ProActiv - bad idea in the long term?
August 31, 2010 10:15 AM   Subscribe

What are the long term effects of ProActiv on my skin? (And should I bother trying to kick the stuff?) I feel like all this daily abrasion can't be a good thing, but every time I try to change products, the acne rears up again.

I was a teenager with awful acne, and am now an adult with moderate to mild acne (which can worsen pretty quickly if I'm not vigilant about skin care).

What's worked best for me as an adult is ProActiv, but I have vague, possibly unfounded fears that so much daily exfoliation must, somehow, be prematurely aging my skin, or having some sort of other negative longterm effect. I periodically get it into my head that what I really is a) more naturally-sourced skin care products, or b) something cheaper and milder that will probably work just as well as that expensive stuff I have to buy at a mall boutique, of all places. But these attempts inevitably do not work out and send me running back to ProActiv.

So I suppose the question is threefold:
1) Any ideas if ProActiv is, in fact, a bad idea in the long term? Lots of (sometimes dubious) anecdata online, but would welcome some "my dermatologist told me XXXX" type of comments.

2) Anyone out there who has used ProActiv successfully and managed to change to something milder (and perhaps cheaper)?

3) Anyone noticed a visible connection between the foods they eat and acne? Yeah, this isn't really my question, but I'm at the point of trying anything and thought I should poll the crowd before temporarily giving up dairy/wheat/refined sugar/etc.

For reference, here's what I tried as a teenage acne sufferer:

unsuccessfully: all manner of OTC creams/gels/etc, rounds of Tetracycline, Minocycline, Erethromycine (at least, I think I tried them all - it's been a while)
successfully: a round of Accutane helped a lot, though I'd really prefer not to go that route again for a problem that is, frankly, not extreme at this point.

Thanks in advance!
posted by nicoleincanada to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, as someone who had terrible acne as a teenager, I don't care what works for me, I'm going to keep using it. So I'm not sure why you want to stop.

I went through the whole "oh i am miss natural, i will buy my stuff at the health food store" and none of that helped.

Daily exfoliation is actually important. You have to use something to get the dead skin off your face, even more when you get older. Even something like Dermalogica, which is what I have used for over 10 years now, has various different exfoliation products. Exfoliation does NOT mean "harsh scrubbing". You use the product that is best suited for your face.

Can I ask why you don't just go to a dermatologist? A good one will not doom you to expensive skin cleansers for life, and you don't have to go every week or every month. The one big mistake I made in my life was not getting myself to a dermatologist until I was in my 30s, and trying every skin care line under the sun in search of getting it right. My parents for whatever reason would not pay for one when I was younger and I grew up considering it a 'luxury'. I finally had a good friend - who has the most beautiful skin I have ever seen - kindly ask me why I didn't consider going and offered me the name of her dermatologist. That dermatologist referred me to the clinic's aesthetician. It's not a spa facial, it's a clinical facial, it's a lot different, it's not as relaxing but it did the trick.

I have breakouts that are tied to my cycle. I've never had food related breakouts that I tracked. It's not impossible, however, but that's something a doctor could help you with.

You will save more money by going to a doctor than you will trying to do it yourself.
posted by micawber at 10:26 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, some clarification might be in order. I have been to dermatologists many times - hence all the drugs and OTC products and whatnot as a teen. Accutane helped enough that I haven't gone to a dermatologist since, and had been using the Dermagel (or whatever it's called) standard dermatologist-recommended mild acne product and some prescription topical gel successfully. Then the acne started increasing in recent years, I started ProActiv, and it's been generally manageable since then. I'm just wondering about the wisdom of the product I'm using to treat it.

Asking a dermatologist about the long-term effects of ProActiv is a good idea, but one that would involve making a doctor's appointment in order to get the referral to the dermatologist, which although doable, is a bit of a hassle. I was has hoping someone might be aware of some literature or firsthand experience that could help me out, but yes, that will be the next step.
posted by nicoleincanada at 10:43 AM on August 31, 2010

First, is an excellent resource. They also have an active forum to discuss acne treatments and problems.

ProActiv has been what worked the best for me.
Well, besides Doxycycline - which I don't think dermatologists like to prescribe too often anymore - as its an antibiotic.

I don't really care what "damage" it causes to my face, because it's already damaged (not too bad) from 16 years of acne.
Actually, IMO, the ProActiv products seem less harsh than most treatments I have used.

I've tried numerous natural products - none really helped including: kiss my face, apple cider vinger clay masks, burts bees or tea tree oil.

My boyfriend has psorisis, so together we just have bad skin.

What we've been using lately and has helped - is just plain Cetaphil. I don't wash my face 100 times a day or use a bunch of creams. I just wash my face in the morning and before I go to bed using some Cetaphil. Once or twice a week, I use Queen Helene's Mint Julep Masque and scrub.
These three items are inexpensive and don't smell like crap, either.

I don't find it as effective as proactive (I've been too and cheap to purchase more and I hate dealing with automatic debit payments), but it helps a lot. PMSing, I may get 2 zits. ProActive also helped reduce my redness which I miss.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:53 AM on August 31, 2010

I go the natural route (see one of my previous AskMe's) and my esthetician (not an MD) explained that ProActiv was designed to work but then not work very clearly when you stopped using it; you come to rely on the product. I forget what he said specifically but I know it had something to do with ProActiv drying the face out too much... And that when you stopped doing this daily of course your skin will freak out. IANADermatologist and that this "hearsay" arguement isn't solid but I think it would be wise for you to consider other skin care options.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:55 AM on August 31, 2010

You've probably already tried it, but just in case you haven't: Stievamycin. I've recommended it here many times before as it doesn't seem to be a common treatment for some reason. Nothing else that you've listed above worked for me (though I never used Accutane due to its liver damage issues) and Stievamycin was miraculous for me. I went from severe acne to clear skin in about 3 months and it doesn't flare up anymore.
posted by meerkatty at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

*know that this "hearsay"....

And I have had some success with Lush products and natural oils like raspberry oil which help with redness. I ascribe to the "put more oil on your face to control natural oils" school of thought. I have some redness and some zits but I have cream colored, sensitive skin so some red is unavoidable and I pick at stuff. I think my skin would be damn near clear if I could just quit futzing with it.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:57 AM on August 31, 2010

Also, what I've always been told my doctors is that as long as you use a good moisturizer especially when using exfoliaters. When I was younger, I didn't want to because my face was oily enough. But now, after speaking with doctors and reading about it, it's important and well help prevent future dry skin/wrinkles, etc

For the record, when I used ProActive, I only used the regular three piece thing that's always advertised.

I don't remember having any issues stopping the product like ShadePlant mentioned. But everyone's different, I guess.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2010

Lush has worked for a friend of mine. She swears by it.
She bought me some for Christmas and I used it for about a month, but it seemed to make my face worse. But again, everyone is different.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:02 AM on August 31, 2010

In response to 3) Anyone noticed a visible connection between the foods they eat and acne? Yeah, this isn't really my question, but I'm at the point of trying anything and thought I should poll the crowd before temporarily giving up dairy/wheat/refined sugar/etc.:

A friend of mine had bad acne all through high school and part of college, until she decided to become a vegan. Skin cleared up completely (minus some scars). Sorry I can't say what exact food it is that she believes was connected to her acne (she doesn't know), but she does believe it has more to do with chemical additives in processed foods than anything else. I know it would be a LOT of effort, but consider trying to go organic/hormone-free/minimize processed foods and see what happens.
posted by coupdefoudre at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2010

Just as one data point, I grew up with pretty bad acne, and as an adult still got/get breakouts, but things improved DRAMATICALLY once I stopped using all of the ProActiv and Neutrogena and Clean & Clear and whatever other things to try to violently annihilate all the acne.

I started using a Burt's Bees citrus oil face wash and an organic vitamin-C-based moisturizer that you can get at Trader Joe's for five bucks, and my not-very-often-used-anyway makeup is an organic mineral powder with no parabens. I have the occasional blemish, certainly, but my skin in general is so much more chilled out and balanced compared to when I was killing it with super-drying crazy chemical stuff all the time. I'm stressed continually, eat way more crappily than I should, and sometimes forget to wash my face before I go to bed, but my skin is better these days than ever.

Another factor: I considered that being on hormonal birth control might be contributing to my skin to some degree, but my observation of things on and off the pill has been that it's pretty much the same regardless.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:13 AM on August 31, 2010

I had severe nodular acne as a teen, took pretty much every oral medication that was available at the time, nothing really worked as well as using St. Ives Medicated Apricot Scub... It's fairly cheap, <$5 for a tube. Wouldn't trade it for anything else, as it keeps my acne in check now, for me one or two small pimples a month is a huge win... Especially when not even Accutane was working all that well for me as a teen. Give it a shot, it works wonders.
posted by ganzhimself at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2010

I had moderate acne as a teenager and mild acne now in my 30's. In terms of treatment, skin is like hair, the more you strip the oil out, the oilier it gets in reaction to try and balance. So moisturize after you wash your face. I tend towards oily skin and I've notice that light washing with a foaming cleanser once a day followed by moisturizing really helps me feel less like an oil slick.

In terms of diet, I have noticed that when I drink lots of water (cliche I know) my skin breaks out much, much less. By lots I don't mean water with you always, just at meals and occasionally during the day (which is lots for me).
posted by Kimberly at 11:36 AM on August 31, 2010

My regular doctor had put me on Accutane once, which did help but sucked - every so often after that if things started up again we'd go with antibiotics and Differin gel.

Then a couple years ago I had another bad flare up and thought "this time let's try an actual dermatologist." To my surprise the prescription he wrote me was for a benzoyl peroxide based cream face wash product - Brevoxyl. I had tried OTC benzoyl peroxide washes and products but had given them up ages ago because I felt like they made things worse. But this stuff was actually a much lower percentage of the B.P. - most products like Clearasil use 10%, the Brevoxyl was only around 3%. And though it took a couple weeks, it really did the job. I've since found that Neutrogena has a combo face wash/mask that has a similar low percentage of benzoyl peroxide, so now I keep that around at home and use it when I need to.

Also - this may seem kinda gross but - change your pillowcases a lot. I discovered a lot of my acne problems seem to stem from the fact that I seem to sweat a lot at night, or my hair and scalp just exude lots of oil or whatever. Changing pillowcases even 3 or more times a week seems to do a lot to keep my acne away. (Used to change them only once a week or so.)
posted by dnash at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2010

3) Anyone noticed a visible connection between the foods they eat and acne? Yeah, this isn't really my question, but I'm at the point of trying anything and thought I should poll the crowd before temporarily giving up dairy/wheat/refined sugar/etc.

This recent study seems to indicate a connection. I know my skin is worse when I eat a bunch of processed crap.

The two effective ingredients in Proactive are Benzoyl Peroxide in a low-dose form, and Glycolic Acid, which is the exfoliant. You can find these ingredients in other products that are cheaper. I use the oil cleansing method with jojoba, and a serum with glycolic acid.

Lush is not something I recommend for skin problems, because I think they are far too expensive for their ingredient list, and "natural" skin care doesn't need perfume in it (though theirs often does). Their best skin products like Angels on Bare Skin and UltraBland can pretty much be duped at home. I'm not going to pay ten bucks an ounce for a peanut oil and rose water emulsion.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:57 AM on August 31, 2010

2) Anyone out there who has used ProActiv successfully and managed to change to something milder (and perhaps cheaper)?

Spouse used ProActiv for at least a decade before discovering that sulphur soap worked just as well for him. It's much cheaper too.

3) Anyone noticed a visible connection between the foods they eat and acne?

Spouse: chocolate. Me: Wheat, concentrated sugars, deep fried anything, junk food.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:34 PM on August 31, 2010

Anyone noticed a visible connection between the foods they eat and acne?

Iodized/sea salt: avoid, avoid, avoid.
posted by corey flood at 5:57 PM on August 31, 2010

I've heard of the difficulties of abandoning Proactiv and that's largely why I made a point to avoid it despite its aggressive advertising campaign. I had mild to moderate acne beginning around 19 or so and was on tetracycline for two years, as well as some other forms of antibiotics. I also tried differin gel for a little while and that seemed to make a small, but noticeable impact. However, the one thing that gave me a -completely- clear complexion was the pill, Yasmin to be specific. I, like you, am fearful of what will happen once I go off my chosen acne solution, but I do know that the results have been marvelous and people frequently compliment me on my skin. Always a nice feeling!
posted by afabulousbeing at 8:06 PM on August 31, 2010

I totally sympathize! Don't have much to say about the proactive as that's about the one medication that I haven't tried (went through Accutane, many antibiotics courses, duac, clindamyacin, tazorac, and everything else). My problems usually have to do with how much oil my body is producing, so if I'm out in the sun all summer and I'm sweating too much, I have horrendous pizza face. If it's freezing in the winter and my radiator is on all night without a humidifier, I get huge, persistent spots.

For me, it's been all about controlling my environment, drinking a lot of water (I swear it helps) and avoiding dairy. During a particularly bad breakout I consulted my doctor about acne and she told me about studies that have shown a correlation between acne and the hormones used in most dairy products. Avoiding dairy has helped a lot.

Wishing you the best of luck!
posted by melancholyplay at 9:05 PM on August 31, 2010

This may be irrelevant, but if you have quite sensitive skin and are prone to broken capilliaries, abrasive exfoliating is bad. You can use liquid exfoliants with salicylic (sp?) acid instead. I actually find these days that using no exfoliant at all makes no difference in terms of either acne or blackheads.

I didn't know just how sensitive my skin was until I had my first facial and the woman doing it freaked out when she shone that bright light on my skin. She made me swear to never use scrubs or very hot/cold water on my face ever again. A few years later, I think she probably had a good point..
posted by 8k at 4:14 AM on September 3, 2010

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