Paula’s Choice 2% Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliant Review
One of the many reasons I love writing this blog is that it gives me an excuse to try an inordinately large number of skincare products without being judged too harshly. However, trying all these products is not without its occupational hazards – sometimes products break me out, make me peel, give me dry patches, turn my cheeks red, or do absolutely nothing at all. But every once in a while, I run across a treat that’s so magnificent that I don’t even have the patience to use it for 28 days before I review it, and those are the products I live for. I’m happy to report that Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid is one of those products.
What is it?
Paula’s Choice 2% Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($23) is a daily facial treatment that promises to treat acne, blackheads, enlarged pores, keratosis pilaris, redness, rosacea, wrinkles, and provide an even skin tone.
Water, Methylpropanediol (hydrator/penetration enhancer), Butylene Glycol (slip agents/penetration enhancers), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (anti-irritant/antioxidant), Polysorbate-20 (solubilizing agent), Sodium Hydroxide (pH balancer), Tetrasodium EDTA (chelating agent)
One of the highlights of writing about this product is that Paula Begoun, creator of the Paula’s Choice line and possibly the best-known skincare guru in the business, is nice enough to include an in-line description for every item in the ingredients list. Nonetheless, here are my own expanded descriptions of the stars of this exfoliant show:
Salicylic Acid – Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is often used as an acne treatment. It is a naturally occurring ingredient, usually derived from willow bark, but also occurs in other sources. Salicylic acid has been shown in multiple studies to improve skin barrier function and collagen production. It’s best used in concentrations from 0.5% – 2%. The reason BHA is such an effective treatment is because not is it antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and exfoliating – it also has the ability to travel deeper into the skin than many other skincare actives, including AHAs.
There are tons of peer-reviewed scientific studies verifying the efficacy of salicylic acid a treatment for acne, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and whole host of additional skin conditions. Here are a couple of study extracts about the benefits of salicylic acid that I found interesting:
Camellia Oleifera – Better known as green tea extract, this ingredient has a multitude of studies showing its benefit in the skincare world. Green tea’s active, skin-friendly component is polyphenols, which possess powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This study from June of 2013 showed green tea extract to have a prolonged moisturizing effect, reduce skin roughness, and improve skin microrelief (wrinkles).
According to COSDNA, there are no major red flags in terms of potential acne-triggering ingredients. Sodium hydroxide does score a 5 out of 5 as a potential irritant – but in this formula, it’s harmless. On it’s own, sodium hydroxide (also known as lye) is extremely caustic, but once it’s been reacted – as it has been in this formula – it’s completely benign.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant comes in boring, yet functional 4 oz. plastic bottle. The dispenser is pretty basic – it’s a small hole in a plastic cap, designed to dispense product a few drops at a time.
The liquid itself is clear and slightly thicker than water.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant has no added fragrance, but it does have a smell. It’s not horrible, but no one is going to be making an eau de parfum out of it anytime soon. It smells medicinal, but also a little bit like a hair salon.
The instructions show that Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant should be applied just after your toner, using a cotton pad. I haven’t applied a skincare product with a cotton pad in ages, as I believe it wastes product, so I just splash several drops in my hands and press it into my skin, giving more attention to problem areas. Once applied, I wait a couple of minutes before performing the rest of my skincare routine. If I were to leave it on my skin without applying any products over it, most of the product absorbs, but there is a very thin layer of moisture that sits on top of the skin. Some reviewers thought it was “heavy and oily.” I couldn’t feel it at all. The only reason I knew it was there was because I reached up and touched my face to see what I felt like. Once I applied the rest of my skincare products, it felt exactly the same is it would have if I’d applied them without the BHA liquid.
Some people choose to use this only once a day. Many opt to use this both morning and evening, which is how I’ve been using it. There is some confusion surrounding the issue of whether or not it’s effective to use BHAs and retinoids together – the concern is that one may negate the other, or at the very least reduce the efficacy. This isn’t entirely true, but there is a little bit of merit to this – – the BHA does affect the skin’s pH after application, which can affect how retinol is converted into all-trans retinoic acid. I’m unclear whether the same problem exists for a retinoid product that is already an all-trans retinoic acid, such as Tretinoin. Ether way, there are still options if you’d like to use both:
Option 1: Use BHA only in the morning on days when you’ll be using a retinoid in the evening.
Option 2: Apply your retinoid first, then wait one hour before applying the rest of your products, including your BHA.
Option 3: Apply the BHA along with the rest of your non-retinoid skincare products, wait one hour, then apply your retinoid. This is what I do and it works out well for me. On evenings when I use my Tretinoin Gel Micro 0.04% (about every other night), I apply the BHA liquid, then my serum, emulsion, and moisturizer, wait an hour, then apply Tretinoin.
If you have very sensitive skin, are new to using Tretinoin, or find that Tretinoin is causing you any skin sensitivity, I would advice against using BHA and Tretinoin at the same time. Instead, try using the BHA liquid in the morning and the retinoid in the evening.
Before I started using the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, my skin was okay, but had a couple of real problem areas. My baseline skincare routine, when I’m actually using it, is pretty good at minimizing acne breakouts. For me, that means I still get acne in some areas because I developed PCOS last year, which has been slowly increasing in severity. PCOS is notoriously difficult to treat topically – for many, it’s even impossible. Fortunately for me, many of my favorite products do a remarkable job keeping the worst of it at bay. Additionally, I am usually testing a new skincare product, and since my skin is both sensitive and acne prone, it’s very easy for a new product to trigger a breakout. You might be wondering why I would even bother trying new products if I know there’s a chance it will break me out. The answer is simple – I am always searching for skincare that works well in spite of my skin issues. When I find one, I am ecstatic to be able to add it to my list of product options.
There is one patch in particular along my jawline that, for the past 5 months, never seemed to completely go away. Once or twice a month, it flared into an unstoppable rash of large, red, angry, deep pimples that laughed in the face of my topical prescription antibiotics and retinoids. Sometimes I could hear it taunting me. “You fool!” it would say, “You cannot destroy me! I will be here long after you have left this mortal coil!” Yes, I know that’s not possible, for my zits to outlive me, but I’m not going to argue with an angry blemish. Instead, I’d spend a couple of weeks getting it down to the point where I was just starting to believe it was going away. Inevitably, I’d wake up one day to find it was back full force, and the cycle would begin again.
Not anymore though. Within 3 weeks, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant vanquished it. Not only that, but it didn’t leave behind a whole lot of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The traces of red spots that are actually visible are disappearing rapidly (though this is likely a combined effort – I’m also using Vitamin C serum right now).
Below is a picture of that angry acne patch at what I would consider to be one of its worst points. It was taken on December 29th. Underneath that is a picture I took tonight, on January 13th. You can see for yourself how spectacular my results have been.
I will say that the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant had some help. I also bought the Paula’s Choice RESIST BHA 9 Spot Treatment when I purchased this product, and used it a couple times when I first started the BHA liquid. The spot treatment did a great job flattening things out, and I will be giving it its own well-deserved review.
I haven’t experienced any irritation with Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, which is a huge relief for me. Over the years, I’ve tried several products that contained 2% BHA that have irritated my sensitive skin, especially with my Tretinoin. My skin is somewhat drier than it normally is, but it’s nothing that isn’t easily managed with the rest of my skincare routine. EDIT 03/16/2014: I began experiencing some flakiness in February, so reduced my usage from twice a day to once a day, then again to once every other day. I am no longer experiencing flaking, and my acne has not returned from reducing my usage.
Overall, I’m extremely pleased with Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. It plays nicely with my other skincare products, including my prescription Tretinoin Gel Microsphere. I’ll likely be adding Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant to my baseline skincare routine. The only reason I haven’t added it yet is because Paula’s Choice carries two similar 2% BHA products that I will also be trying. The best of the three will make it to my permanent lineup.
Effectively treats acne
Lightens PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation)
Slightly drying – but nothing that isn’t easily managed with the right moisturizer
Skin & Tonics Rating:
Performance: 5/5 – I found this product to be extremely effective at treating the stubborn acne my other products couldn’t. Additionally, it was not overly drying or irritating, as some 2% BHA products have been for me in the past.
Quality: 5/5 – Solid ingredient list with very effective actives. The packaging is very basic, but serves its purpose very well.
Value: 5/5 – At $23 for a highly effective product, this is a great buy. I expect this 4 oz. bottle will last me a total of 6-8 weeks.
Where to Buy
I bought my Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant on the Paula’s Choice website, where it retails for $23 (EDIT: 03/13/2014 – Currently on sale for $18). New customers can use my referral link to receive $10 off your first order.
If you decide to pick this up and want to bump your order up to $50 so you can get the free shipping, I highly recommend the RESIST BHA 9 Spot Treatment, which is currently on sale for $34 (it’s regularly $40).
European customers can order from the Paula’s Choice EU site.
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