Proactiv and Proactiv+

Blackhead Dissolving Gel

1.00 fl. oz. for $ 25.00
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Brand Overview

What a great name for anyone frustrated with a sea of blackheads dotting their complexion! You don’t just want to reduce them, you want them GONE, right? Unfortunately, this product isn’t as adept as it could be with a formulary tweak.

The concentration of salicylic acid (that’s what unclogs pores so blackheads can be dissolved) is a 0.5%. Not bad, but if you have extra stubborn blackheads you’ll see better and faster results with at least 2% salicylic acid.

This silky gel’s pH is 4.1, which is slightly above the ideal range salicylic acid needs to most effectively exfoliate skin and unclog pores. You may seem some blackhead-busting benefit from this Gel, but we suspect many will be disappointed by the modest results.

If you decide to try this, it’s best applied at night, because the somewhat thick gel texture has a slightly greasy finish that stays slippery, so products (like sunscreen or makeup) applied afterward won’t adhere or last as well as they normally do.

One more strike: This contains a small amount of sunscreen ingredients (we’re not sure why they’re there) along with fragrance. Combined with the salicylic acid and this product’s lower pH, these add-ons could be irritating if applied around the eyes or over extra-sensitive skin. For all-around better choices, see our list of Best BHA Exfoliants.


  • Silky gel texture hydrates and won’t leave skin feeling dry.
  • Contains a potentially helpful amount of salicylic acid (but likely not enough for extra stubborn blackheads).


  • Formula’s pH is just outside the ideal range for salicylic acid to exfoliate and unclog pores.
  • Inclusion of a small amount of sunscreen ingredients plus fragrance could pose a risk of irritation if this is applied around the eyes.
Jar Packaging: No
Tested on animals: No

This medicated gel was formulated to dissolve blackheads, deep clean impurities and shrink pore appearance. This unique botanical gel contains acne-fighting salicylic acid to gently unclog pores and dissolve blackheads. Use it to help keep your skin looking glowing and oil-free, soothe irritation and give your skin a smoother, more hydrated look and feel.

Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid 0.5%; Inactive Ingredients: Water, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Glycereth-26, Glycerin, Cyclohexasiloxane, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Dimethiconol, Polyacrylate-13, Panthenol, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Bisabolol, Lactic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Polyisobutene, Hexylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance.

Proactiv Solution At-A-Glance

Strengths: Effective, elegant-textured AHA, BHA, and skin-brightening options; all sunscreens provide sufficient UVA protection; good options for controlling excess oil breakthrough, including a colorless pressed powder.

Weaknesses: Several products contain irritating ingredients that do not help acne-prone skin; some gimmicky products that no dermatologist-created line should be selling (they should know better); mostly substandard to poor makeup options, including a sulfur-based concealer.

Created by dermatologists Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields, Proactiv launched in 1995 as a three-step system sold via infomercial. With the doctors' endorsements and winning personalities along with a heap of testimonials from people who use the routine (including a rotating list of celebrities, which always garners attention), Proactiv remains a very successful brand that is still going strong. The effusiveness, medical background, accurate information about how acne forms, and sincerity of its creators definitely makes for compelling television (we admit to catching the infomercial on more than one sleepless night), but what about the products themselves? Are they the answer the ads promise?

The core system consists of a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide and scrub particles, a toner with glycolic acid, and a lotion that contains a low (but still effective) amount of benzoyl peroxide. No questions here, this is a straightforward routine and hardly unique to Proactiv! Some percentage of people will benefit from daily use of this system (it contains the basics that are necessary for over-the-counter treatment of acne), but it's definitely not for everyone, and every dermatologist knows that (just check out the American Academy of Dermatology Web site at www.aad.org, for example, on their recommendations for battling blemishes).

It also goes without saying that other lines offer many less expensive versions of all the Proactiv products. However, for those who choose this system, the key is compliance, at least as long as you're seeing good results. Anyone battling acne needs to know that, barring a successful experience with the prescription drug Accutane, it cannot be cured, only controlled. We don't doubt that many people have seen their acne respond positively to a daily routine of the core Proactiv products, and for some it has been a life-changing experience, but it's not the answer for acne for everyone.

Although they still appear in ads and literature for the brand, Drs. Rodan and Fields have branched out to create their own namesake line, reviewed elsewhere on this site.While the Rodan + Fields line is not acne-centric like Proactiv, they did include products for blemishes, a few of which are similar to but more expensive than their Proactiv counterparts. And of course, this dual branding begs the question: if Rodan and Fields believe that Proactiv is the best option for those struggling with acne, why did they create alternative products in their namesake line? Why not just mention to Rodan + Fields customers dealing with acne that the Proactiv line has exactly what they need?

Along with Proactiv and the namesame Rodan and Fields line, these dermatologists also created Proactiv+, which is supposed to be smarter and faster than original Proactiv. For the most part, these products are quite similar, they just have a stronger emphasis on anti-aging issues such as uneven skin tone and enlarged pores from sun damage. We wish these products were more compelling, but many of them are truly problematic and not something two reputable dermatologists should feel comfortable putting their names on.

For more information about Proactiv, call (800) 876-9717 or visit www.proactiv.com. For more information about Proactiv+, visit www.proactivplus.com.

About the Experts

The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.

Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.

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