http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/magazine/12CONSUMED.html Proactiv Solution Sean (P. Diddy) Combs had pimples. Not surprisingly, he went to a top-notch specialist, and this person recommended an acne-fighting product called Proactiv Solution, which is probably best known in the context of infomercials. Combs was appalled: ''You want me to use, on my face, something from an infomercial?'' This, at least, is the story that Combs himself tells . . . in the latest infomercial for Proactiv Solution. June marks the 10th year that Proactiv infomercials have been on the air, and the current 30-minute version has a more star-studded lineup than most talk shows. In addition to Combs, there are Jessica Simpson and Alicia Keys. The host is Vanessa Williams. Perhaps many of us remain as skeptical of products peddled in paid programming that runs late at night as P. Diddy used to be, but apparently not all of us. The Proactiv infomercial that he's in also announces that the stuff is the ''best-selling acne system in America.'' The company that sells Proactiv, Guthy-Renker, claims annual revenue of more than $1 billion, all from products sold this way (from Marilu Henner's weight-loss program to Tony Robbins's motivational tapes). Advertising Age has credited Guthy-Renker's well-crafted productions as an example of ''branded entertainment.'' It still seems a little startling that a celebrity with Combs's or Keys's wattage would venture into the form. But Karen Barner, senior vice president for marketing at Guthy-Renker, says that ''the stigma of the infomercial industry has waned quite drastically in the last 20 years.'' She also calls Guthy-Renker's infomercials ''shows.'' The current Proactiv ''show'' mixes interviews with celebrities and average consumer types, lots of before-and-after photos, a smattering of scientific-looking diagrams and words like ''micronized'' and an introduction to two dermatologists named Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields, whose Proactiv product Guthy-Renker distributes. The overall tone walks a line between sympathy for those with acne and something closer to a call to action against a debilitating societal crisis. ''Acne doesn't care if you're famous,'' Williams tells us, confessing that she, too, was once among the many who ''suffered.'' Keys, in her interview, says that acne is a ''taboo'' subject, but she seems to agree with Williams's suggestion that by speaking out she is ''changing the world.'' P. Diddy, we are told, ''speaks out only for what he believes in,'' and he offers the observation that ''the way you take care of your face I think reflects who you are.'' Later, Williams clarifies that acne used to have a stigma to it. ''Now,'' she says, ''it's really kind of cool to face it and to deal with it.'' If you're not ashamed of any unsightly blemishes you may have before seeing this infomercial, you certainly will be by the end. Proactiv is sold in the form of a three-item kit -- cleanser, toner and lotion -- for $39.95. ''You'll also receive free membership in the Proactiv Clear Skin Club,'' adds a chipper announcer. As a member of this club, you get a new Proactiv kit every two months, along with a new bill for $39.95, until you cancel. The setup, reminiscent of record clubs that require the consumer to take decisive action to stanch the flow of products and bills, gets mentioned by some of Proactiv's detractors in various online forums, where consumer reviews are mixed. Still, many of the reviews are quite positive. And then there are all those celebrity fans. Barner says that Guthy-Renker is sometimes approached by potential endorsers and sometimes seeks them out. ''We might find out that a celebrity has acne,'' she explains, perhaps from a stylist or just by looking at pictures in magazines, and ''reach out'' to that person. ''Of course they're paid,'' Barner says of these celebrities, just as stars are paid for an endorsement of any kind. Proactiv has also sponsored tours by Simpson and Keys. Nevertheless, the big names Proactiv trots out seem sincere. And the real key is not that infomercials seem as trustworthy as any other ''show'' but that they don't: surely people like P. Diddy or Alicia Keys, who hardly need the money or publicity, wouldn't show up to pitch products in such a hokey and fabricated context unless they really meant it, right? It's not that their appearances seem credible; it's that they seem incredible. And that's what makes them convincing.