Is Proactiv Better than Cheaper Drugstore Acne Products?

Young women treating their acne

What exactly are you paying for?

Proactiv has become the go-to acne treatment for today’s young adults. Guthy Renker, the company that markets Proactiv and Proactiv+, spends $200 million a year to run TV commercials convincing pimply youth that Proactiv is more effective than drugstore products like Clearasil or Stridex. Instead, they’re shelling out big bucks for Proactiv’s three-part “system” that sure seems to work for the acne-free celebs who shill for the product.

“Silky-smooth cocoa-butter skin”

Proactiv sales soared a few short years ago with youth stars pitching it to America’s pimpled masses, including Jessica Simpson, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and even P. Diddy. (See the rap mogul in the video above, a little worse for the wear, talking snap about Lindsay and other Proactiv celeb endorsers who he insists never actually used the product like he did—“for seven years”! Diddy also insists Proactiv is responsible for his “silky-smooth cocoa-butter skin.”)

The big bucks

Wikipedia claims Proactiv spends $12 million to $15 million every year to secure these celebrity endorsements. Currently Adam Levine and Julianne Hough can be seen trying to get your credit card digits. And therein lies the rub: credit card digits. By adding the direct-marketing element, plus (sorta sneaky) recurring automatic payments, plus celebrity endorsements, plus an easy-to-use “system,” Proactiv has carved out a nice little niche. Girl squeezing pimple

Cheaper product, same results?

But can you get the same results for a lot, lot less? According to a Consumer Reports study, users saw about the same results between Proactiv and its generic drugstore equivalents. The biggest difference was in how much they spent: an average of $20 a month for Proactiv, and around $5 a month for the generics that contain the main active ingredient of Proactiv, benzoyl peroxide. Currently, the entire Proactiv system costs between $30 and $40 per month on a subscription basis. With Proactiv, you’re paying for a lot more than active ingredients. You’re paying the fat salaries of those celebrities and for that marketing juggernaut. To be fair, though, Proactiv also contains salicylic acid, and many dermatologists believe the combination of this and benzoyl peroxide is an effective acne treatment. Buying multiple lower-cost products to match the ingredients in Proactiv is a little cheaper, but also more of a hassle. It all depends on how comfortable and adept you are at reading between the lines and getting past the slick endorsements and marketing. Boy looking at pimple in mirror

No recurring billing with Amazon

You have options if you don’t want to order through the national Proactiv phone line and sign up your credit card for recurring billing, which runs up to $40 per month. If you order the system through Amazon, you can spend around $20 for a one-month supply, with no recurring charges.

Natural and generic alternatives

To save even more money, you can of course buy the active ingredients and a cleanser individually. Drugstore-brand benzoyl peroxide is available for around $6, while the other active ingredient in Proactiv, salicylic acid, is available in all-natural products from companies Burt’s Bees and Alba Botanica.

Amazon sells Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser (a Burt’s Bees user sings its praises in the video review above) for less than $8 for a one-month supply, or you can save 5 percent with a subscription option. You can also head to Amazon for Alba Botanica Acnedote Skin Care, an all-natural product that includes willow bark extract and promises to clear acne “in just 4 hours so you can wake up to clearer skin.” It sells for $7 for a one-month supply, or save 5 percent with a subscription option. So while the consensus among consumers and experts seems to be that Proactiv does work, if you’re diligent, you can achieve similar results by buying multiple other products. It all depends on how much you want to spend—and how savvy a consumer you are.

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