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

Similar Posts


  1. Acne sucks!!! I’ve had it since 4th grade and I’m in 8th now!!! I use benyzol peroxide and many their thighs but nothing works!!! I’m going to try some of your recommendations guys, thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing what worked for your daughter. So glad that she found a soution!!!!! Acne plus sensitive skin equals an especially difficult scenario.

  3. Proactive did not work for my daughter. She has sensitive skin and it made her face red and did not help with acne. She started using the Citrus Clear organic products about two months ago, and her skin has gradually improved month over month. My husband uses Citrus Clear as well for his adult acne, and they both rave about Citrus Clear. After trying so many other acne products unsuccessfully including Proactiv + , it was relief to find something that actually works.

  4. Hi Kerrie, wow….what a tangled web you were in! Your experience is the very reason I shy away from “membership” club purchases. I hope your warning helps others who might end up in the same boat.

    Thankfully, according to Dr. Jo, you should be able to get the products you need from a dermatologist or over the counter. Best to you!!!

  5. I’m not sure where else to leave this feedback about Proactiv, so I am writing here. I hope that is okay. Basically, I am disgusted with Proactiv’s system for ordering and autoshipping product. I ordered a 30 day supply of the 3-step acne kit for our son. I called today to cancel since it is irritating his skin and hasn’t helped his acne. I was just charged for the second, 90 supply shipment, which is fine because the product did arrive. I was expecting that once I canceled this “membership” I would receive no more product and owe no more money. According to the customer service rep I spoke to, I will still be owing Proactive for the balance. What is infuriating is that I was under the impression that I would pay the same amount each time and could cancel whenever I wished – basically that this is a pay as you get a shipment deal. Proactive needs to make it VERY clear what you are really doing before it sucks people in to its “membership.” It was not made clear to me that this “deal” was going to cost $131!” If I had known that, I never, ever would have started this whole fiasco. The simple fact that the product is irritating his skin should be enough for Proactiv’s customer service reps to say, “Hey, no more charge. Sorry for the trouble.”

  6. Thanks so much for the tips, May! I am going to check out the Citrus Clear! And you are absolutley correct~sunscreen is a MUST!!! Thanks so much for commenting!!! Blessings to you!!!

  7. Since you are a teenager – zits are occasionally normal. Here’s what worked my for my 3 kids who all had acne problems at some point i their lives. We swear by two products in our household:

    – ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS wear sunscreen. a little goes a long way, this keeps your skin moist and protected. (oil free if possible**) this also prevents a lot of upcoming skin concerns.

    -Citrus Clear has a Grapefruit Spot Treatment that you can use throughout the day when your skin is oily. My teens used this about 2-3x per day and it worked great on any pimples that came out. They were gone in 1-2 days.

  8. Acne without a question affects self esteem and in fact is one of the most prevalent concerns teenagers have. Teen acne is a major source of confusion and bafflement to teens across the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *