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.

Check Availability


See what others have to say about Clearly Basics.

Based on 26 reviews
Skin Type: Normal
Comments: Any ideas on how to get rid of brown skin damage
Skin defence

Marks of sun damage are still there they haven't faded much after using twice a day for 60 days. . I will continue until product is finished. I'm a bit disappointed

Skin Type: Combination

I am so happy that I stumbled upon clearly basics on instagram. I was skeptical at first but decided to give it a try and bought clear out clarifying lotion. It's been 2 months and my skin has improved a lot. I can see significant reduction in pores and acne.

Skin Type: Combination

After years of medication and products, I decided to try clearly basics. In just 6 weeks my skin has calmed and I am now able to treat scarring.

So glad to have found these products!

Finding products that helped to control my acne without irritating my sensitive skin has always been a huge challenge. The clearly basics products have been my saviour, I can't recommend them enough ☺️

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Excellent and actually works

I am so incredibly impressed with the TLC for pore minimising - it 💯 works and has transformed my skin.

I’m in my 50’s and always had hormonal flare ups with larger pores as I age - this is a game changer and have just reordered my 3rd bottle !


not bad but I thought the formula has changed since what it was previously (i had it maybe 2 years ago) and I found it less effective now

Skin Type: Combination
This is the stuff.

So, long time sufferer of acne. Started when I was 12 and I'm 28 now still battling it. I've tried all kinds of different things to try and get it under control and besides birth control, nothing has helped long term. I never want to take birth control ever again and I just happened upon this brand and decided well, why not try? To my amazement, it has helped more than anything else I've tried, I'd say it has improved my skin to the level it was at when I took BC. Of course I still get pimples every now and then, and tiny flare ups during PMS but my skin is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I highly recommend this company. To those who are considering trying this out, be aware that during the first week or so your skin will go through a purge and your acne will appear to get worse at first. Stick with it! Once that phase is over is when your skin will begin improving. I do need to use it every night for it to be fully effective, but even when I do forget, the pimples don't get too out of control. I just can't say enough good things about this product. It has helped my confidence improve immensely and I definitely recommend trying it to those who have skin as finicky as mine.

Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry
The only moisturiser I trust

I am super sensitive and this is the only moisturiser that I trust honestly incredible.

Skin Type: Combination

I use this product and with the clear out and it has really helped my hormonal acne.

Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry
Here one day, gone the next!

After success with Clearly Basics for my acne scars, I stocked up with all of the active acne products to prepare myself for how angry my acne would get when going off hormonal birth control. I have tried and failed twice as my acne comes back so bad that I just start taking it again. This time I have been using clearly basics without fail every day (lighten up and clear out). I have had 3 pimples start to form and I use ‘Stop Spot’ and the next day instead of a much redder, much angrier pimple with a big white head - the pimple is gone! I have been very happy with this product. I’m one month down (typically when acne gets the worst) - let’s do this!

I love that these products are gentle on my daughter skin.

This skin care routine is the o lay one that has helped clear up my daughters skin.

My daughters skin is really starting to look better!

Skin Type: Oily
So far so good

Bought this for my daughter that has struggled with acne for years. She has seen improvement and less frequent breakouts.

Best moisturizer I have found!

Lighten Up Redness Rescue Cream
Veronica Ilenya Ranieri
Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry

Has changed my skin from acne pro to almost perfect 😍😍

Skin Type: Combination
Obsessed !!

Obsessed with this cleanser!! It left me feeling fresh and prevented break outs. It is incredible . Loved this product so much

My skin feels so soft after using this moisturiser!

My skin feels so soft after using this moisturiser!

Skin Type: Combination
Fresh and clean!

My face is filled with energy and feels so fresh and clean!

Skin Type: Normal
excellent item!

have been using this for years! so good for my skin :)

So Fresh pH Balancing Cleanser
Carmelinda Di Manno
Skin Type: Combination
Fresh Feeling

My skin feels so clean and still hydrated when I use this cleanser. It’s balancing and refreshing. My skin has responded really well to it and at times my skin can be sensitive. I highly recommend this product to anyone with relatively oily t-zone area

Skin Type: Combination
Very happy!

Love the texture, the minty scent and the lather.
I wish the bottles were a bit bigger HOWEVER they are just small enough to fly with.

Skin Type: Normal
Comments: The only thing I now need to use to keep my skin clear.
The holy grail for clearing hormonal acne.

This is the only product that I have needed to keep my skin clear since discovering it about 2 years ago, after suddenly developing cystic hormonal acne at the age of 25. I now only need to use it every second night, so it's incredibly affordable. It has also never irritated my sensitive skin and it has faded previous acne marks to truly clear my skin. After years of trying expensive supplements/products/harsh prescription creams, Clear Out was the only thing that gave me long-lasting results.

Skin Type: Oily
Clearly Basics is the only product that has helped my Adult Acne

I have always struggled with dehydrated acne prone skin. Every month like clockwork I would get a new breakout on my chin or cheek area. These included large cystic acne that by the time they came to a head would take me months to clear. With new breakouts each month this created more & more spots before the first could heal leaving more hyper pigmentation spots that never have time to clear. Clearly basics changed all that for me. It gave my skin a chance to heal and reduced the number of breakouts each month. When I do get a new breakout it resolves itself quickly with less scarring and redness. Now that the acne is under control the products are helping to eliminate the remaining hyper pigmentation spots left from years of acne. I have not been using the product for long but I will continuing relying on this product and look forward to the day I can happily look in the mirror at a smooth clear & even complexion some day soon.

Skin Type: Combination
Comments: Product consistency in terms of smoothness/coarseness/stickiness/ is sometimes a miss, don't believe it affects the result provided.
Great Combo

Have seen great improvements by using these 2 items concurrently, hard to fault and wil continue purchasing.

Individual results may vary

American Express Discover Mastercard Visa PayPal Shop Pay