Proactiv MD Review: Does Proactiv MD Work?

Proactiv promotional banner.

For some people, acne doesn’t stop at after teenage years. Not only does it sometimes lead into adulthood but it also leaves emotional and physical scars for life. It can be an embarrassing experience to meet up with friends post-college years and their faces are so clear and sparkly while yours looks like it just went through puberty!

Most people have heard of Proactiv – the immensely popular skincare solution company. I know I remember watching Jessica Simpson talking about her acne struggles on TV commercials. Along with every other commercial, I thought it was just another case of a pretty face being used to sell a product that didn’t actually work.

That’s where I was wrong – Proactiv definitely works. Proactiv and its systems help people the world over solver their skincare struggles. One of Proactiv’s most powerful skincare solutions – Proactiv MD – is what we’re going to be talking about today.

What Is Proactiv?

African American woman with clear skin.

Woman with clear skin.

Proactiv takes pride in what they call their “combination therapy.” They combine benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid to treat your acne. Their goal is to stop acne before it even starts. They have found that this strategy allows them to continuously deliver superior results to their customers.

Proactiv is recommended by dermatologists because it works. It works so well that the company offers a 60-day money-back guarantee! This allows customers to try the product and if they find that it doesn’t work, they can return it within 30 days, even if it’s empty. This refund shows how invested Proactiv is in their product. It shows they care about their customers as well as clearing their customers’ acne.

Acne is caused by excess skin oil and bacteria. It’s common to get more acne during puberty because of a hormone called androgen that spikes during puberty. You can suffer from adult acne for a number of reasons. It can be genetic, caused by stress, makeup, or certain foods you eat.

People may suffer from adult acne into their 40’s and beyond. It isn’t always completely clear why someone may be suffering from adult acne. Unfortunately, washing your face a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t suffer from acne and breakouts. Sometimes, it takes a more powerful punch – like the one packed by Proactiv MD.

Proactiv MD Explained

Woman splashing face with water.

Woman washing face before acne treatment.

Proactiv MD was created in 2017 and contains the newest over-the-counter acne-fighting ingredient in over 30 years, called adapalene. Adapalene is a topical retinoid usually used to treat mild acne. Basically, it helps renew the skin while treating acne. Proactiv MD is sold as a Starter System which comes with the deep cleansing wash, in addition to the adapalene gel.

The 3-Piece System is Proactiv’s most advanced system to date and comes with a deep cleansing wash, moisturizer, and adapalene gel. The Essentials System comes with the deep cleansing wash, balancing toner, daily oil control, and, of course, adapalene.

Proactiv MD Essentials System Review

Four bottles of Proactiv MD Essentials System.

Proactiv MD Essentials System.

This is an easy-to-use 4-step system for use twice a day. It’s recommended for anyone with oily, dry, sensitive, normal, or a combination skin type. It will work best for you if you’re suffering from mild to moderate acne. While using this product, I noticed it made my skin extra sensitive. Therefore, I was extremely careful to make sure my skin was always protected from the sun.

These bottles are clearly labeled with numbers so the steps are super easy to follow. First, you clean your entire face with the cleansing face wash and then apply the balancing toner with a cotton pad and allow it to dry completely. In general, you should never skip the toner step because it helps shrink the appearance of large pores.

Then, apply the moisturizer in the morning to protect your skin from the sun. (It should be applied every 2 hours that you’re exposed to the sun). Your 3rd step at night would be the adapalene. You should apply it evenly to dry skin across your entire face. If you have sensitive skin in general, this product may be too harsh for you. All I suggest is that you use it with caution. Everyone reacts differently to things, including acne medication.

Proactiv MD 3 Piece Kit Review

Three tubes of Proactiv MD 3 Piece Kit.

Proactiv MD 3 Piece Kit.

The 3-Piece System has everything that the Essentials System has, except the toner. Without the toner, it basically removes a whole skin cleaning step. The toner is important because it hydrates your skin after the cleanser and prepares it to fully absorb all the benefits of the moisturizer you’re about to apply. I personally think the toner is necessary.

When I tried leaving out the toner, I noticed my skin was even drier. I stuck it out though because of a little thing called retinization. Retinization is the adjustment period that your skin needs to get used to the retinoid. Your skin may start to look red and flaky in the beginning but should subside around week 4. This is why Proactiv highly recommends using a moisturizer to help relieve some of the symptoms while they’re bothersome to you. 

It says on the packaging that you should see clearer skin by around 4-6 weeks and I feel like I did. My skin tone looked more even and I wasn’t having as many breakouts. Continued use of Proactiv MD 3-Piece Kit may be needed to reap all of its benefits. I would suggest the Essentials System over the 3-piece kit primarily because the toner seems to be a necessary step for the routine!

Proactiv MD vs. Proactiv Explained

Woman smiling in the mirror.

Woman admiring clear skin in mirror.

When Proactiv started out, they offered only a 3-step basic system without adapalene. It started out with its easy-to-use, morning and night routine- Cleanse, Tone, and Repair. The renewing cleanser would wash away excess dirt, oil, and other impurities.

You should apply the revitalizing toner next with a cotton pad to wipe away any impurities and to restore your skin’s pH level. Finally, the repairing treatment would target the bacteria deep into your pores. This was the original Proactiv. Today’s proactive is a bit more advanced.

Proactiv has upped their game. They now offer their Proactiv MD formula which, as I mentioned earlier, has a retinoid called, adapalene! Adapalene used to only be available as a prescription topical cream that doctors prescribed to treat acne. Proactiv MD truly changed the game.

Until now, Proactiv wasn’t using anything that you couldn’t find in a drugstore. They use, and still use, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid. Now that they offer adapalene in their new Proactiv MD Essential System, they have really created another great option for acne sufferers.


In summary, I’m really enjoying using Proactiv MD. I did have a bit of an adjustment period, but I think my skin has finally settled down and is just glowing these days. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you’re suffering from acne, try to not let it affect your social life or your self-esteem.

If it does affect you, reach out to a dermatologist. You don’t need to continue to feel this way. While you wait for your dermatologist appointment or for your Proactiv order to arrive, here are some tips that may help control your acne for the time being.

  1. Don’t over scrub. Two gentle cleanings a day is enough. It would also be good to quickly wash your face after sweating.
  2. Use oil-free products that won’t clog your pores.
  3. Don’t touch. I know it’s hard but picking and popping those zits could possibly cause more bacteria to go deeper into your skin making the irritation and worse. Picking can also cause scarring. Try to avoid touching your face altogether. Our hands have a ton of oil and bacteria on them and we don’t want that on our face.

Proactiv, unfortunately, hasn’t been as successful for everyone. I think it’s worth speaking to your dermatologist to find out if Proactiv MD would be the right fit for you. Remember not to let acne define who you are. Keep doin’ you and cheers to a future of clear skin!

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