A Real User's Guide to the Best Acne Treatments

I have suffered from hormonal cystic acne for a long time. Name any acne treatment system that has been advertised in the past seven years and I've probably tried it.

Source: @acenisntugly

When I look back at the reviews that led me to buy these systems, I was surprised to find that most authors lack first-hand experience on the products they review.

I was also surprised at the lack of innovation in the acne category. Benzyol peroxide (BP) and salicylic acid didn't work when your parents used them last millennium but they are still being repackaged today.

Virtually all major brands use BP or salicylic acid as their primary active ingredient.

If you've used either ingredient in the past with poor results, you will likely get disappointing results with the big brands who continue to repackage BP and salicylic acid.

Evaluation Questions

Here's what to look out for when comparing brands and products:

  1. Does the system clear clogs* making future breakouts harder to form?
    • *There are many indirect factors that contribute to the formation of a pimple. However, at the ROOT of all breakouts is a clogged pore. Learn more.
  2. Do the products fade the red/brown marks that pimples leave behind?
    • Breakouts subside within two weeks but the post-acne red marks can linger a few months. It is important to fade red scars quickly before they turn into a stubborn brown scar which can last up to two years.
  3. Do the products cause irritation?
    • Products should not be overdrying, causing your skin to overproduce oil and agitating breakouts.
  4. Do I get my money back if it doesn't work? Do I have to go through the hassle of shipping in order to request a return?
    • In order to make a moneyback claim, most brands require you to pay ~$8 in shipping and to go through the hassle of shipping the products back. I am looking for brands that make it easier to process a refund without requiring products to be shipped back.
  5. What are the user reviews across different platforms?
    • I look at reviews on the brand's own site as well as on Amazon. I dig deeper to identify reviews of users who have documented their skincare journey with the product.

Here is the overview:

Clearly Basics
Power Duo
Proactiv+ 3-Step System
Rodan + Fields
Spotless Regimen
Get Over Zit Kit
Paula's Choice
Clear Regular Strength`Kit

lasts 3 months

lasts 3 months

lasts 2-3 months

lasts 1 month

lasts 2-3 months

Clearly Basics Power Duo

What It Is: Clearly Basics' Power Duo consists of two formulations: the Clear Out which is a 2% retinol lotion and the Lighten Up which is a spot treatment designed to reduce the appearance of post-acne marks.

I have been using this set for over a year and it is the only thing that has kept my skin CONSISTENTLY clear.

Overall Score: The Clear Out is good at clearing clogs and the Lighten Up is the only product I've found that fades the appearance of post-acne red marks.

Finally, products that are effective and DO NOT use BP or salicylic acid!

Clears Clogs: The Clear Out will get rid of the dead skin trapped inside your pores, making it hard for future clogs to form. It also flushes out existing clogs (commonly called a purge). This is necessary if you want to get results that last.

Red/Brown Marks: Clearly Basics has products specifically designed to fade the appearance of red and brown acne marks. The Lighten Up is a spot treatment for red marks and shows noticeable results within 6 weeks of use. The Dark Mark Defense a spot treatment for brown marks and shows noticeable results within two months of use.

Gentle on Skin: The Clear Out contains retinol which can be itchy for some with sensitive skin. However, they use natural botanicals to balance the pH. It was nothing as harsh as other retinoids I have tried in the past (I have sensitive skin).

Price: The Power Duo is priced at $69.90 per set and lasts 3 months ($23.30 per month). They provide free shipping for this set which brings the cost down and makes it one of the most affordable sets in the review. They are also very responsive when I ask questions over chat.

Money-Back Guarantee: Clearly Basics has a 90-day money-back guarantee and its one of the easiest in the market: Send in your before/after photos over chat and if you don't see noticeable results after the entire bottle, chat in to get your money back. You don't have to go through the hassle or cost to mail back products.

User Reviews: The Power Duo scored 4.8 stars based on 128 reviews on their site. Clearly Basics has 4.8 star ratings on both Google reviews and Facebook reviews.

I like how they encourage their users to be transparent and document their skin journey on Instagram.

Individual results may vary

“Out of everything I’ve tried over the 7 years I’ve battle acne on and off it’s by far stood out as being one of the most effective with no side effects (after the initial “purge”). I’ve used nothing but Clearly Basics for 12 months now and it still exceeds my expectations!” - Mim P.

Individual results may vary

Never in my life did I imagine my skin would be this clear! Clearly Basics has completely transformed my skin!” - Toni L.

Proactiv+ 3-Step System

What It Is: Proactiv+ 3-step system consists of a 2.5% benzoyl-peroxide (BP) + glycolic acid exfoliator, a 2.5% BP leave in lotion and a hydrator. This product best suited for people with mild acne and some may find BP irritating.

Overall Score: I like Proactiv's money back policy as I am able to reduce my risk in case it doesn't work for my skin. I dislike Proactiv's physical exfoliator which can easily cause irritation and redness rather than helping to stop breakouts. If BP hasn't worked for you in the past, this set is not for you.

Proactiv's other system (ProactivMD) substitutes BP with a retinoid, but it was too strong for my sensitive skin, burning a layer of my skin and causing more breakouts.

Clears Clogs: Proactiv's physical exfoliator contains glycolic acid which can break down sebum. However, it is only left on the skin for a short period of time before it is washed off.

Unless you have mild acne, you'll want glycolic acid to stay on your skin for hours so it has time to break down sebum and clogs trapped inside your pores. To maximize the benefits of glycolic acid, opt for a leave-in gel or lotion.

Red/Brown Marks: A pimple may last two weeks, but the red marks left behind can last up to six months. Proactiv's formulations did not help to reduce post-acne red marks and as these red marks get exposed to UV, they can turn into stubborn brown marks which last up to two years.

Gentle on Skin: The main ingredient for this line is BP which is a known irritant. I don't know why they put a physical exfoliator in this set as it can easily cause more irritation/harm than good.

Price: Proactiv+ 3-Step set costs $107.3 for a three month supply ($35.70 per month). You will get a discount if you lock into a subscription plan.

Money-Back Guarantee: Proactiv has a 60-day money-back guarantee which isn’t sufficient to see through a cycle for acne (you need 90-days) and they require you to mail the products back. So you need to go through the hassle of waiting in line at the post office and pay $8 in additional shipping just to request your money back. They accept empty bottles.

User Reviews: On Proactiv's own site, the 3-Step System has a lackluster rating of 3.8 stars based on 2,905 reviews but a decent 4.2 stars based on 5,272 ratings on Amazon.

Rodan+Fields Spotless Regimen

What It Is: The Rodan+Fields Spotless Regimen consists of two products: a 5% benzoyl-peroxide (BP) wash and a 2.5% BP lotion.

Overall Score: Spotless Regimen uses BP in both items in their set. If you have used Oxy or Clearasil in the past and it worked for you, consider the Spotless regimen. However, if BP hasn't worked for you in the past, consider other options that use other ingredients aside from BP.

Clears Clogs: BP helps to kill the P. Acnes bacteria. However, it does nothing to get rid of the dead skin trapped inside your pores. In my opinion, any solution worth considering must get rid of the dead skin trapped inside the pore as the buildup of dead skin inside the pore is a major factor in the formation of clogs.

Red/Brown Scars: Rodan+Fields' Spotless Regime does not address the post-acne red or brown marks.

Gentle on Skin: The wash included in this set contains 5% BP which can be quite irritating. In my opinion, washes should only serve a basic function and should not contain harsh ingredients. If you wanted the enjoy the full benefits of BP, use it as a leave-in lotion so that it has more time to do its job.

Price: Spotless Regimen is priced at $89.00 and lasted 60 days ($44.50 per month). It is the most expensive system in this review.

Money-Back Guarantee: Rodan+Fields has a 60-day money-back guarantee which isn’t sufficient to see through a cycle for acne (you need 90-days). They accept empty bottles. You will need to go through the hassle of waiting in line at the post office and pay $8 in additional shipping just to request your money back.

User Reviews: I can't seem to find any reviews on their site. However, RF's Facebook review score is 4.8 but there are only a few acne-related reviews interspersed between reviews on the other skincare lines that the offer.

Murad Get Over Zit Kit

What It Is: The Get Over Zit Kit consists of three products: a 1.5% salicylic acid cleanser, a 1% salicylic acid + glycolic acid acne gel and a chemical sunblock with SPF45.

Overall Score: I like the fact that Murad's acne gel contains both an AHA and a BHA. However, I wish they had higher concentrations of each so that the product was more effective. Shipping was very expensive for this set.

Clears Clogs: The salicylic acid + glycolic acid in Murad's acne gel serves to break down sebum and clogs. My only request would be higher concentrations of each ingredient. However, I recognize that this will cause more irritation to the skin.

Red/Brown Scars: Salicylic acid has a mild effect in reducing the redness of post-acne marks and the ingredient is left on the skin giving it enough time to work out the red scar.

Murad also has a product that targets post-acne brown marks but it is $70 for a single bottle. For brown acne marks, consider the Dark Mark Defense which is a more effective/more affordable option.

Gentle on Skin: This is a relatively gentle set and I experienced no issues with irritation on my sensitive cheek areas. Their products contain numerous botanicals which help to soothe the skin. Murad's cleanser should not contain salicylic acid. If you wanted the benefits of salicylic acid, use it in a leave-in lotion or toner so that it has enough time to work on your skin.

Price: The Get Over Zit set is priced at $29.00 and lasts one month. Don't be fooled by the low initial price: If you factor in the duration of use as well as $8.95 for shipping, Murad's set is one of the most expensive sets in this review.

Money-Back Guarantee: Murad has a 60-day money-back guarantee and require you to mail the products back. So you will need to go through the hassle of waiting in line at the post office and pay ~$8 in additional shipping just to request your money back.

User Reviews: The Get Over Zit kit has a strong 4.8 stars on their site and decent 4.4 stars on Amazon.

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength

What It Is: The Clear Regular Strength Kit consists of three products: a gentle cleanser, a 2% salicylic acid chemical exfoliator and an acne gel that contains 2.5% BP.

Overall Score: Paula's Clear Regular Strength is a great set for those with mild acne. It is the most affordable set that we reviewed. I wish Paula's products contained more botanicals to make their formulations more gentle.

Clears Clogs: 2% salicylic acid in the exfoliator is better at breaking down sebum as compared to Murad's acne gel. However, it is NOT as effective as Clearly Basics' Clear Out which contains 2% retinol + 8% AZA.

Red/Brown Marks: salicylic acid has a mild effect in reducing inflammation. However, nothing in Paula's line is specifically designed to address the post-acne red or brown marks. My marks lingered for AGES when using Paula's set.

Gentle on Skin: I am glad that Paula resisted the temptation to put acid in her cleanser. I agree that cleansers only serve a basic function and should not contain harsh ingredients that over-strip oils on your skin. I wish Paula included more botanicals in her set so that it is more gentle on the skin. This is especially true with the acne gel that contains 2.5% BP; since BP is a known irritant.

Price: The CLEAR Regular Strength set is priced at $48.40 and lasts 2 to 3 months (~ $24.20 per month). Shipping costs an additional $5.50. This is the most affordable set in the review.

Money-Back Guarantee: Paula's Choice has a 60-day money-back guarantee which isn’t sufficient to see through a cycle for acne (you need 90-days) and they require you to mail the products back. You will need to go through the hassle of waiting in line at the post office and pay ~$8 in additional shipping just to request your money back. They do not accept empty bottles which is a yellow flag.

User Reviews: The Clear Regular Strength set scored a decent 4.26 stars on their own website and 4.1 stars on Amazon.

Mim is a primary school teacher from Southampton, England. Her Instagram page @acneisntugly is dedicated to help those with acne. She has been documented her acne journey through this page.


This article is intended to provide insights on how to identify effective acne products and is a personal opinion. Nothing on this article should be interpreted as personal medical advice. For medical related matters, please consult with your dermatologist.

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See what others have to say about Clearly Basics.

Based on 2549 reviews
Skin Type: Combination
All I can say is wow

Got all the acne products on a whim and they did not disappoint! I have noticed such a difference in the texture of my skin. I have tried so many acne products and felt like nothing was working. The clearly basics range has lasted me soooooo long and I saw results in just 3 weeks! Really happy with my experience, I would highly recommend those with acne to try this brand. Love it!

Power Duo*
Chuan Ling T.

Adult acne is a new thing for me- I’ve had clear skin growing up so the outbreaks were very stressful! I did everything and anything I could, from watching YouTube reviews, trying out cult products to professional advice, but nothing quite did the job. So how the power duo panned out for me was definitely a pleasant (-ly hugeeee) surprise. I do acknowledge that my acne challenges are not on the extremely severe end, but I must say, emotionally the positive outcome of using both the power duo encouraged me to wear my skin as it is again. It’s really worthwhile trying as it is also a no fuss duo; hence the currently gild of my staple skincare products.

Calm Down*
Kimberly C.

The entire Clearly Basics product line is the only one that has cleared my skin. I tried any product you can think of including doctor prescribed medication and ointment and nothing worked. After having acne for over 15 years I am so happy to have clear, radiant skin!

I have maybe seen some improvement but nothing amazing yet. Have used the product as instructed, religiously. Will try another bottle and stick to it for a few more months.

I love all of clearly basics! They made my confidence rise because I finally feel comfortable without makeup.
This cleanser is amazing 👏
My skin doesn't feel tight afterwards and now I don't get that mid day shine near as bad.

I love everything from clearly basics! It totally changed my life by clearing my acne. Now they have a new sunscreen and it's great.
It doesn't have a smell or leave your face white or greasy. Best of all it doesn't cause breakouts!

The products are just amazing!! My results in 4 months of using clear out extra strength!!

Clear Out*
Sophie C.

Love this product 👏🏽

Works really well! Enjoy using this face wash, never stings or dries out my acne prone skin !

Clear Out*
Emma S.

Worked really well in quite a short amount of time! I now see long lasting results, my skin is healthy and my acne is finally under control! The first product I have tried which works and is actually affordable!

I struggled with lots of painful cystic acne so tried the clear out product. Found by the end of the first bottle a lot of the smaller spots were not coming back and the more painful larger ones were coming back less inflamed. I was happy with the results from the first bottle so I ordered another, this is halfway through the second bottle and can see most of the acne on my cheeks has gone! I still get cystic acne in the T area but it is much less painful than before. Definitely recommend, but takes time to see real results.

Clearly Basics has been an absolute life saver! Not an over night miracle, be patient and stick with it, amazing products

I saw a huge reduction in new pimples and any new pimples scars healed and disappeared a lot quicker

Power Duo*
Anne F.

I have struggled with acne since I was 12 years old. All through my teenage and adult life my skin has been unpredictable and the breakouts have been constant and so frustrating. I’ve tried everything you could imagine but nothing worked reliably. Clear Out and lighten up have been a total game changer for me and I couldn’t be happier with the results

Acne Care Kit*
Sinead C.

I started using clearly basics at the beginning of the year. I have struggled with acne most of my adult life and when I saw a video from a customer on instagram, everything she described is exactly what I had done…had hormonal acne on chin and jaw line in particular. I had been to the doctor, was referred to a dermatologist and had been on medication, tried all sorts of creams and gels with no success.

I cannot believe this actually worked. I would say I saw results within the first month and probably took around 4 months so really clear up. I have continued with using it and now only get the odd spot at that time of the month but use the calm down on it. It has given me my confidence back and now I’m working on reducing the scaring. I use clear out each evening, the TLC in the morning, lighten up twice a day (but that is a small bottle so doesn’t last long) and then have tried both the so fresh and balancing cleansers. For me it really worked so would highly recommend.

Tightens pores and brightens and smoothes skin. This was my first bottle but I will continue to purchase. I use day and night.

I already use CB balancing cleanser and clear out extra strength, two years ago my skin was spotty, blackheads, raw and very visible. I wondered if the TLC would make a difference in my routine but it has, a glow and radiance I didn’t expect. This is no filter I’ve just woke up. I turned 50 this year the clearly basics range is also an amazing anti ageing tool!

Power Duo*
Mamtha J.

Tried every product out there from proactiv to slurp! None worked, they infact aggravated the condition! Tried clearlybasics as last resort and oh boy it works! Worth every penny! First time in 20 years, stepped out without wearing base makeup! Never thought this day would come!

I suffered with acne for years, and when I finally learned to stop the acne I was left with red and brown scars and hyperpigmentation. But I started using the clearly basics Lighten up cream and Dark mark defends, followed by the moisturiser, and I saw a dramatic difference within days! My scars have lightened so much and most of them are gone. I find this moisturiser is also very hydrating but not greasy, it is absorbed into my skin effortlessly, and it wears beautifully under my makeup. I've now been using the products for 6 months and will continue to use it!

Power Duo*
Laura S.

This stuff changed my life!!!!
After reading the reviews I never thought it would work for me in the same way as it had for other people, as my skin was so bad and cystic. But after just a few months of using this and cutting down on dairy, my skin was 10 times better!
I’m still religiously using the Power Duo and don’t think I’ll ever stop 😊

Clear Out*
Leah N.

It's such a relief to finally have found something that works. I've had acne since I was around 11 and like most people, I tried so many different products and 'hacks' to try and get rid of the spots but nothing really helped.
I was hesitant to try clear out because of the price but I was reassured by the money back guarantee.
To be honest, the purging process they warn about was pretty severe for me. Mine lasted for the entire first bottle and I was so ready to give up. I contacted customer service and they offered me a refund or 50% off my next bottle, reassuring me it would be worth sticking with it. I agreed to persevere and I'm so glad I did! About half way through the next bottle I really noticed improvements and by the end, my skin was the clearest it had ever been. I've completely stopped having breakouts and only occasionally get a spot or two during my cycle. Overall my skin is smoother and I have much less redness and a more even skin tone. I keep using clear out nightly to maintain my nice new skin and I'll happily keep buying it knowing how well it works for me!

Clear Out*
Mandy R.

After a few weeks the results were already visible (right photo). Now the red spots are also less visible!!

Acne Care Kit*
Keiwing W.

My son has serious acene problem and the acene comes back when he stopped taking the anti- biotics. After trying the products, the acene starts to dry up. The result is amazing after one month. Now, trying to apply the product to lighten up the marks.

Calm Down*
Cara W.

This works amazing. As soon as you see a bump, put a small amount on. I’ve used many acne spot treatments and this is by far the best !!

Clear Out
Veronica Ilenya Ranieri

"My skin has changed in better after using these products, they are practical and are not aggressive towards the skin.
I was ashamed of going out in public because everyone was pointing out my acne and scars, but since I started using clearly basic, I found a new me. Thank you changing my life!!"

Individual results may vary

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