Proactiv+ Review: All You Need to Know

By Lydia Noyes
HighYa Staff
Updated on: Feb 29, 2020

Far from being merely a problem for adolescents, an estimated 50 million American adults deal with breakouts every year, making acne treatment a $1.2 billion industry.

Proactiv+ is a daily treatment for mild to moderate acne designed to fight the signs of breakouts with prescription-strength ingredients that go directly into your pores for deeper cleansing powers.

Since the company’s start in 1995, Proactiv claims to have helped more than 20 million people with their skin problems and has become the #1 acne brand in America.

The Proactiv+ line consists of three products—an exfoliator, a pore targeting treatment, and a hydrator—that work together to clear up hormonal breakouts and adult acne for men and women.

This product line is not recommended for anyone with severe cystic or nodular acne.

How does Proactiv+ compare to other acne treatments? Should you commit to using it long-term? Learn from our analysis what your best path forward should be.

Pros: Cons:
  • Active ingredients are clinically proven effective for mild to moderate acne

  • Considered safe for long-term use

  • More expensive than similar product lines

  • May cause skin irritation during the first few weeks

  • Nonactive ingredients may cause adverse side effects

How to Use Proactiv+

With the Proactiv+ product line, Proactiv claims to have combined the principles of Combination Therapy with “Smart Target” technology to send acne-fighting medication to your pores for healthier skin and fewer blemishes. This technology purportedly delivers active ingredients directly into your pores to reduce the potential for dryness and irritation.

Proactiv+ is a three-step system designed to be used twice per day in the morning and evening. For each session, you will complete the following steps:

  1. Apply a coin-sized dollop of the Skin Smoothing Exfoliator to dampened skin, massaging it with a circular motion for two minutes. Rinse with warm water and pat until dry.

  2. Apply at least two pumps of Pore Targeting Treatment to your clean, dry skin and gently smooth it over your face, allowing it to absorb fully. Don’t wash it off!

  3. Apply at least a coin-sized amount of the Complexion Perfecting Hydrator to your dry skin, gently smoothing it over your face until it fully absorbs. You can apply more over the day as needed.

Proactiv+ is designed for long-term use. You might experience a two to four-week adjustment period as your skin gets used to the products’ active ingredients, during which you may find that your skin is dry, red, or irritated.

Note that Proactiv+ doesn’t claim to cure acne and that the company states your blemishes may return when you stop using the product line.

Analysis of Ingredients

Proactiv+’s three products include dozens of ingredients each, but the company only lists two active ingredients between the two of them: Benzoyl peroxide (2.5%) and salicylic acid (0.5%).

Benzoyl peroxide is a standard treatment option for mild to moderate acne. It works to kill bacteria and remove dead skin cells from your pores so that your skin stops getting inflamed and overproducing oil.

Though it’s considered safe for most people, benzoyl peroxide can produce side effects like skin irritation, excessive dryness, and itchiness or flakiness. Those with sunburns or naturally sensitive skin are most likely to react negatively.

Regarding concentration, a study from 1986 found that a 2.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide was as effective as a 5% or 10% concentration and was less likely to cause harmful side effects than those concentrations. Another study from 2013 verifies these findings.

Salicylic acid is another common acne treatment. Like benzoyl peroxide, it works to unplug blocked pores so that dirt and oil are dislodged and your pimples shrink. It tends to work best for whiteheads and blackheads, rather than the pus-filled pimples that benzoyl peroxide targets.

As salicylic acid is milder than benzoyl peroxide, concentrations vary in prescription products from between 0.5 and 5%. Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide target different types of acne, so Proactiv+ combines them for a full spectrum treatment.

Are there any Proactiv+ ingredients to worry about? Below are some compounds that have potential risk factors, as reported by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database.

  • Ceteareth-20: This synthetic compound acts as an emulsifier and a surfactant in personal care products. Though considered safe for topical use, it shouldn’t be used with on damaged skin because you risk absorbing it into your bloodstream and possibly triggering organ damage or general irritation.

  • Sodium polyacrylate: This chemical polymer is often added to products for its absorbency powers. It’s considered toxic if swallowed and can irritate the eyes on contact. Some people also experience skin irritation when using it topically.

  • Potassium hydroxide: Also known as lye, this inorganic material is highly caustic and is used both in soapmaking and as a thickening agent. Too much exposure can lead to skin and eye irritation, and it may be fatal if swallowed in pure form.

  • Sodium hydroxide: Like potassium hydroxide, this compound has strong corrosive qualities and can cause skin and eye irritation if you are overexposed to it.

  • Phenoxyethanol: This common cosmetic preservative is linked to skin irritation ranging from eczema and hives to life-threatening allergic reactions.

  • Kojic acid: Made from multiple types of fungi, kojic acid is often used topically and is considered safe at concentrations under 1%. Some people experience skin redness and irritation even at this concentration.

There’s also evidence that its longterm use can make you more susceptible to sunburns, which is part of the reason why Proactiv recommends that you always apply sunscreen when using its products.

Key Takeaways

Because of how potent these compounds are, especially when combined, many people experience dryness and irritation for the first few weeks of use. You might want to start with smaller amounts and gradually work up to the recommended doses if your skin reacts badly.

Pricing and Kits

On the company website, Proactiv+’s pricing ranges depending on which kit you purchase:

Price What’s Included
Proactiv+ Teen Kit $39.95 (free shipping)
  • Proactiv+ 3-Step System
  • Blackhead Dissolving Gel
  • Emergency Blemish relief
Proactiv+ Complete Kit $39.95 (free shipping)
  • Proactiv+ 3-Step System
  • Clarifying Night Cream
  • Advanced Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Proactiv+ 3-Step System $29.95 ($5.99 shipping)
  • Proactiv+ 3-Step System

You can also choose one bonus gift to be included in your order:

  • Gel Head Brush Set: cushioned skin polisher that exfoliates while removing makeup, dirt, oil, and other impurities.

  • Oil Control Kit: T-zone oil absorber that makes your pores smaller and provides up to eight hours of shine-free skin. It also includes an Amazonian clay mask.

  • Deluxe Brush Kit: Cleansing brush with three different brush heads to remove dirt, makeup, oil, bacteria, and other impurities.

You can then decide whether you will receive standard-sized 30-day-supply products or larger-sized 90-day supply bottles for three times the price.

Each purchase automatically signs you up for a subscription. Approximately every twelve weeks, you will receive a new 90-day supply of Proactiv+ products (the larger-sized products) for the same purchase price as your first order, plus $2.99-$3.99 for shipping. This 90-day payment is broken down into three monthly payments.

You can adjust how often you receive new Proactiv+ kits through your online account from every four weeks to every 20 weeks. This is also where you can pause or cancel your subscription at any time.

All Proactiv+ orders qualify for a 60-day money-back guarantee. Even empty bottles qualify for this return. To initiate a return, you can place the merchandise back in a box with an original invoice and send it to Proactiv, 6390 Commerce Court, Groveport, OH 43125.

Your money will be refunded, minus shipping costs. If you need further help, contact Proactiv+ customer care at (800) 309-4796.

Analysis of Customer Reviews

More than 30 HighYa readers have left reviews for Proactiv+, and they average 2.7 stars overall. Here are some of the most common comments.

Common Compliments:

  • Effective for long-term acne reduction
  • Clears up acne problems quickly
  • Led to smoother, clearer skin
  • Worked better for many than traditional Proactiv products

Common Complaints:

  • Bad customer service experiences (difficulties canceling subscription accounts)
  • Many customers didn’t realize they were signing up for a subscription
  • Too harsh for long term use
  • Some users developed cystic acne after using Proactiv+

Proactiv+ vs. Popular Alternatives

For those shopping around for a multi-step acne treatment kit, it pays to look at other options, including the original Proactiv line as well as two bestselling brands on Amazon.

Proactiv+ Proactiv Original Acne Free Clear Zit Acne Treatment
Price $29.99–$50 for 30-day (depending on whether you sign up for a subscription) $44.95 for a 60-day supply $18.38 for a 60-day supply $19.99 for a 60-day supply
Set Includes
  • Skin Smoothing Exfoliator

  • Pore Targeting Treatment

  • Complexion Perfecting Hydrator

  • Renewing Cleanser

  • Revitalizing Toner

  • Repairing Treatment

  • Oil-Free Acne Cleanser

  • Witch Hazel Mattifying Toner

  • Oil-Free Acne Lotion

  • Pore Targeted Exfoliator

  • Pore Targeted Treatment

  • Pore Targeted Hydrator

Active Ingredients Benzoyl peroxide (2.5%), salicylic acid (0.5%). Benzoyl peroxide (2.5%) Benzoyl peroxide (2.5%) Benzoyl peroxide (2.5%), Salicylic acid (0.5%)

What’s interesting about this comparison is that it shows that each of these product lines contains the same primary active ingredient—benzoyl peroxide at 2.5% concentration.

This makes sense, as we stated earlier that this compound is commonly used in acne medications and that a 2.5% concentration is considered the right ratio for skin benefits without causing excessive irritation.

Seeing this similar ingredients list, it becomes less clear why Proactiv+ costs more. In fact, you will pay almost five times more for a 60-day supply of Proactiv+ (without a subscription) than if you purchased the Clear Zit Acne Treatment Kit from Amazon, which contains the same ratio of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

Maybe the brand recognition and the extra ingredients in Proactiv make this higher pricing worth it, but there’s a good chance you might achieve similar results from a far cheaper product.

The Bottom Line

The Proactiv product line has been an acne-fighting leader for decades, and Proactiv+ builds on that legacy with powerful ingredients that are clinically proven to combat mild to moderate acne.

This kit works both to prevent and clear up existing acne, and it’s formulated to be mild enough for daily use. However, this means you might need to commit to using it long term if you want to maintain any results you achieve.

Proactiv+ is a premium brand, and it has pricing to match. You can find far cheaper alternatives available, many of which should work almost identically since they contain the same active ingredients.

Overall, we think that Proactiv+ is one viable option out of many for addressing your skin outbreaks. Just keep in mind that you might need to invest in prescription-strength products if you deal with cystic acne or other severe cases.


Read 36 Proactiv+ Customer Reviews and Complaints

Write a Review
Average Customer Rating: 2.7
Rating Snapshot:
5 star: 9 4 star: 6 3 star: 3 2 star: 0 1 star:  18
Bottom Line: 47% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 36
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  • OK but price too high

    • By Jem McRary,
    • Washington D.C.,
    • Jun 26, 2015

    I found this new iteration of Proactiv Plus to at least be a little better than the last. It is less drying. I still feel like a few of the other products I have used recently are both better and cheaper.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Buyer beware.

    • By Cindy,
    • Houston, TX,
    • Jun 26, 2015

    I started with the 30 day supply (smaller bottles). After 30 days I didn't see a significant change in my acne. So, of course, I started using the bigger sized products when the smaller bottles were done and I waited 60 days to see if my skin would improve. It did not. So I decided to return the products for my money back guarantee. Well I only got refunded for the larger bottles which is what I sent back. The smaller bottles I had used and thrown away after they were finished were not refunded. Make sure you save them even if you are done with them so that you can get your money back if the system doesn't work. I called and even spoke to a supervisor. They are worthless and did nothing. I am glad they didn't work, because I hate to do business with companies that don't care about being 100% behind their product. I now use Alpha Hydrox and it's working wonders. And so much cheaper. Google it.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Cancel item

    • By Debbie,
    • Ellicott city md,
    • Apr 14, 2014

    Canceled before my next shipment and they still charge me and send more. I returned it back and it's been 3 weeks and I got charged again. And all they can say "I'm sorry it that it's been 4 to 6 weeks and that's why you got charged again".

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Not what I expected

    • By Deborah,
    • Philadelpiha, PA,
    • Aug 12, 2015

    I'll start with some background. I'm a teenage girl (don't want to give my age) who suffered with really bad acne during my transition to puberty. Acne doesn't run in my family, my older brother suffered with mild acne during his transition into puberty and it cleared up within a year. As I got older my acne got a better bit by bit with time. My skin after that was never perfect. I started out with normal whitehead pimples on my forehead black heads on my cheeks and acne scars. By the time I was thinking about ordering Proactiv Plus I had a bunch of noticeable black heads acne scarring, and pimples that only came around my period, not as bad as when I hit puberty. My mom never trusted all those acne products she saw on TV because I'm an African-American, she believed that those products didn't work for all skin types. But, after hearing about Proactiv​ Plus from a few of her friends and co-workers she gave in and ordered it.

    After using the 30-day supply I didn't see much of a difference other then the fact that those period pimples began to go away, but I wasn't amazed because they always eventually do. My mom decided she'd order the 3-month supply next. To make this part short I developed cystic acne, it seemed like my black heads spread down my cheeks and my pimples were actually bright red. Mind you I'm dark skinned, not dark, just dark enough that I if I blushed you wouldn't notice, that part really shocked me. My acne had drastically worsened. After reading a few reviews I found that people were saying that they had noticed that their skin was terrible for a few days but it cleared up and that's when they saw there results. Seeing that gave me some type of hope so I kept using it.

    My acne would not ease up. I got pimples on my chin, cheeks and nose when I usually only get them on my forehead. My mom called the company, they gave her some crap that it takes six weeks to pull out impurities and then clear them up (note: this was a month and 2 1/2 weeks of using Proactiv). By the second month these pimples became like a see-saw, if one went away another one had to pop back up. My mom called again, they gave her the same pulling out impurities nonsense. That day she canceled our membership. I noticed that simply washing my face with a Neutrogena cleanser got rid of the mess Proactiv left me with. All in all, this product messed me up big time. With this product my skin was at it's worse, I'd never seen my face the way it had been. Also, they were very misleading with prices. I don't know if it's because of my race or if it just simply didn't work , but the product gave me no justice.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Never again.

    • By H.D.,
    • Arkansas,
    • Jun 29, 2015

    I'm 42 and suffer with mild acne so I ordered Proactiv Plus and after two weeks, my face broke out in huge open sores all over my face and neck. I knew there'd be a break out period but what I'm going through is not just a normal breakout. These are huge, open, raw sores. I was a military combat medic so I knew it wasn't anything other than the Proactiv and these sores still remain on my face three weeks after my last use of Proactiv and don't seem to be getting better very quickly.

    I will never use this again nor will I recommend this crap to anyone and to make things worse, they continue to charge me long after I canceled and keep telling me it will take six weeks to get my money back. Bad customer service, worse product. Buyer beware.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Original Proactiv is Better

    • By Julie,
    • Dallas, TX,
    • Jun 30, 2015

    I have been using the original Proactiv line for years and it helped manage my acne prone skin. While I would still have occasional breakouts, it managed my skin better than any other product has in the past. I thought Proactiv Plus would be even better. Unfortunately, it has made my skin worse. I have been using it for about two months and my skin is as bad as it has ever been. I would definitely not recommend spending the extra money. I am going back to the original.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Huge let down

    • By Dawn,
    • Milwaukee, WI,
    • Jun 30, 2015

    I started using Proactiv plus two months ago everything started out fine up until three weeks ago. I did everything the bottle said to do. I am now continuing to breakout in huge cystic acne everywhere on my face.

    Now I have to find a dermatologist to deal with this disaster. I will never again go anywhere near another Proactiv product. I guess it only works for certain skin types.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Proactiv Plus Scam

    • By Pat,
    • Long Beach, CA,
    • Jul 7, 2015

    Product did not work and when you try to get your refund it's horrible customer service. They send out the 2nd shipment early so they can get you on the shipping costs for that one too. Takes 4-6 weeks to get your refund and credit the account balance of a 3 month supply even though you declined it when you initially ordered the product.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Horrid customer service

    • By Sarah,
    • Oregon,
    • Nov 8, 2014

    Found the product didn't work for me, so I sent the items back. Nothing for a month, so I checked in.

    Apparently I sent back a 'free gift' and so I can't get my return! Their customer service is abominable (phone or email) as they repeat the same things over and over. Once they have your money it's theirs- be absolutely sure you cancel and get written proof of such!

    I'm seriously considering flagging them as 'fraudulent charges' at this point, I'm so frustrated.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • The Original Proactiv is better

    • By Chrystal Hubbard,
    • Omaha, NE,
    • Jun 8, 2015

    The original Proactiv worked miracles for me, yes it's expensive but it's worth it. Nothing works better than it for me. I always am told I have the best, most clear skin and I thank the original Proactiv for that. I was so excited to hear they were making a Proactiv plus and I thought it was going to be better. I was wrong. Not only did I pay $30.00 more dollars just for the small package of Proactiv plus, it didn't work for me. I broke out as if I wasn't using any skin care at all. I was extremely disappointed. If you're like me, use the original Proactiv. The original Proactive never ever did that to me, it always worked wonders and I was never disappointed with it and I have been using it for 10 years now. Minus the sad 4 weeks I used Proactiv plus.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


  • Caused cystic acne for me too.

    • By Miranda Ottem,
    • Antioch, CA,
    • Jul 9, 2015

    I found this review page in hopes of finding tips on how to make a successful return of the unopened 90 day supply. I knew about the automatic ordering, just forgot to cancel. I've been really stressed and busy so I figured my breakouts were from that. Then I realized after reading other people had cystic acne after starting Proactiv Plus, that's when I connected the dots. I'm so pissed, I can't wait to call to cancel.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


Showing 1-11 of 36

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Proactiv+ Review: All You Need to Know