This Forgotten ’00s Product Is My Go-To Secret Weapon for Pimples


During senior year of college, my skin went haywire. (Gee, I wonder if the steady stream of beer or the lack of sleep during finals did my complexion in?) Whatever the reason, I reached my wit’s end and invested in Proactiv, a popular as-seen-on-TV acne and skin-care system. The standard cleanser, toner and repairing treatment trio worked fine, nothing revolutionary. However…

The Proactiv Skin Purifying Mask I purchased as an additional step in the regimen knocked my acne on its butt. There’s a trick, though. I used it as a spot treatment, not a mask. Yes, it’s called a skin purifying mask, and you’re directed to use it as such, but fine print on the packaging also suggests trying it as a spot treatment overnight on stubborn zits. Since I’m not a patient person, I took the overnight route and have never looked back.

My strategy:

  • See zit.
  • Wash face.
  • Dab tiny dot of Proactiv Skin Purifying Mask onto zit.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Wake up.
  • Wash face.
  • Try to find zit.
  • See only smooth skin and maybe a tiny red spot that will be gone by day’s end.

Why does this work so well? My money’s on the key ingredient: Sulfur. Studies have shown this element’s antimicrobial, antifungal and keratolytic (which means it attacks skin impurities and then repairs the epidermis around them) properties work wonders on acne. On top of that, sulfur is naturally anti-inflammatory; an ideal situation for acne sufferers.

So, why aren’t brands using sulfur in all their acne products? Well, it smells like rotten eggs. This mask doesn’t smell when I put it on. When rinsing it off, either in the morning after using it as an overnight treatment or after wearing it as a mask for ten minutes, sometimes I’ll get a small whiff of that industrial, weird sulfur stench. Then it goes away, and so does my zit.

Oddly enough, Proactiv advertises the product as a clay mask. It definitely contains natural kaolin clay, but sulfur is the real hero and has been healing skin ailments for centuries. I always call it the sulfur mask when I brag about using it because for me, that’s the ingredient doing the heavy lifting.

Dry skin people, beware: This mask can dry skin out, so do a spot test before slathering it everywhere. For me, using it a few times a week as a spot treatment or every other night on a really stubborn pore does the job with minimal irritation.

I’ve used this product for ten years—ten years! The only other product I’m this dedicated to is a conditioner. So I make sure I have a small sample size of it whenever I travel. Honestly, if a zit popped up on the tip of my nose the day before my wedding, I’d turn to this product first. Hell, I’d probably marry it, too.

SAshley Headshot PureWow

Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...