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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 is a three-part acne treatment kit that is sold on a subscription basis. It includes a cleanser, toner and treatment that contain benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid as their active ingredients. It is also sold in other varieties such as a Gentle Formula, Extra Strength and Proactiv+. Face masks, body washes and other skin-care products are also sold under the Proactiv name. Although a clinical study has found that Proactiv reduces comedones, inflamed lesions, and facial oiliness, an 80-person Consumer Reports study concluded that Proactiv and cheaper drugstore products were equally effective.

Celebrity endorsements play a significant role in Proactiv's marketing strategy. Many music artists, actors and other celebrities became paid spokesmodels for Proactiv, which spends $200 million a year air-time for commercials. In 2012, some of its commercials were banned in the UK after a consumer filed a complaint that the celebrity endorsers were not likely using the product's UK formulation.


Proactiv was created by two dermatologists, Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields, who met during a summer job at a cardiovascular research lab in Los Angeles[1] in 1984; both attended Stanford University School of Medicine.[2] After graduation they started their own practices, before deciding to work together to create a preventative treatment for acne.[1] In 1989 the two dermatologists hired a chemist[1] and began developing Proactiv out of Rodan's kitchen, using $60,000 in personal funds.[2] They brainstormed business ideas with executives and market researchers who were invited to dinner parties at Rodan's house.[3][4] Once developed, the product was rejected by several distributors, before Guthy-Renker agreed to market it in 1995.[2]


A Proactiv acne treatment kit

Proactiv's primary product is a three-part acne treatment kit that includes a cleanser, toner, and treatment.[5][6][7] The kit's only active ingredient,[8] benzoyl peroxide, is a common compound used for acne treatment that kills acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, dries out whiteheads and has anti-inflammation properties. The active ingredient can also cause skin irritation, sensitivity, or allergic reactions and discolors fabrics.[9] The Proactiv cleanser and treatment each contain a 2.5 percent concentration,[10][11] which can make users more comfortable using it daily when compared to most products that contain a 10 percent concentration.[12][13] There is also an "Extra Strength" version with a 7 percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide[10] and a "Gentle Formula" with a 2 percent concentration of salicylic acid.[14] The toner contains witch hazel, which reduces facial oil, and glycolic acid,[11][15] which is a popular ingredient in chemical peels.[16] The kit is sold on a subscription basis. After the first 30 days, customers are automatically billed for a three-month supply every three months, until the subscription is cancelled.[17]

There is also a Proactiv+ version that does not contain parabens and is intended to also act as a moisturizer.[18] Other products in the Proactiv line have different formulations and active ingredients. A Proactiv moisturizer uses octinoxate (7.5%) and zinc oxide (3%), while a Proactiv-brand anti-dandruff shampoo uses a 1% concentration of zinc pyrithione.[19]

Guthy-Renker markets and distributes Proactiv on behalf of its founders.[20][21] As of 2007, worldwide sales of Proactiv were $850 million annually, 70 percent of which were in the US.[11] The product line is responsible for about half of Guthy-Renker's revenue.[22][23] Proactiv can be purchased outside of retail stores, to avoid the potential embarrassment of publicly shopping for acne treatment products.[9] As of 2010, 60 percent of Proactiv orders were placed online.[24] It is also sold through a toll-free telephone number, in mall outlets,[21] in vending machines[25] and in certain boutiques.[1]

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.[26] A test by Consumer Reports with 80 volunteers found that the Proactiv system and less expensive drugstore products were equally effective.[17][27] According to a 2011 review in Consumer Reports, the three-part Proactiv system costs about $20 per month, while individual drugstore products cost about $5.[27] Consumer reviews of Proactiv in online forums are mixed.[28]


Each year about $12 to $15 million is spent on celebrity endorsements of Proactiv[24] and $200 million on commercial air-time.[29] Proactiv favors using an "instantly recognizeable celebrity"[24] and says music artists have been the most effective celebrity spokesmodels.[30]

Its first infomercials used celebrity endorser Judith Light.[31] 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.[32] 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.[28] Lindsay Lohan became a celebrity endorser in 2006.[33]

A Proactiv vending machine at John F. Kennedy International Airport

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.[34] As 30-minute infomercials became less popular in 2008, sales of Proactiv stalled.[29] Additionally, new entrants to the market created more competition from 2008 to 2010.[35]

In 2010, Proactiv signed celebrity endorsement contracts with music artists Katy Perry, actor Jenna Fischer,[35] Justin Bieber[36] and tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.[30][37] The product's packaging was modified[35] 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.[32][35]

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.[29] In 2011 Proactiv was one of nine companies that pulled advertising from the MTV show Skins,[38] after the Parents Television Council called for an investigation into whether the show violated child pornography laws.[39] In December 2011 Proactiv signed a celebrity endorsement agreement with Naya Rivera from the TV show Glee[40] and in August 2012 it signed Kaley Cuoco from the show The Big Bang Theory.[41]

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.[42] She said the celebrities were likely to have used Proactiv's American brand, which contains an active ingredient not present in the UK version.[43] 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).[43] 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.[44][45]


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