ProactivMD is a four-part skin regimen formulated with a prescription-strength, FDA approved retinoid that works at the cellular level to clear acne where it starts, while preventing future breakouts.
In fact, this previously prescription-only retinoid—Adapalene—is now available in an over-the-counter gel for the first time in three decades. And when combined with the other products in the system, the website indicates you’ll be able to cleanse, tone, hydrate, and protect against the sun, all in one easy-to-use system.
Together, this means ProactivMD can restore your skin's tone and texture, unblock clogged pores, and reduce redness and inflammation, leaving you with clear, radiant skin when used twice daily over the course of six weeks.
Struggling with acne is a problem that many of us face, and there can be a lot of hit-and-miss involved when trying to find a product that works with your system and delivers meaningful results.
Given this, what might you expect from ProactivMD’s system? Is Adapalene as revolutionary as the company makes it out to be? In the end, how can you choose the right system for you?
Here, we’ll help you find some real world answers by discussing everything we learned during our research, starting with the basics.
What Causes Acne & How Can You Prevent It?
Although acne is often thought of as an adolescent-related problem, the reality is that as much as 20 percent of adults are thought to experience the condition, which occurs when pores and hair follicles become clogged with excess skin oil (sebum).
While the medical community doesn’t yet fully understand the underlying cause, hormones, genetics, bacteria, and stress are thought to be common instigators.
Once acne is present, common treatments include benzoyl peroxide (kills bacteria and slows oil production), salicylic acid (breaks down blackheads and whiteheads), retinoids like Retin-A, and even corticosteroid injections and oral antibiotics in more severe cases.
Comparatively, how does ProactivMD work?
What Products Are Included In the ProactivMD Essentials System?
As mentioned, there is a total of four products found in the ProactivMD system. Let's briefly take a look at their ingredients and how they promise to work in unison to address acne.
Step 1: Deep Cleansing Face Wash
The Deep Cleansing Face Wash features tiny exfoliating beads that claim to help gently exfoliate skin. Use once in the morning and again at night by applying to dampened skin, gently massaging for 1-2 minutes, and rinsing thoroughly with warm water.
Water, cocamidopropyl betaine, distearyl phthalic acid amide, polyethylene, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, jojoba esters, ammonium laureth sulfate, camellia sinensis leaf extract, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, menthol, butylene glycol, PEG-120 methyl glucose dioleate, sodium hydroxide, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, fragrance, chromium hydroxide green
Step 2: Balancing Toner
When applying to cleansed skin morning and night, Balancing Toner’s ingredients claim to leave your skin feeling fresh, revitalized, and balanced. These include:
Water, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) water, polysorbate 20, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, rosa canina fruit extract, anthemis nobilis flower extract, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) leaf extract, panthenol, glycerin, hydroxyethylcellulose, sodium PCA, tetrasodium EDTA, benzoic acid, citric acid, benzophenone-4, imidazolidinyl urea, methylparaben, propylparaben, phenoxyethanol, fragrance, blue 1, yellow 5
Step 3: Daily Oil Moisture Control with SPF 30
A quick-absorbing moisturizer that won’t leave a shine, so it can be applied to the face and neck as needed, including under makeup. According to the ProactivMD website, the built-in sunscreen can also provide broad-spectrum protection from harmful rays when applied every two hours.
Avobenzone 3%, octisalate 5%, octocrylene 7%
Inactive Ingredients: water, isopropyl lauroyl sarcosinate, glycerin, dimethicone, diisopropyl sebacate, polymethyl methacrylate, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, sucrose tristearate, silica, pentylene glycol, polysorbate 61, dimethiconol, sodium stearoyl glutamate, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, tocopheryl acetate, glycyrrhetinic acid, panthenol, triethanolamine, allantoin, carbomer, potassium sorbate, zinc gluconate, xanthan gum, disodium EDTA, hydroxypalmitoyl sphinganine
Adapalene Gel 0.1%
Using Adapalene 0.1% as the only active ingredient, this topical retinoid medication can help treat acne in those 12 and older by covering the entire affected area with a thin layer.
Inactive ingredients include:
Carbomer 940, edetate disodium, methylparaben, poloxamer 182, propylene glycol, purified water, sodium hydroxide. May also contain hydrochloric acid to adjust pH.
How do these formulations compare to Proactiv’s other acne products and systems? We’ll come back around to this important topic in just a second, but first, let’s finish rounding out our information with ProactivMD’s potential side effects and pricing.
Could You Experience Side Effects From ProactivMD’s Products?
According to ProactivMD’s Drug Facts label on the National Institutes of Health website, the product shouldn’t be used on damaged skin or if you’re allergic to any of its ingredients. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with their doctor before use.
Also, keep in mind that retinoids can cause sun sensitivity, so you should limit your exposure when using the system. You may also experience mild to moderate irritation before the situation improves, which may take as long as three months.
If you don’t see improvement after this time, or if you experience an allergic reaction, consult with your doctor.
How Much Does ProactivMD Cost?
There were three different ProactivMD packages available at the time of writing:
- Essentials System – Includes the Deep Cleansing Face Wash, Balancing Toner, Daily Oil Control Moisturizer, and Adapalene Gel: $29.95 for 30 days, $89.95 for 90 days
- Teen Duo – Everything found in the Essentials system, in addition to the Deep Cleansing Body Wash and Blackhead Dissolving Gel: $39.95 for 30 days, $119.85 for 90 days
- Complete Duo – Everything found in the Essentials system, in addition to Moisture Repair and Eye Serum: $39.95 for 30 days, $119.85 for 90 days
Both Duos come with free shipping, while you’ll pay an additional $5.99 S&H for the Essentials system.
Whichever system you opt for, you’ll be able to choose between Green Tea Moisturizer and Skin Purifying Mask as a free gift. All systems also come with a 60-day money back guarantee, less S&H, even if the bottles are empty.
In order to request one, Guthy-Renker’s customer service department can be reached at 800-309-4796.
Now, about those other systems in the lineup…
ProactivMD vs. Proactiv vs. Proactiv Plus
Since Proactiv has been a household name for decades when it comes to the fight against acne, you might wonder if there are any meaningful differences between each of their systems. Let’s take a quick look at some core factors:
|# Of Products||4||3||3|
|Main Active Ingredients||Adapalene 0.1%, avobenzone 3%, octisalate 5%, octocrylene 7%||Encapsulated benzoyl peroxide 2.5%, salicylic acid 0.5%||Micronized benzoyl peroxide 2.5%|
|Best For?||Those looking for a benzoyl peroxide alternative, along with a stronger retinoid-based formulation.||Those looking for the extra cell-turnover ‘kick’ of benzoyl peroxide.||Those only looking for the bacteria-fighting power of benzoyl peroxide.|
Using this data, along with other information learned during our research, what could we potentially surmise about the ideal ProactivMD customer?
As we can see, the biggest difference between these formulas is their active ingredient(s). Is one any better than the other?
Benzoyl Peroxide vs. Salicylic Acid
According to WebMD, benzoyl peroxide is a popular ingredient that kills bacteria thought to cause acne, but it doesn’t affect sebum production or skin cell turnover. It can lead to dry skin and bleach certain fabrics.
On the other hand, salicylic acid helps promote skin cell turnover (exfoliation), which can provide acne relief if yours is caused by abnormal shedding. The ingredient has also been shown to unclog pores and prevent lesions, although it doesn’t kill bacteria.
Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid must be used continuously in order to deliver benefits, as acne will generally return once they’re no longer used.
What about the Adapalene in ProactivMD?
How Does Adapalene Compare?
Adapalene is a type of retinoid, which is a class of vitamin A derivatives that work to decrease swelling and inflammation while promoting cell growth. This way, they’re known to decrease the severity of acne and quickly heal existing sores.
Compared to benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, retinols like Adapalene, Retin-A, Accutane, and tretinoin are much stronger and often more effective at addressing acne. But how do they compare against each other?
Writing for RealSelf, Arnold R. Oppenheim, MD, a Virginia Beach Dermatologist, notes that Adapalene was originally created by scientists at Galderma as a unique molecule to “maximize its anti-acne benefits and minimize its irritation.”
So, while Adapalene might not be considered as ‘strong’ as something like tretinoin, it might be an ideal option to treat acne with sensitive skin.
With these core differences in mind, are there other OTC acne products that contain Adapalene?
Does ProactivMD Have Any Competition?
Perhaps ProactivMD’s most direct competition is Differin, an OTC acne medication that’s been on the market for years and was priced between $10 and $12 at the time of our research, depending on formula and quantity.
To boot, this product was available locally at national big box retailers like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walgreens, and Walmart, which could help save on shipping and handling charges (especially if you’re not satisfied and decide to process a refund).
On the other hand, ProactivMD’s option provided a complete system, compared to Differin’s single product, which might be able to provide better results, depending on your skin’s needs.
Which brings up an important point: While we didn’t encounter any additional specific-specific acne treatments at the time of writing, each of us features unique skin compositions that could react very differently to the same ingredients. This is why you might experience great results with an Adapalene product like ProactivMD, while your neighbor might find better success with another retinoid—or something milder altogether.
To get the most bang for your buck? We’d recommend starting by speaking with your doctor, who can recommend specific options based on your individual diagnosis. Which brings us to our bottom line…
Our Final Thoughts About ProactivMD
As a company, Guthy-Renker has a clear track record for success (including a lot of positive customer feedback), not only with acne-related products like Proactiv and Proactiv Plus, but also with other beauty lines like Wen Hair Care, Meaningful Beauty, Perricone MD, and Crepe Erase.
Obviously, without testing the product ourselves, we're not insinuating you'll experience the same with ProactivMD, although—as a consumer review site ourselves—we certainly think customer reputation plays a big role in the decision-making process.
Another factor to consider is that Adapalene is a newly available retinoid (at least from an OTC perspective) with a meaningfully different molecular structure, so ProactivMD and Differin appear to be the only currently available options. But without a clinical, side-by-side comparison of the two, it’s all but impossible to point in any one direction.
Again, this is where the professional feedback from your doctor can help deliver the most available value.
We will say this, though: The plastic microbeads commonly found in exfoliating products like shower gels and other beauty products were outlawed in 2015. We reached out to the company to learn more about the composition found in their Deep Cleansing Face Wash, and will be sure to update this article as soon as a response is received.
In the meantime, based on the company’s success with past acne products and their inclusion of the newly available Adapalene, ProactivMD’s system certainly seems like it could be a viable solution to your acne woes. Just be sure to speak with your doctor before placing an order.
I was very reluctant to try this since the old stuff made my skin very oily years ago. But I recently broke out pretty bad on my forehead and decided to give it a shot. All I can say is, wow! In less than a week, half of what I had was gone, and my skin is looking amazing overall. I only use the face wash and green tea moisturizer. I’m someone who has dry and sensitive skin that is reluctant to lots of products. Especially benzoyl peroxide. I’m very excited to see what happens in the upcoming weeks!
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend
5 out 5 people found this review helpful
High hopes but no results
I have been using Proactiv in its various forms for years now. I was very excited when I read that Adapalene was being introduced as part of the ProactivMD line. It turns out that my excitement was unfounded.
I've been using the cleanser, Adapalene gel, and moisturizer faithfully since July. It's now December, and my acne still hasn't cleared. In fact, I have more cystic acne on my chin than I've had in some years. I am seriously considering canceling my membership. It's too expensive for no results.
Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend
11 out 12 people found this review helpful
Worst product ever
ProactivMD is full of crap! I bought this product thinking it was going to improve my skin, and it made it worse. Immediately after, it dried my skin, it burned my skin, and I started breaking out, badly. My acne would hurt. I will sue ProactivMD for this.
Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend
7 out 10 people found this review helpful
Fine but not satisfying
I won't suggest it for sensitive skin as it can leave the skin with rashes, irritation, and dryness. I developed blue patches due to excessive dryness, and oil would be too much for oily skin and make your skin look plastic-type.
Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend
13 out 22 people found this review helpful
Worth waiting for
I don’t suffer from cystic acne, but I am one of many that develop clogged pores and small whiteheads if I don’t use something medicated on my skin every day. I always turn to Proactiv after I get some experimenting out of my system with other brands. I trust Proactiv and was ecstatic to see their new line, ProactivMD! This has been my experience so far:
Step 1 in the new line is a fresh, exfoliating cleanser. I thoroughly enjoy this cleanser because it delivers a soothing, menthol-like sensation. It is a very fine, gentle polish, which my changing skin has come to really appreciate (I’ll explain more later). I also recommend taking your time and massaging this cleanser into your skin. It leaves it incredibly smooth!
Step 2 is the toner. I like to put this on right after I get out of the shower while my pores are still open from the steam. I skip the cotton ball (I know weird) and instead splash some of the toner on my hands and pat into my skin. I was once told cotton balls, like our makeup sponges, simply absorb too much product ultimately wasting a majority of it. Either way, you will find this toner leaves you feeling clean but not dry.
Step 3 is either the moisturizing sunscreen for the day or the Adapalene at night. Proactiv did an excellent job with this moisturizer. It has SPF 30, which means it lasts twice as long as SPF 15, but it doesn’t feel heavy. It is very light, smells great, and absorbs quickly. Since Adapalene increases cell turnover, all my research showed I should be using SPF 30 or higher in conjunction with this product. Good call Proactiv!
You apply the Adapalene at night. First, it feels like velvet on your skin! The cream/gel formula will glide on effortlessly. A little goes a long way. Be careful not to let too much of the product accumulate in the crevices of your nose nostrils. If the creases get too much product, you might start to see more than usual flaking in that practical area.
Now here comes the hardest part of this line and product, patient consistency! We are consumers of the here and now and waiting over six weeks for results sounds barbaric, but we got to do it! I’m on week four and have thought about quitting and you will too, but you can’t! Don’t become a dropout statistic!
My face/skin doesn’t hurt at all, but the flakiness will start to appear out of nowhere. Boom, one morning I noticed it as I was putting on my makeup. More and more research tells me this is to be expected and it’s not nearly as severe as when I used Retin-A years ago. It will be frustrating, but whatever you do, don’t try to extract the newly surfaced whiteheads! I’m not going to preach about scaring or pushing more bacteria into your skin, but you will want to trust me on this one. Even if you gently approach it with tissue wrapped around each finger, you basically will be disturbing fragile skin. Just don’t do it, and don’t let an esthetician during a facial do it!
I’ll be continuing this journey, and while I’m starting to see and feel the clarity, I can’t yet share a final before and after pic. I encourage you to join me! However, I recommend getting the entire line to start. I’m impressed with how the other products, the cleanser, the toner, the moisturizer, are all working so well together and truly preventing me from “over doing it.” It was like Proactiv knew the introduction of Adapalene into my routine would change my other skin care needs!
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend