These pads, which go on with a strong scent of alcohol and witch hazel, are an ineffective way to reduce breakouts or fade marks from past blemishes. Although it's medicated with 2% salicylic acid and also contains 5% glycolic acid, the pH of 4.7 is above the ideal range for either ingredient to exfoliate—and it's the exfoliation from the salicylic and glycolic acids that helps fade those bothersome marks faster.
As mentioned, these pads are steeped in alcohol and witch hazel, both of which are strong irritants that can make oily, acne-prone skin worse, not better (see More Info for details). It's nice that the formula is fragrance-free and contains the antioxidant green tea, but those benefits are of little use to skin when you're dealing with high amounts of two of the most irritating ingredients around.
See our list of Best BHA Exfoliants for products that stand a much better chance of fading marks from past breakouts.
Alcohol in Skin Care: Alcohol in skin-care products causes dryness and free-radical damage, and impairs the skin's ability to heal. The irritation it causes damages healthy collagen production and can stimulate oil production at the base of the pore, making oily skin worse (Sources: Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, May 2012, pages 1,410–1,419; Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, January 2011, pages 83–90; "Skin Care—From the Inside Out and Outside In," Tufts Daily, April 1, 2002; eMedicine Journal, May 8, 2002, volume 3, number 5, www.emedicine.com; Cutis, February 2001, pages 25–27; Contact Dermatitis, January 1996, pages 12–16; and http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-4/277-284.htm).
Irritating Ingredients and Oily Skin: Applying irritating ingredients to oily skin stimulates excess oil production at the base of the pores, so skin ends up being more oily and pores become (or stay) enlarged. If you want to see improvements in oily skin, the best approach is to treat your skin gently with effective products designed to absorb excess oil, exfoliate inside the pore, and help normalize pore function (Sources: Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 360–366; and Dermatology, January 2003, pages 17–23).
A few quick swipes are all it takes to give yourself a smoother, brigher, more radiant complexion. Each convenient no-rinse pad contains professional-strength (5%) glycolic acid to exfoliate layers of pigmented dead skin cells, plus maximum-strength (2%) salicylic acid acne medicine to help keep pores clear and looking smaller.
Active: Salicylic Acid 2%. Inactive: Water, SD Alcohol 40-B, Glycolic Acid, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Ammonium Hydroxide, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Panthenol, Allantoin, Polysorbate 20, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Benzoate, Imidazolidinyl Urea.
Proactiv Solution At-A-Glance
Strengths: Effective, elegant-textured AHA, BHA, and skin-lightening 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.
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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