The Shocking Truth About Proactiv

is proactive good?

I have a long relationship with Proactiv.

Once upon a time…

I started breaking out. It all started when I was a teenager at around age 13.

Read my full acne story here.

For a while I didn’t know what to do, but my skin was so embarrassingly bad that I knew I had to try something, anything.

I kept seeing the infomercials for Proactiv at the time on tv, and decided to beg my mom to get it for me. She was happy to do it since my skin wasn’t fun to look at for her either.

My forehead and cheeks were covered in nasty red and white inflamed pimples. Since I was too young for makeup, there was no hiding.

I was extremely excited when the package arrived in the mail! I used the three step system day and night, and I followed the Proactiv instructions to the letter.

At the time I thought my skin was improving, but looking at old pictures I see that it looked extremely shiny and oily, with visible little pimples everywhere.

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I guess this might have been an improvement from not washing my face at all, but I’d like to explain to you why Proactive sucks and why you should avoid Proactive in case you were wondering if Proactiv really works to cure acne.

There’s a difference between the Proactiv system I used back in 2003, to the Proactiv+ system available now. But let me explain why both are inherently flawed.

Proactiv+ – The Current System

Proactiv From 2016

Proactiv+ of today is a 3-step system, with a Skin Smoothing Exfoliator (Cleanser), Pore Targeting Solution (Benzoyl Peroxide), and a Skin Smoothing Hydrator (Moisturizer).


Proactiv+ today


Proactiv Of The Past

Back when I used Proactiv it contained the Renewing Cleanser, the Revitalizing Toner, and the Benzoyl Peroxide Repairing Treatment – you could order a moisturizer too, but it was an extra step and cost more. I tried it too, as well as the sulfur mask.

I was fully on the Proactiv bandwagon.

Proactiv From The Good Old Days

Unfortunately, the system is flawed from the very first step: the cleanser.

The cleanser contains exfoliating beads, it’s basically a scrub, that I remember being super harsh.

Sure, it felt good to wash my face with this ‘cleanser’ because I felt like I was rubbing the acne off – if only that was a good thing.

Exfoliating Twice A DayBy exfoliating my skin twice a day everyday, I did the following:

  • I rubbed my skin raw exposing it to more bacteria.
  • I dried out my skin.
  • My skin didn’t have a chance to ever heal.
  • It became dehydrated, so whatever sebum it produced would just sit on the surface creating an unattractive oil slick.
  • Moisturizer could not really help with such a harsh exfoliation routine.

It gets worse…

After exfoliating, I would apply the Revitalizing Toner that contained glycolic acid and Witch Hazel, both drying ingredients AND THEN a generous layer of Proactiv’s Benzoyl Peroxide Repairing Treatment.

It was was all supposed to keep blemishes away, but each product in the system further dried out my dehydrated skin.

I got the Green Tea Moisturizer from Proactiv at the time too, I knew I needed something to calm my raw skin. I remember the moisturizer just sitting on top of my skin, not doing anything for me.

The blemishes kept coming back. Yes, they were smaller, but they were ever present.

I didn’t like my skin AT ALL – but I used the product for about 4-5 years because I was too afraid to try anything else. I was seriously convinced that Proactiv was the only thing on the market that could help me cure my acne.

Today, Proactiv smartened up (I’m being generous), and revamped their system getting rid of the irritating toner entirely, and renaming the systemProactiv+. They also introduced a moisturizer into the system, and made the cleanser less harsh.

But did they get rid of the harsh exfoliator beads in the product?

Hell no.

Is Proactiv+ better than Proactiv?

They made the beads smaller in the new Skin Smoothing Exfoliator, and actually label it as an exfoliator – yet still advise in the instructions to use it TWICE DAILY.

The Skin Smoothing Exfoliator lathers more than the old Renewing Cleanser, and it contains benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid. However, it’s still an exfoliator that they want you to use twice a day!

This boggles my mind.

How do two dermatologists approve exfoliation twice a day? I’m talking about Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields who developed the famous Proactiv system.

Justin Bieber for Proactiv

Justin Bieber for Proactiv

The brand is also great at getting celebrity endorsements from Justin Beiber to Lily Aldridge making the company seem extremely trustworthy – especially to the teenagers out there just starting on their skincare journey.

Lily Aldridge For Proactiv

Lily Aldridge For Proactiv

It kind of upsets me that their marketing is so good, and that kids think they can trust Proactiv. Just remember that these people are paid to have these opinions of the product, ok?

I don’t think they really care how harsh the system is on your delicate skin – but I care. If you know of a teenager trying to manage their acne, please try to veer them away from Proactive.

I know that sometimes it seems like a good idea to aggressively destroy acne with harsh and drying chemicals, but it will only worsen the problem.

Proactiv+ Ingredients

Here are the ingredients in the Proactiv+ 3-Step System in case you were wondering:

Step One: Skin Smoothing Exfoliator

Medicinal ingredient: benzoyl peroxide 2.5%

Non-Medicinal Ingredients: water (aqua/eau), sodium cocoyl isethionate, glycerin, polyethylene, lauryl/myristyl benzoate, coconut acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, butylene glycol, dimethicone, ethylhexylglycerin, acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, sodium isethionate, sodium hydroxide, glycolic acid, phenoxyethanol fragrance (parfum)

Step Two: Pore Targeting Solution

Medicinal ingredient: benzoyl peroxide 2.5%

Non-Medicinal Ingredients: water (aqua/eau), ethoxydiglycol, glycerin, prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil, polysorbate 80, polysorbate 60, sorbitan stearate, carbomer, potassium hydroxide, disodium EDTA, fragrance (parfum)

Step Three: Complexion Perfecting Hydrator

The first two steps include benzoyl peroxide, and the last step includes salicylic acid in the MOISTURIZER.

Salicylic acid is an incredible acne-fighting ingredient along with Benzoyl Peroxide, but I consider it overkill to add it to a moisturizer in an already harsh and drying system.

The concept that ‘less is more’ in terms of acne fighting ingredients isn’t considered at the Proactiv+ labs.

The good news is that the PH level in the Complexion Perfecting Hydrator is far too high for the salicylic acid to even begin to have an effect, so it’s just a filler ingredient.

What really stands out to me is that it contains safflower/palm oil – I know that most people with acne-prone skin break out from oils, or at least are sensitive to them.

Annoyingly both safflower oil and palm oil are listed in the ingredients, safflower oil has a comedogenicity rating of 0 (not pore clogging) and palm oil has a comedogenicity rating of 4 (quite pore clogging).

We don’t know how much of each oil is in the actual product…So it’s up to you if you want to gamble on your skin.

Is Proactiv for you?

Well, with an exfoliating cleanser rubbing your skin raw, followed by a beneficial acne-fighting Benzoyl Peroxide Pore Targeting Solution, followed by a somewhat drying moisturizer…I’ll let you be the judge.

With Love,


P.S. If you need help on your skin-clearing journey, sign up to get 28 of my BEST hacks for clear skin here!



  • Leanne
    I am currently using the new 3 steps solution and it burned my face. I've only been using it for a week it was actually working, it makes my skin clearer but I noticed my face started to feel pain and get wrinkles on side of my nose, eyes, and both of my cheeks. Every time I laugh or smile I would feel the tightness on my face and the wrinkles became visible. Now the pain is gone but my face became rough and dry and it would shed. It now looks like I got sunburns.
    • Leanne
      I thought the brand is trusted since it has 5 stars rating on their website. I am really devastated right now and I just want to go to the store and complain and ask to make the skin type that I use to have. I didn't even have that much pimples. It wasn't even visible but I sometimes scratch it when its itching and it would get worse. I try to find their email but it won't show until I visited their tweeter. When i found out their email I emailed them right away and even tweet them, but I still got no response from them.
    • Hi Leanne! I am so sorry to hear what you're experiencing with Proactiv...It's extremely unfortunate! It sounds like the system was WAY too harsh for you, especially if you aren't used to ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide coupled with a harsh scrub... I would discontinue using their products immediately, and if you need, I can coach you to heal your skin after this damage. It's important to just let your skin heal now without touching it too much. Maybe take a break for a week from using anything else on your skin...You can wash it with plain warm water. But if it's really dry and painful... One product I recommend Now Solutions Hyaluronic Firming Serum - it has aloe and hyaluronic acid in it, and you can use it to moisturize and heal your skin. It's very gentle, and should be applied to damp skin. A little bit goes a long way. Also, raw honey masks can help in soothing and healing. Let me know how it goes, and keep me updated on your progress! Love, Olena

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