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Industry Consumer Packaged Goods
Founded Palm Desert, California (January 1, 1995 (1995-01-01))
Founder Katie Rodan, M.D.
Kathy Fields, M.D.
Area served
Revenue $850 million (2010)
Parent Guthy-Renker

Proactiv is a brand of acne treatment and skin-care products distributed by direct marketing company Guthy-Renker. Developed by Drs. Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields in 1995, Proactiv consists of a cleanser and lotion that contain 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, a lower concentration than in prescription-strength acne treatments, and a toner that contains glycolic acid. The three-step kit is also available as Gentle Formula, which contains salicylic acid instead of benzoyl peroxide.[1] There is also Extra Strength and Proactiv+, as well as face masks, body washes and other skin-care products.

The treatment is mostly sold via infomercials on a subscription basis. Thirty days after ordering, customers are automatically billed almost $60 for a three-month supply (as of 2011 in the United States), plus shipping and handling, which continues until the subscription is cancelled.[2] Celebrity endorsements play a significant role in Guthy-Renker's marketing strategy. The company spends $200 million a year on air-time for Proactive commercials. In 2012 some of its commercials were banned in the UK after a consumer complained that the celebrity endorsers were not using the product's UK formulation.[3]

A 2011 Consumer Reports study compared Proactiv with two cheaper drugstore products, AcneFree and OXY Maximum, and found that all three were equally effective.[2][4] The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in 2014 that over-the-counter acne treatments can cause rare but life-threatening allergic reactions. Consumers were advised to stop using the products and to seek medical attention if they experience throat tightness, breathing problems, light-headedness, hives, itching, or swelling of the eyes, face, lips or tongue.[5]


Proactiv treatment kit

Proactiv's primary product is a three-part acne treatment kit that includes a cleanser, toner, and treatment.[6][7][8] The kit's active ingredient,[9] benzoyl peroxide, is a common compound used for acne treatment that kills acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, dries out whiteheads and has anti-inflammatory properties. Benzoyl peroxide can also cause skin irritation, sensitivity, or allergic reactions, and discolors fabrics.[10]

The Proactiv cleanser and lotion each contain a 2.5 percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide,[11][12] which can make users more comfortable using it daily when compared to most products that contain a 10 percent concentration.[13][14] There is also an "Extra Strength" version with a 7 percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide[11] and a "Gentle Formula" with a 2 percent concentration of salicylic acid.[1] The toner contains witch hazel, which reduces facial oil, and glycolic acid.[12][15]

Proactiv+ was introduced in 2013. Reportedly more hydrating, the range consists of a cleanser and treatment containing 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide and a moisturizer containing 0.5% salicylic acid. A monthly subscription was $30 in the US as of 2013.[16] Other products in the Proactiv line have different formulations. A Proactiv moisturizer uses octinoxate (7.5 percent) and zinc oxide (3 percent), while a Proactiv anti-dandruff shampoo uses a one percent concentration of zinc pyrithione.[17]

A physician writing in Salon noted that Proactiv uses the same active ingredient as cheaper generic store drugs, but that its three-step system made it easier for teens to be diligent.[18] A 2011 review by Consumer Reports compared Proactiv, AcneFree and OXY Maximum on 80 volunteers, and found Proactiv and the less expensive drugstore products to be equally effective. According to Consumer Reports, the three-part Proactiv system cost about $20 per month as of 2011, while OXY Maximum cost about $5.[2][4] Consumer reviews of Proactiv in online forums are mixed.[19]

Sales and marketing[edit]


Proactiv vending machine at John F. Kennedy International Airport

Proactiv is marketed and distributed by Guthy-Renker.[20][21] The kit is mostly sold on a subscription basis. When purchased directly from the company, customers are automatically billed, after their first purchase, for a three-month supply every three months, plus shipping and handling. This continues until they cancel the subscription.[2] Sixty percent of Proactiv orders were placed online as of 2010.[22] It is also sold through a toll-free telephone number, in mall outlets,[21][10] in vending machines[23] and in certain boutiques.[24]

As of 2007 worldwide sales of Proactiv were $850 million annually, 70 percent of which were in the US.[12] The product line is responsible for about half Guthy-Renker's revenue.[25][26]


Each year about $12 to $15 million is spent on celebrity endorsements of Proactiv[22] and $200 million on commercial air-time.[27] Proactiv favors using an "instantly recognizeable celebrity"[22] and says music artists have been the most effective celebrity spokesmodels.[28]

Its first infomercials used celebrity endorser Judith Light.[29] The New York Times said its early infomercials were "fast-talking" and "hard-selling." An announcer repeatedly said "Call Now" and offered faster shipping if the order was placed within three minutes.[30] In 2005, the infocommercials showed before and after images of Proactiv users, including a mix of consumers and celebrities. They showed "scientific-looking diagrams" and had an introduction to the two dermatologists that founded Proactiv. The commercials promoted pimples as a significant social concern.[19] Lindsay Lohan became a celebrity endorser in 2006.[31]

Proactiv began airing two-minute advertisements[21] and in 2007 installed 100 automated vending machine kiosks for Proactiv in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Laguna Hills.[32] As 30-minute infomercials became less popular in 2008, sales of Proactiv stalled.[27] Additionally, new entrants to the market created more competition from 2008 to 2010.[33]

In 2010 Proactiv signed celebrity endorsement contracts with music artists Katy Perry, actor Jenna Fischer,[33] Justin Bieber[34] and tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.[28][35] The product's packaging was modified[33] and it started airing commercials on network television. Its TV ads aired during shows like American Idol, Glee and The View using the theme "Be Proactiv." They included close-up before and after shots of celebrities' faces, with slogans like “I’m no pushover. I’m Proactiv” spoken by Avril Lavigne, who was signed as a celebrity endorser that year.[30][33]

Guthy-Renker expanded into Web, social and mobile marketing. As of 2010, Proactiv had 1.5 million views on its YouTube channel, 41,000 Facebook fans, and 8,700 Twitter followers.[27] In 2011 Proactiv was one of nine companies that pulled advertising from the MTV show Skins,[36] after the Parents Television Council called for an investigation into whether the show violated child pornography laws.[37] In December 2011 Proactiv signed a celebrity endorsement agreement with Naya Rivera from the TV show Glee[38] and in August 2012 it signed Kaley Cuoco from the show The Big Bang Theory.[39]

In June 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned some of Proactiv's celebrity-endorsed advertising in the UK, after a UK woman filed a complaint that the advertisements were misleading.[40] She said the celebrities were likely to have used Proactiv's American brand, which contains an active ingredient not present in the UK version.[41] The ASA noted the advertisements were targeted at a UK audience and that the UK Proactiv products had a different active ingredient (salicylic acid) than the US version (benzoyl peroxide).[41] The ASA said that signed statements by the celebrities said that they used the UK version of Proactiv for a few weeks, one-to-three years prior, but the advertisements gave the appearance that they continued to benefit from the UK-formulation of the product.[3][42]


Proactiv was created in 1989 by two dermatologists, Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields, who met during a summer job at a cardiovascular research lab in Los Angeles[24][page needed] in 1984; both attended Stanford University School of Medicine.[43] After graduation they started their own practices, before deciding to work together to create a treatment for acne. In 1989 they hired a chemist[24] and began developing Proactiv out of Rodan's kitchen, using $60,000 in personal funds.[43] They brainstormed business ideas with executives and market researchers who were invited to dinner parties at Rodan's house.[44][45] Once developed, the product was rejected by several distributors, before Guthy-Renker agreed to market it in 1995.[43] Rodan and Fields later founded their own range of products, Rodan + Fields.[46]


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