Is Proactive The Best Treatment For Teenage Acne?

Is Proactive the best treatment for teenage acne, or can less expensive products do an equally effective job? A dermatologist shares the answer below.

Dr. Jo Herzog shares very helpful advice on treating teenage acne in response to the following question by a Family Savvy reader.teenage acne

Question:  Dr. Herzog, is Proactive the best treatment for teenage acne or can I buy less expensive products that will be equally effective?

Dr. Jo Herzog

This is a great question and one that I am asked regularly from my patients. If you have young teenagers that are starting to get acne, there are several approaches that can be taken.

If you have the time and insurance, it is best to start by taking them to the dermatologist and having them looked at before a treatment plan is started. All acne is not the same and and should not be treated the same way. All skin is not the same and should not be treated the same way either. All climates are not the same , and I might tailor my treatment plan depending on the time of the year, the climate, and whether or not a teenager plays outdoor sports.

In Alabama, we have moist hot summers, so I might not choose the same treatment for an Alabama summer that I would choose for a winter in Canada. Treatment that is targeted for the individual patient and his/her problems and lifestyle will be the most helpful to the patient. This is why a dermatologist visit is most effective.

Going to the dermatologist is not always an option, and some acne is so minimal that it does not warrant a trip to the doctor. In these cases, the best next step would be an OTC (over the counter) treatment. You specifically mentioned Proactive, so let’s look at it first.

Proactive has a group of products most often sold as a “kit”  that can be used to treat minimal/early acne. If these products do not irritate your child’s skin, they can be a useful start for early, minimal acne. The “kit” format is convenient, as you can get a cleanser, a topical medication, and a moisturizer all in one place. Teenagers often like “kits,” so this format might encourage use. However, “kits” can cost a lot more then buying the products that you need separately.

There are many products containing the same active ingredients as Proactive that can be bought in the drugstore or supermarket that are less expensive but which can be equally effective. The main active ingredients that can be found in Proactive are benzoyl peroxide (BPO) and salicylic acid.

Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria and helps unplug follicles. It penetrates deeply into “the pores.” It also helps prevent the patient’s skin from becoming resistant to some antibiotics.

Salicylic acid can also decrease bacteria, and it helps remove and slough off dead skin and scales. It also helps to unclog “pores.”

A gentle cleanser is helpful as is a light non-comedogenic moisturizer when the skin gets dry and sometimes irritated from benzoyl peroxide. Both of these active ingredients work well together, but many people are very sensitive to benzoyl peroxide and can not use this product. Lower concentrations of benzoyl peroxide (5% or less) are better tolerated by the face.

Be aware that BPO needs to be used carefully, as it it can discolor clothes and bedding. If using a BPO wash, rinse it off well, and consider buying a set of white towels. If using a BPO leave on product, be careful with clothes. When using BPO on the back and chest, wear a white T-shirt.

If you have blackheads and can not tolerate BPO, use salicylic acid. It can be very helpful in these instances.

If your teenagers are more likely to use a kit that they saw on TV and you can afford it, there is nothing wrong with starting with Proactive. If it does not work, or it causes irritation, see your dermatologist. Just be aware that you can do the same thing for a fraction of the price.

Purchasing an OTC product is not a substitute for a doctor’s visit and will only get you so far. It is fine for a few little bumps and blackheads, but I would not let my teenager’s acne get any further than that without proper treatment, as scarring might occur.

Hope this was helpful,

Dr. Jo