Does Proactiv Really Work?

Updated May 17, 2014.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See’s Medical Review Board.

Question: Does Proactiv Work?

I hear about Proactiv all the time. I’m thinking about trying it, but I don’t want it to be just another product that doesn’t live up to its claims.

So, does Proactiv work? And how can I tell if it’s the right acne treatment product for me?


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, 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 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 Proactiv. 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 be worth a try 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 OTC products already without much 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 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.

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.

Also, remember that Proactiv (like all acne treatments) will take time to work. Stick with it for at least eight to 10 weeks before expecting any improvement of your skin.

Next Steps:

How To Choose an OTC Acne Treatment

Create Your Own “Proactiv-Like” Treatment Routine

Are OTC Acne Treatments Right for You?