Although labeled a serum (likely due to its serum-like gel texture) this is first and foremost a BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant. It contains 2% salicylic acid and is formulated at a pH of 4.1, which is borderline for effective exfoliation but not bad. This has a silky gel texture that's easy to apply and sets to a smooth finish that's ever-so-slightly tacky.
Sold as a leave-on treatment to clear breakouts while reducing pore size and oily shine, the formula contains some intriguing plant ingredients, one of which is Peumus boldus. Also known as boldo, this plant is native to Chile and is considered a very good antioxidant (Source: International Journal of Molecular Science, March 2013, pages 5,750–5,764; and Journal of Chromatography, January 2010, pages 443–449). However, the leaves of this plant, which is what's in this product, contain a volatile oil whose camphor-like constituents can be irritating (Source: www.naturaldatabase.com). In the end, despite strong antioxidant potential, this plant extract's troublesome side doesn't make it worth the risk—not when so many antioxidants provide benefits without the risk.
We're also concerned about the alcohol in this exfoliant though the amount is likely on the low side as this product doesn't have a strong, alcohol-like scent nor does it dry as quickly as products that contain a high amount of this skin irritant.
In the end, this is a mixed bag. On one hand, you should see some improvement in acne and clogged pores, and this feels so light we can't imagine anyone with oily skin disliking it. On the other hand, there are better BHA exfoliants to consider in terms of a lower pH and the absence of potentially problematic ingredients. See our list of Best BHA Exfoliants for examples.
Note: The inactive ingredients for this BHA exfoliant are listed in alphabetical rather than descending order. This is permissible due to the product being regulated as an over-the-counter drug in the U.S, though we respect companies who choose instead to list their inactive ingredients in descending order of concentration so you know what you are putting on your face like most other exfoliants.
For more acne-fighting power, add the Clear Proof Pore-Purifying Serum to your Clear Proof Acne System regimen. This translucent, leave-on serum helps to clear and prevent blemishes while helping to minimize the appearance of pores and reducing shine.
Active: Salicylic Acid (2%) Other: Alcohol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Butyl Avocadate, Butylene Glycol, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Citric Acid, Cystoseira Amentacea/Caespitosa Branchycarpa Extract, Dimethicone, Disodium EDTA, Epilobium Angustifolium Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Laureth-7, Methylparaben, Peumus Boldus Leaf Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Pinus Sylvestris Bark Extract, Polyacrylamide, Polysorbate 20, Propylene Glycol, Ribes Nigrum (Black Currant) Leaf Extract, Sodium Metabisulfite, Spiraea Ulmaria Extract, Triethanolamine, Water, Xanthan Gum.
Mary Kay At-A-Glance
Strengths: Most of the products are fragrance-free; packaging that keeps light- and air-sensitive ingredients stable during use; a handful of well-formulated moisturizers; very good eye-makeup remover; effective wrinkle filler; excellent cream blush and several other impressive makeup products.
Weaknesses: The overall collection is a mixed bag of exciting and disappointing products; several outdated moisturizers and cleansers; no AHA or acceptable BHA products; the CC Cream doesn't provide good enough UVA protection; some lackluster makeup products.
The last few years haven't been glamorous for one of the world's largest direct sellers of cosmetics. Mary Kay lost a lawsuit filed by TriStrata, the company whose founders hold over 100 patents on the use of AHAs in skin-care products. It was revealed that Mary Kay's former AHA products infringed on three of these patents, and, after some back-and-forths in court, Mary Kay ended up paying royalties of over $40 million (interest included) to TriStrata. Perhaps because they're still licking their wounds after this defeat, the company has not launched any new AHA products, and no longer sells the ones that were in question during the legal battle (Source: www.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/2006/04/03/daily26.html).
However, the company's spin on the issue of AHAs is that they no longer use them because skin-care technology has advanced. That's an interesting twist, but the fact of the matter is that AHA products, when well-formulated, are still considered advanced and capable of doing far more for skin than the alternatives Mary Kay has devised (including an at-home microdermabrasion scrub and products with vitamin C derivatives).
Although they're not a company for you if you are looking for exfoliants (though you should be looking for a good exfoliant), Mary Kay has recently developed a surprising number of excellent products. With over 1.6 million Mary Kay consultants selling products in 30 countries, this family-owned company (founder Mary Kay Ash passed away in 2001) has slowly been proving that they intend to remain competitive with the best of the best. A refreshing change of pace is the omission of fragrance from almost all of the products. Now that is what we call progress!
Despite its size and capital (wholesale figures were $3 billion in 2012), Mary Kay still has a lot to learn. For instance, although their guiding philosophy of empowering women is admirable, the assortment of products still leaves much to be desired. Yes, things are looking up, but there are several weak spots that keep Mary Kay from being in the same league as
If improvements like those in Mary Kay's latest products were translated to the entire line, it would be standing much taller, at least as far as what current, substantiated skin-care research indicates is optimum for creating and maintaining healthy skin. As is, this is a line to approach with a keen understanding of what to focus on and what to avoid. One last bit of good news: Mary Kay offers well-packaged samples of selected products, either directly or from your consultant.
Unless mentioned otherwise, all Mary Kay products are fragrance-free.
Note: Mary Kay is categorized as a brand that tests on animals because their products are sold in China. Although Mary Kay does not conduct animal testing for their products sold elsewhere, the Chinese government requires imported cosmetics be tested on animals, so foreign companies retailing there must comply. This requirement is why some brand’s state that they don’t test on animals “unless required by law”. Animal rights organizations consider cosmetic companies retailed in China to be brands that test on animals, and so does the Beautypedia Research Team.
For more information about Mary Kay, call (800) 627-9529 or visit www.marykay.com.
The Beautypedia and Paula’s Choice Research teams have one mission: To help you find the best products for your skin, whether they’re from Paula’s Choice or another brand. By combining efforts, we’re able to share scientific research and remain committed to the highest standards based on our decades of experience objectively reviewing thousands upon thousands of skincare and makeup formularies in all price ranges.
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