What Is the Active Ingredient in Proactiv®?

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  • Written By: B. Chisholm
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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The active ingredient in Proactiv®, a range of products used in the control of mild acne, is salicylic acid. This is a substance which acts on keratin in the skin to treat and prevent whiteheads and blackheads. There are a number of different products in the Proactiv® range including cleanser, toner, day lotion and night lotion.

Acne is one of the most commonly found clinical conditions throughout the world and, while the majority of cases occur during adolescence, it is by no means limited to this age group and may continue or appear in later life. Genetics play a major role in acne, and these genetic factors may contribute to a build-up of skin cells and sebum, or oil, in the hair follicles of the skin resulting in whiteheads and blackheads. The face, back, chest and shoulders are areas of the skin where acne occurs most, because there are more sebaceous glands located there.

In cases of more severe acne, inflammation may occur and/or bacteria may build up in the spots causing infection. These infections may require systemic treatment, of which there are a number of classes, such as isotretinoin or antibiotics. For milder forms of acne, topical treatments such as those containing salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Proactiv®, may be effective in clearing up acne. Good hygiene is essential but it is an old wives' tale that acne is caused by dirty skin.


Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Proactiv®, works as a keratolytic. This means that it breaks down keratin, which is a protein which forms part of the skin. As a result, it causes shedding of skin which, in turn, may decrease blackheads and whiteheads associated with acne.

Proactive® is used as a cleansing system and has components for cleaning, toning and moisturizing. Most of the components of the system contain the active ingredient, combined with other substances. Each component of the Proactiv® line of products may be bought separately, or as a set, with various variations specifically geared toward teens or adults.

As with any medication, the active ingredient in Proactiv® may have adverse effects, mainly local, due to the topical nature of the product. Should any adverse effects occur, advice should be sought from a health care professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist. The active ingredient in Proactiv® may also be contraindicated in people with some underlying conditions and these, too, should be discussed with a health care professional, before use.


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