THE PRODUCT AND WHAT IT'S MARKETED FOR: Proactiv Solution
is advertised to teenagers and adults as a nonprescription, three-step
treatment for healing acne and preventing future outbreaks. It's touted by its
marketer and distributor, Guthy-Renker Corp., as the No. 1 acne treatment
system in the country, a claim that vice president Karen Barner said is based
on comparing the company's sales figures to ones published by the industry. The
product was created by two doctors, California dermatologists Kathy Fields and
Katie Rodan, each of whom has a private practice and a university affiliation.
The main Proactiv product line, a kit containing a cleanser, toner and
repairing lotion, is marketed on TV infomercials and in magazines. It is
available via the Web or by phone, at a cost of $39.95. You are automatically
enrolled to get a new shipment every 60 days, or you can buy products in the
line individually at a higher price. The active ingredient in both the cleanser
and lotion is 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide.
WHAT'S KNOWN: There's little surprise in the key ingredient. "Benzoyl
peroxide is benzoyl peroxide," an agent that kills acne-causing bacteria in the
sebaceous glands, said Dr. Diane Madfes, a Manhattan dermatologist and
clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital. Benzoyl peroxide has been around
for years as an acne medication, and studies of its effectiveness date back a
decade or two. Available in prescription and nonprescription forms, its
concentrations typically range from 2 percent to 10 percent. Its biggest plus:
Bacteria have not developed resistance to it. Its biggest problem: It can
irritate your skin.
THE BOTTOM LINE: What really counts is the vehicle that benzoyl peroxide
sits in, said Madfes. In the case of Proactiv, that is dimethicone, a silicone.
Dr. Michelle T. Pelle, a dermatologist and researcher at the University of
Pennsylvania, gave dimethicone high marks for making products easy to spread
and for allowing medications to enter the skin slowly, minimizing irritation.
Another agent, glycolic acid, used in Proactiv's toner, peels the skin and
helps unclog pores. But in a complicated disorder like acne, a
one-size-fits-all system can fall short for some sufferers. Although its Web
site says Proactiv is "the answer to acne," in reality, it's for people with
"mild to moderate acne," said Fields. The rule of thumb for Proactiv: If you
haven't improved within two months, Fields said, go see a dermatologist. Rodan
said 80 percent of the people they studied showed results in four to six weeks,
but their studies are not available to the public. The formula has not changed
since its launch in 1995, and the doctors say they monitor its effectiveness
through "thousands" of letters, phone calls and e-mails from a "loyal
OTHER APPROACHES: Over-the-counter products by Proctor & Gamble, Johnson &
Johnson and SmithKline Beecham have active ingredients including benzoyl
peroxide, salicylic acid or sulfur in a base geared to be nonirritating. Newer
combination prescription drugs are increasingly popular. A recent study of 492
people with moderate to moderately severe acne at the University of
Pennsylvania showed that a combination topical gel of 5 percent benzoyl
peroxide with 1 percent clindomycin, an antibiotic, had better efficacy than
benzoyl peroxide alone or combined with erythromycin, and a similar
tolerability. With so many options, it can be tough to choose a course to take,
especially as people often start with self-diagnosis before seeing a
dermatologist. For example, Pelle said some people think they have acne when
they have rosacea, an acne-like skin condition that could be made worse by
using glycolic or salicylic acid. For many people, the path to controlling acne
is littered with products that didn't work for them. Proactiv has a solution
for that, too. You can get a full refund if you're not satisfied after 60 days.
But don't throw away the bottles in frustration - you have to return them,
whether full or empty, to get your money back.