proactiv plus review

Proactiv Plus Review + Better Alternatives for Beautiful Skin

Are you hoping that proactiv plus will actually help you treat your acne?

If so there are a few things you need to understand about proactiv before you actually purchase the product. 

Things like:

Does it actually work? should you be doing more with your acne? do other products work better?

In this proactiv plus review we are going to go over ALL of this and more (including products I think work way better than proactiv plus, and that’s from a person who has used proactiv for 10 years): 


Does Proactiv Actually Work?

​If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’re wondering if proctiv plus is going to finally be THE facial product that will clear up your skin. 

​In fact you’ve probably been burned by other facial products in the past that may have slightly worked but still left you with acne that you need to get rid of. 

​If that’s the case then I think you will find this review incredibly helpful!


Because we are not only going to take a look at proctiv, but we are going to evaluate WHY you might have acne and what other steps you can do to treat it – things you probably haven’t looked into before.

So let’s start with the obvious question:

Does proactiv plus really work?

​The answer is that it CAN work, but it may not work for everyone. 

In terms of its raw potential I will say that it has more potential to help you than other facial creams and products.

Like you are probably figuring out, each person needs a different skin regimen that is personalized to that persons skin type, skin type and oil production. 

The reaso​n proactiv products tend to work so well is because they contain a powerful anti bacterial therapy known as benzoyl peroxide. 

This is THE active ingredient in proactiv plus products and is one of the main reasons that it works so well for so many people.

But just because it works, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be used in every person…​

My 10 year Experience Experience with Proactiv

I have personally struggled with acne in the past (both as a teenager and into my adult years).

Thankfully through hours of research and experimentation I have figured out how to deal with my acne and I will share some of the advanced things that I learned below.

But what’s important for this discussion is how proactiv fits in.

I am a personal user of proactiv products and even used their products for 10 years.

For my skin type (which is oily) and skin tone (very fair) it actually worked quite well.

But that’s not the main problem…

The problem with proactiv is that it is a product that should NOT be used long term.

And this is unfortunate because that’s exactly how proactiv products are branded:

As long term solutions to acne.

​Despite this, there is good data to indicate that long term anti biotics should not be used to treat mild to moderate acne. 


Because antibiotics (like benzoyl peroxide) kill ALL of the bacteria on your skin.

And persistent and long term use of proactic will result in permanent damage to your skin microbiome.

skin microbiome and acne

You are lead to believe that acne is caused by bad bacteria and that the treatment is to kill this bacteria. 

But what you probably didn’t realize is that people who have acne and those who don’t have acne still have the same bacteria on their skin.

The difference is the relative concentrations and other issues going on in their body (hormone imbalances, inflammation, etc.).

Proactiv takes a very general approach:

To kill all bacteria on your skin. 

And the issue with this approach is that it works temporarily but it isn’t a long term solution. 

This is why people who stop taking proactiv later in life end up with WORSE acne. 

This has to do with the severe damage that occurs to your skin as a result of the powerful antibiotics inside proactiv plus. 

Understanding Acne & How Proactiv Works​

​Just because proactiv kills off bacteria on your skin doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. 

Proactiv actually works quite well for those people who are dealing with inflammation and have an overgrowth of BAD bacteria on their skin.

It also helps certain people who have high oil production (because benzoyl peroxide and witch hazel can help reduce this oil).

But what you need to understand is that acne is an INTERNAL problem.

Acne is a manifestation of other issues going wrong INSIDE your body.

And no amount of lotions, or creams will permanently remove or reverse your acne if it’s caused by something on the inside of your body.

This is why proactiv plus will work for some people and NOT for others.


Because it depends on the CAUSE of your acne.

People that do really well on proactiv are those who actually do have some degree of skin issues.

Those with an overgrowth of bad bacteria and those with heavy oil production.

If your acne is caused by hormone problems, too much testosterone, not enough thyroid hormone or gut issues – then proactiv is NOT the best product for you.

​One of the main beauties of the proactiv plus system is the 3 step system they created. 

proactiv plus 3 step system

The system consists of the following:

  • Cleanser to help exofliate the epidermal layers of the skin
  • Toner to help bring back the pH of the skin that was stripped off during the exfoliation phase
  • Moisturizer to help bring back natural moisture to the skin and create a barrier to protect the skin

​The active ingredient during the exfoliative phase is benzoyl peroxide at 2.5% strength (which we have discussed previously). 

Now, you can use pretty much anything during the first phase – you don’t HAVE to use benzoyl peroxide.

active ingredients in proactiv plus

So other products like glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, lactic acid, etc. can all be used with some success during this phase.

The other inactive ingredients are meant to help with absorption of the benzoyl peroxide and to provide a barrier (dimethicone) to the skin. 

The ​second stage (the toner) also has the active ingredient of benzoyl peroxide at the 2.5% strength. 

The toner is meant to add back pH to the skin to normalize it after the exfoliating phase strips off the acid mantle

The final stage is the moisturizer which contains 0.5% salicylic acid. 

Salicylic acid, in this setting, is simply used as an adjunct therapy to the benzoyl peroxide. 

Studies have shown that salicylic acid is helpful for the treatment of mild acne and can reduce the number of lesions if used by itself. 

The beauty of the 3 step system​ is that this combination of therapies can be used with OTHER and more effective products. 

What you will find is that other products and brands have created better active ingredients (those that are less harmful to the skin if used long term) to treat inflammatory skin conditions like acne.

I do believe that proactiv brought this concept into the main stream, and it works really well due to the layering of products on top of one another, but it doesn’t mean you HAVE to use their products to get the same benefit.

Who should use Proactiv Plus

Just because I’ve been critical of proactiv plus doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad product. 

Quite the opposite: 

I think proactiv plus is a great product for CERTAIN people and only if used correctly – meaning for less than 90 days.

So who should actually use proactiv plus?

​It’s best if you use proactiv plus if you fit any of the following criteria

  • You have inflammatory acne (moderate to heavy) and have failed traditional and weaker facial products like salicylic acid or glycolic acid
  • You NEED to get your acne under control for some special event (wedding, pictures, work interview, etc.)
  • You are using supplements or other medications to treat your acne but you want to boost your results while you wait for other therapies to kick in
  • Those with mild to moderate acne during their teenage years (it will most likely go away over time so long term use of proactiv probably won’t be necessary) 

Who should NOT use proactiv plus: 

  • Those with mild to moderate regular acne
  • Those with Adult onset acne
  • Those with mild or slight acne scars (you can use combination therapy with microneedling to get better results)
  • Those with heavy or cystic acne (you may need more intensive therapy than just proactiv)
  • Those who have acne as a result of hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism, PCOS or high testosterone (You will need to address these imbalances to treat your acne)
  • Those with gut imbalances SIBO or SIFO (Again treating this problem is more important)
  • Those with food intolerances or allergies causing their acne (Don’t damage your skin with antimicrobials if you can simply change your diet)

​If you determine you fit the criteria above then you can give proactiv plus a shot…

Also remember that proactiv has a big budget and uses celebrities to endorse their products.

Generally you should be weary of any product line that uses this kind of marketing tactic because these brands can spend more money on marketing their products than on developing them!​

Proactiv Plus Review & Instructions

Overall rating: 

Overall Quality

Decent quality, but not the highest quality products (still uses cheaper inactive ingredients)


Reasonable price for the quality

Why I Like it

Works well for SOME people but should not be used long term

  • Active ingredients include benzoyl peroxide at 2.5%
  • Salicylic acid is in the moisturizer at 0.5%
  • Also contains dimethicone which is a silicon based inactive ingredient
How to use it: 
Why it works
  • I recommend starting with once a day application (preferably after your shower)
  • Apply facial cleanser, followed by the toner, followed by the moisturizer
  • Allow skin to dry between EACH application (do not apply moisturizer until the toner has completely dried off)
  • Do not use for longer than 90 days in a row
  • Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful topical antibiotic that will kill both bad and good bacteria
  • Salicylic acid has also been shown to reduce acne in mild to moderate cases
  • The 3 step system helps exfoliate dead skin cells, balance pH levels in the acid mantle and bring back moisture and protection to the skin surface
Recommended product: 

proactiv plus 3 step systemRead more reviews here

Pros and Cons of using Proactiv Plus: 


  • Works well for mild to moderate acne
  • Can be layered with other serums and high quality products
  • Will work to get rid of acne if your acne is due to inflammation or bad bacteria overgrowth


  • Should NOT be used long term
  • Contains benzoyl peroxide which will kill both good and bad skin bacteria
  • May cause worse acne if you stop using proactiv
  • Better options exist for most forms of acne and are less harsh on your skin

Better Products for your Skin

Now that we’ve discussed proactiv plus and WHO should use it, it’s also worth mentioning other BETTER products.

In addition it’s important to realize that in order to adequately treat your acne you need a comprehensive approach.

Below I go over what I think is the best approach to managing your acne (and it is the same plan that I used to take care of mine): ​

  • 3 Step system that doesn’t completely eliminate skin flora
  • Vitamin C serum to help repair and nourish existing skin
  • Addition of special therapies like microneedling, dermaplaning, chemical peels or dermarolling all of which can be combined with creams/serums
  • Oral supplements to balance hormones, nourish the skin and reduce inflammation
  • Treatment of existing SIBO or other inflammatory gut conditions to reduce inflammation
  • Evaluation of hormone systems like your thyroid, estrogen levels and androgen levels
  • Lifestyle changes to improve diet, add exercise and reduce stress

As you can see we take advantage of the 3 step system that proactiv plus uses but we change up the actual products and instead add several other therapies. 

The other therapies are designed to tackle acne from ALL areas and this is what really gets great results.

I should also point out that if you decide to use proactiv plus (if you fall into the categories listed above) please also make sure you add other things to your regimen like the supplements AND lifestyle changes below. 

Before we jump into those areas, I w​ant to go over what I think is a better all around product and that is the Obagi 360 system. 

This is a 3 step system (much like proactiv) but from a brand that dermatologists and plastic surgeons use.

Obagi is a seriously high end brand with high end ingredients that actually work.

Why do I like the Obagi 360 system?

First off the system uses products that have been tested and scientifically proven to help reduce acne AND help nourish the skin in the process.

​In addition Obagi products are endorsed by physicians because they actually work. 

In studies, as little as 12 weeks of therapy reduced photodamage, break outs and pore visibility compared to other leading brands: ​

obagi 360 results

In addition, other studies show that patients experienced the following benefits while using Obagi 360: 

  • 84% said that their skin looked and felt smoother
  • 78% said that their face felt rejuvenated
  • 81% said their face appeared firmer
  • 78% said that their skin clarity (reduction in acne, etc.) looked better

While no product is perfect, the reason I like the Obagi system is because it’s designed to be used LONG term and it’s not harmful to do it (unlike proactiv). 

The ingredients ​like retinol help reduce photo damage and reverse the aging process, so your skin will look better in addition to treating your acne. 

patient satisfaction of obagi 360

You can also see before and after pictures of the Obagi system in action below: 

obagi 360 8 weeks before and after

One thing I would draw your attention to is the quality and texture of this persons skin in her after picture. 

The softness and glow to the skin is from the retinol containing products which act to reduce the signs of aging especially from photodamage. ​

Bottom line?

The obagi system is superior to the proactiv plus 3 step system because it uses less harsh ingredients, it can be continued long term and because it will also help treat scarring and the aging process. ​

Obagi 360 Review + How to use it

Overall rating: 

Overall Quality

Contains Vitamin A (Retinol) to help reduce aging and directly treat acne


High price but very high quality ingredients – your face is worth the splurge

Why I Love it

This product was critical in treating my acne

Who should use it:
  • Anyone who has failed cheap over the counter acne cleansers and face wash
  • Those with mild to moderate to heavy acne
  • Those transitioning OFF of proactiv or other more harmful acne face wash systems
  • Those who want a face cleansing system that will also result in healthy skin, complexion
  • Those who want a facial product that will also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles
  • Retinol 0.5%
  • Avobenzene
  • Oxybenzone 5%
How to use it:
Why it works
  • Cleanser: Use twice daily (morning and night)
  • Retinol: Use in the PM only
  • Moisturizer and sunscreen: Use in the morning to provide protection from the sun all day
  • Retinol (Vitamin A) helps directly treat acne while also increasing skin turnover time and acting as an exfoliative therapy. Oxybenzone helps act as a sunscreen protecting the skin and Avobenzene helps nourish the skin naturally. 
Recommended product: 

obagi 360 3 step systemRead more reviews here

Using Supplements in Conjunction with Skin Care Products

​Whether you choose to use my recommended product or use Proactiv plus you should ALSO consider using supplements and these other tips. 


Because as I’ve mentioned before treating acne takes a comprehensive approach – one that takes into account what is going on INSIDE your body.

The next thing you should consider is the use of supplements. 

Certain supplements can help treat acne by reducing inflammation, providing your skin with basic nutrients to heal faster and reduce the impact that hormones have on the skin.

Below I will go over what supplements I use and why they work (scientifically). ​

Consider using supplements in ADDITION to facial creams, lotions and serums:

  • Zinc bound to picolinic acid: Zinc helps increase wound healing (which means if you pick your face it will help heal faster!), zinc also helps reduce the impact that high testosterone has on your skin by reducing the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Most people are deficient in zinc due to a poor diet which makes zinc a serious consideration for most people. Make sure to take 60mg per day of a high quality zinc supplement. 
  • Biotin + Silica: Biotin and Silica are required for optimal hair growth and are basic nutrients that your skin needs to function. This is why these supplements are inside almost every hair, skin and nails supplement! I recommend using this if you have active acne because it can indirectly improve the texture of your skin – plus the bonus if that it will help your hair grow. 
  • Fish oil: Fish oil works well for acne because it is a powerful anti inflammatory supplement. As you probably know acne is an inflammatory condition, so anything you can do to cool down inflammation in your skin will help. Also, omega 3 fatty acids can help nourish your skin naturally by increasing natural moisture and making your skin look softer. Take up to 2-3 grams per DAY to get the most benefit. 

If you are serious about treating your acne I recommend using ALL of these supplements in addition to either proactiv plus or the Obagi 360 system. 

Other tips for healthy skin:

In addition to using a skin care regimen you also want to take basic steps to improve your skin by working on lifestyle factors. 

Believe it or not these factors are probably MORE important than what you put on your skin.


Because these factors indirectly influence your hormones which can directly contribute to acne. 

Take for instance your cycle:

Heavy stress before your menstrual cycle can cause issues which may result in a delayed cycle and therefore more estrogen resulting in more acne. 

#1. Drink plenty of water

You should be drinking up to 1 gallon of water per day!

Water is AMAZING for your skin. 

Water helps naturally moisturize your skin while helping your body detox out any harmful endocrine disruptors you may come into contact with throughout the day. 

Make sure to drink enough so that your pee is clear!

#2. Eat healthy and organic food

Lots of people will tell you that your diet does NOT influence your acne and this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

You have to consider that general and non organic products contain growth hormones and other artificial hormones that DO have impact in your body. 

These chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors and they can impact the hormone receptors in your body.

Make sure to avoid those chemicals by eating CLEAN, that means organic and natural whole foods.

#3. Exercise regularly (you want to sweat)

Exercise helps your skin because it acts as a natural way to detox. 


Through your sweat. 

Your body can eliminate toxins through your skin (via sweating or through acne!) or through your pee and stools. 

Make sure to eliminate any excess crap by sweating it out instead of having your body form pustules and pimples (acne). 

#4. Reduce your stress and get enough sleep!​

Lack of sleep actually has been scientifically linked to acne and here’s how: 

acne and SIBO

Lack of sleep causes increased cravings for processed and refined foods. 

These foods directly damage your intestinal lining causing something called increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut).

Because of this permeability toxins and other products are absorbed and either directly damage your skin cells or must be released through the skin as acne. ​

  • Bottom line: Make healthy changes to your diet, exercise schedule, sleep schedule and do things to help reduce stress. These changes WILL help your skin look clear and amazing. 

Other therapies to complement your Acne regimen

Next up on the list of things you should also add to your skin regimen is certain therapies that have been clinically proven to also help reduce acne and acne scarring. 

#1. Microneedling

First up on the list is microneedling. 

Microneedling is done by taking a pen with 10+ small hypodermic needles which pierce the skin thousands of time to the level of the dermal epidermal junction. 

 This process directly results in a decrease in sebum production and has been proven to reduce acne scarring and pock marks

dermaroller plus vitamin C for acne scarring

Microneedling is also a powerful anti aging therapy and should seriously be considered if you have acne.

You can find more about the benefits of microneedling here. ​

#2. Chemical peels

Chemical peels can also be used in conjunction with supplements, lifestyle changes AND with a 3 step therapy. 

Chemical peels help exfoliate excess epidermal dead skin cells which reduces the chance of your pores being clogged. 

It also helps reduce acne scars (but not as much as microneedling).

The good news about chemical peels is that you can do lighter and more gentle peels at home and they are effective.

In order to get the deeper chemical peels you may need to see a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist, however. ​

#3. Dermarolling

Dermarolling is like the microneedling procedure in terms of how it works, but it’s not quite as effective. 

Instead of using a mechanical pen to poke the skin thousands of times, this procedure uses a ball that has lots of little needles which poke into the skin as it “rolls” across your face. 

The benefit of using a dermaroller is that you can use it at home, the downside is that it’s not quite as powerful as microneedling in terms of reducing acne scarring. 

Wrapping it up

​Bottom line?

Proactiv plus is a good product, but it’s not THE best product.

Long term use of proactiv can result in damage to your skin microbiome and make coming off of proactiv very difficult.

Because of this I generally recommend a more balanced product like the Obagi 360 3 step system which is superior.

If you decide you want to use the proactiv system just make sure you don’t use it for longer than 90 days at a time.

Also, if you are treating acne, make sure to add other therapies including lifestyle changes, supplements and medical therapies for the best results!

Now it’s your turn:

Do you have acne? Have you tried proactiv plus?

Did it work for you? Why or why not?

Leave your comments below!​

Kat Rich

Hi! I'm Kat and I write these posts. I'm obsessed with eyebrows, hair and anything related to fitness. Right now I do microblading, 3d brows and semi-permanent eyebrows in Mesa, Arizona as a certified microblading artist. I'm a licensed cosmetologist and have been for over 10 years as well. I love experimenting with new products and love to share my experiences. Have questions? Leave them below!

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