, the bad point is that it may take you much longer to reach the results you want.
What were our Results after 1 month ?
I tried the whole system for a month; it was pretty easy to follow as you only have 3 steps. It took me every day around 20 minutes. Not too difficult to incorporate in your daily activites 🙂
The results I am afraid was not as great as I expected from a brand that is so famous.
I mean, after the first week, I simply felt a bit of dryness but I thought it was pretty normal as my skin was probably getting used to this new acne skin treatment. Yet, skin looked as if my acne was improving in spite of the dryness.
At least during the first week…. Because in the middle of the 2nd week, things started to be worse.
My face skin was more and more irritated and dry. I started having red patches and tiny break outs that was hard to hide with make up. I guess the more I wanted to hide them with some foundation, the worse it became. So I tried avoiding any make up to see how it would evolve.
I spent the last 2 weeks with an irritated and dry face, (I call it the ugly acne face) which was red on the cheeks and the chin.
Surprisingly my forehead was not red or irritated at all. But frankly who cares, when your cheeks and chin are so red you look like a lobster ;(
The thing is I have already used topical products with much higher doses of benzoyl peroxyde, and I never had that drying effect. I wonder if it is the association of the salicylic acid and the benzoyl peroxyde. And it was also the first time I had used a cleanser with BPO (benzoyl peroxyde) as well. So maybe the combination is maybe too aggressive and harsh.
Benzoyle peroxyde is way more aggressive than salicylic acid so it would have been probably better to decrease or remove the Benzoyl peroxide from the cleanser and increase the dosage of salicylic acid and avoid to use so many pore clogging ingredients in the face cream ( complexion perfecting hydrator)
So, it was not the best experience from an acne skincare system and results was far from what I expected. My skin after the treatment was even more irritated and dryer than before… that is pretty ironic, isn’t it?
My acne did not improve and I had to find ways to fix that irritation and dryness issues afterwards.
If you had the same issues as me, you could maybe:
- use another cleanser without any irritant actives to avoid aggressing your skin too much and keep using the rest of the treatment
- use another day cream, which would be more hydrating, lighter and less occlusive as we know this could trigger even more breakouts and even worsen your acne.
Is it expensive ?
Well what about the price? The products could be better but let’s have a look at the prices to compare them to other products on the market.
The first question you must ask yourself is: what are the product sizes?
Because most brands play with this factor to make their offer more appealling than it is. I know it is pretty common sense but believe me we all tend to fall for it easily without knowing….
That is one trick that many brands use: they simply give you a small price and the truth is you end up with very small size products.
With proactiv, we were a bit pissed off by the fact their website does not mention any product sizes. If you intend to buy their products, you won’t find any sizes indicated at all. Every other brand listed clearly the price and sizes on their website. I think they could be more transparent about their sizes.
So, you can have a kit for 30 days or 90 days.
Price: $59 for a kit of 3 products without autoship (with autoship, it is $39)
- The cleanser size is 2fl oz, 60 ml (as a reminder – Zenmed: 180ml, Exposed: 120ml)
- The toner is not included (unless you pick autoship) its size is 1fl oz 30ml (Zenmed and Exposed: 120ml)
- The moisturiser or face cream size is 30ml (Zenmed: 70 ml / Exposed: 50ml)
- The serum/ gel size is 30 ml (zenmed: 60 ml / exposed 50 ml)
This kit will last 3 weeks to one month.
So, if you check our other reviews for the 2 other brands we recommend (check the acne treatment comparison table here) , based on formulation, results and price, you will see that proactiv plus is pretty expensive when you compare products with the same size….
Yet, I am half surprised because I am often skeptical with brands that spend too much on marketing. We all know celebrities and all the shiny campaigns cost a fortune, so that often (I say often not always lol) means that you pay more for the marketing campaigns and endorsements than for the products.
And I don’t know for you, but I‘d rather pick a brand that focuses more on the products, the ingredients, the effectiveness than on the buzz created by big names, who praise products they don’t even need lol.
Because at the end of the day, it simply makes the products much more expensive. (And I always feel grumpy when I need to shell out too many dollars if it is not worth it)
Other proactiv plus reviews
I wanted to check if I was the only one having this redness and irritation issue. Seems like I was not the only one. In fact, the reviews of the Proactiv Plus system are not overwhelming positive. The reviews on Amazon are somewhat also negative, with complaints about redness, dryness, itching, and ineffectiveness. Many were also up in arms about the price of the product. Here’s a sampling of proactive reviews :
“Proactive made my skin so dry it’s peeling off. And one spot on my face actually felt like it was burning and is still sensitive. I haven’t used it for a week and my skin is STILL coming off. It looks gross, and moisturizer will stop it for a little while but then it starts peeling again. Be careful if you have sensitive skin, because Benzoyl Peroxide was unbelievably harsh.” –Keyboard Monster
“Proactive worked for me when I was a teenager so I thought it would work for in my late 20 it did not. I have been using it for 1.5 months now and all it has done is dry out my skin to the point that it started peeling.” – Bliss
However, to be fair, there have been some really great reviews as well:
“Proactive is amazing. I have seen the ad on TV for years and finally decided to try it out. I wish I had done this 10 year ago. After a month, I now have clear, smooth and beautiful skin. I’m a guy and yes, my skin is now beautiful ;-))” – Luadan
“I used to use Proactive when I was a teenager and my face was filled with acne. I don’t remember if it worked or not but I decided to give it another try now that I’m much older. I started having a serious breakout along my jawline and under my chin. I’ve only been using it for about 3 days now and I’m noticing improvements. I’m very hopeful.” – Alejandra
Our final verdict
Overall, our experience was unfortunately not positive, even though we had high hopes about their smart target technology. The harsh effects on the skin, and the high price issue disappointed us.
Yet, this is a product that has been at the top of the market for years, (too marketing oriented?) so there has to be a reason though. Anyway, we definitely think you should have a look at other brands