Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliants Comparison: Which One Is Right For You?

by Gio
all Paula's choice bha exfoliants

Remember the days you couldn’t find a BHA exfoliant to save your skin?

Paula’s Choice took care of that – with a vengeance. Last time I counted, the brand makes 12 BHA exfoliants.

12! How do you even begin to pick one?! Talk about skincare overload! Makes you want to close your eyes, grab one at random off the shelf and hope for the best.

Or you can read my Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliants comparison below. Whatever you prefer…

What The Heck Are BHA Exfoliants And Why Should You Use Them?

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are a family of exfoliants. The only member that has a job in the skincare world is salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid rocks because it fights acne and pimples on 3 fronts:

  1. It exfoliates skin: it dissolves the “glue” that holds skin cells together on the surface of the skin so they slough off instead of getting trapped in the pores. This also makes skin smoother, brighter and more even-toned.
  2. It unclogs the pores: it’s oil-soluble, so it can get inside the pores and remove all the excess oil, dead cells and other gunk that’s clogging them up and giving you whiteheads, blackheads and pimples.
  3. It has anti-inflammatory properties: it reduces the inflammation and redness that always comes along with pimples.

I can’t stress this enough: if you have oily or acne-prone skin, a BHA exfoliant is a MUST. You’ll never gonna get rid of those annoying breakouts without it.

If you have any other skin types, AHAs are more suitable for you. I’ve already written about how to choose the best exfoliating acid for your skin type and a comparison of all Paula’s Choice AHAs Exfoliants.

The only exception? If you have dry, normal or sensitive skin that breakouts during your period, adding a BHA exfoliants in the days before it can help. Check out my guide on how to deal with hormonal acne.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is The Key To Spot-Free Skin

Need salicylic acid in your skincare routine? Here’s the Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliants comparison to help you pick the right one:

Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant ($27.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 1%.

What is it good for?: mildly clogged pores, redness and sensitive skin.

What else is in the formula?: soothing ingredients, like green tea and liquorice extract, to reduce redness and irritation.

What’s the texture like?: lightweight lotion.

Who should use it?: oily AND sensitive skin.

Where to buy it: Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice

Related: 9 Soothing Ingredients For Sensitive Skin

Clear Extra Strength Anti-Red Exfoliating Solution  With 2% Salicylic Acid ($29.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores and inflamed skin.

What else is in the formula?: green tea to prevent wrinkles and soothe skin. It has a lower pH to provide stronger exfoliation that the Regular Strength formula.

What’s the texture like?: lightweight, silky fluid texture.

Who should use it?: anyone with stubborn blackheads and inflamed pimples.

Where to buy it: DermstoreFeel UniqueLook Fantastic and Paula’s Choice

Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution ($27.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores, mild acne and redness.

What else is in the formula?: soothing ingredients, like allantoin, to reduce redness and inflammation. It has a higher pH to provide gentler exfoliation than the Extra Strength.

What’s the texture like?: liquidy, lightweight texture.

Who should use it?: anyone with mild acne and blackheads.

Where to buy it: Dermstore, Nordstrom, and Paula’s Choice

Resist Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA ($36.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 4%.

What is it good for?: stubborn pimples and very clogged pores

What else is in the formula?: antioxidants to prevent premature wrinkles and soothing ingredients, like oats, to calm down inflammation.

What’s the texture like?: lightweight serum.

Who should use it?: anyone who tried lower doses of BHA without seeing results.

Where to buy it: Dermstore, Look FantasticNordstrom and Paula’s Choice

Resist BHA 9 Treatment ($43.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 9%. Use it as a spot treatment only!

What is it good for?: very clogged pores, stubborn blackheads, milia seeds and patches of dry skin.

What else is in the formula?: soothing ingredients, like oats, to reduce redness and irritations.

What’s the texture like?: light serum.

Who should buy it?: anyone who’s already tried everything for clogged pores, blackhead and milia without results.

Where to buy it: Dermstore, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice

Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA ($33.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores, smoother skin and dull complexions.

What else is in the formula?: humectants to hydrate skin, soothing ingredients to reduce irritation and peptides to improve skin’s texture.

What’s the texture like?: lightweight, liquid texture.

Who should use it?: mature dehydrated oily skin.

Where to buy it: Dermstore, Nordstrom, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges

Resist Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 2% BHA Gel ($27.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: enlarged pores and dark spots.

What else is in the formula?: hydroquinone to fade away dark spots.

What’s the texture like?: sheer, lightweight gel.

Who should use it?: oily skin with dark spots – unless you have dark skin. Check this post for alternative skin-lighteners for darker skintones.

Where to buy it: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice

Related: Is Hydroquinone The Best Treatment For Dark Spots?

Resist Weekly Retexturising Foaming Treatment 4% BHA ($36.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 4%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores and white bumps on the skin.

What else is in the formula?: antioxidants to help prevent premature aging.

What’s the texture like?: liquid-to-foam.

Who should use it?: oily, mature skin and anyone with white bumps on their skin.

Where to buy it: Paula’s Choice

Resist Weightless Body Lotion With 2% BHA ($26.00)

How much salicylic acid is here? 2%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores on arms, legs and the rest of the body and smoother skin.

What else is in the formula?: antioxidants to fight premature wrinkles (your body needs them too!).

What’s the texture like?: lightweight, fast-absorbing lotion.

Who should use it?: anyone with body acne or keratosis pilaris.

Where to buy it: DermstoreFeel Unique and Paula’s Choice

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant ($29.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores, uneven skintone and dull complexion.

What else is in the formula?: a sprinkle of antioxidants to prevent premature wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: water-light gel.

Who should use it?: anyone with oily or acne-prone skin who prefers gel textures.

Where to buy it: DermstoreFeel Unique and Paula’s Choice

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: clogged pores, uneven skintone and rough texture

What else is in the formula?: humectants (they attract water from the air into the skin) to hydrate and green tea to soothe and fight free radicals.

What’s the texture like?: Liquid, slightly tacky, leaves skin a little shiny.

Who should use it?: best for oily or acne-prone skin that’s also dehydrated.

Where to buy it: Dermstore, Look FantasticPaula’s Choice and Selfridges

Related: What The Heck Are Humectants And What Are They Doing In My Skincare Products?

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant ($29.00)

How much salicylic acid is here?: 2%.

What is it good for?: unclogged pores, dull and rough complexion, and dehydrated skin.

What else is in the formula?: humectants to hydrate skin and antioxidants to prevent premature wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: lightweight lotion.

Who should use it?: mature, dry and acne-prone skin.

Where to buy it: Feel Unique, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges

SHOP THE POST

Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliants Comparison: A Recap

Still confused? Here’s my quick 3 step process to pick the right Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliant for you:

STEP 1: IDENTIFY THE Right line for your concerns

  • If oily skin and breakouts are your only concerns, go with the Clear line. It’s made for this.
  • If your oily, acne-prone skin is also dry/dehydrated, opt for the Skin Perfecting line. It’s hydrating and exfoliating at the same time.
  • If you have oily, mature skin, try the Resist line. It’s loaded with antioxidants to prevent wrinkles.
  • If your oily skin is sensitive and easily irritated, the Calm Redness Relief line is your best option. All those soothing ingredients help you calm down irritations and redness.

Step 2: Work Your Way Up

It’s easy to think “more is better.”

But, when it comes to exfoliation, more usually stands for “more irritating.”

Do your skin a favour and start with the lowest concentration you can find. Only if that’s not enough to get rid of those stubborn blackheads or white patches of skin, upgrade to something stronger.

Step 3: It’s All About Texture

By this point, you should have narrowed down the choice to only a handful of exfoliants. Now, it’s all about personal preference: do you prefer a lightweight gel or a silky lotion? A toner or a serum?

Figure that out and you’ve found your exfoliant.

I hope you’ve found this Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliants comparison useful. Leave a comment below and let me know which one you’re going for!

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17 comments

JD August 31, 2018 - 6:02 am

Thank you for this. I’ve been using Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid (my first Paula’s Choice product) for two months now, and am not seeing any results at all. The blackheads have not moved or lessened at all. I don’t have glaring or very pronounced blackheads but they are there. A pimple also sprouted a couple of days ago. I’m so disappointed that for some reason my skin doesn’t like it. I have another bottle (bought at a sale), which I’m giving to a friend who may have better luck with it.

Reply
Gio September 7, 2018 - 4:44 pm

JD, mmmm if the blackheads haven’t disappeared you may need a higher dose. There’s always the chance they’ve become so hardened, you’ll need manual extractions.

Reply
Elle September 27, 2019 - 3:28 pm

Hi
Only percentages of 2% and below seem to be available in the uk, is this correct?

Thank you

Reply
Gio October 5, 2019 - 7:00 pm

Elle, yes that is correct.

Reply
Elisa March 11, 2019 - 8:43 pm

I was about to buy the skin perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant but then I noticed in the ingredients the Tetrasodium EDTA, isn’t it very bad?

Reply
Gio March 15, 2019 - 3:41 pm

Elisa, depends on whom you skin. It’s derived from formaldehyde so that’s enough for the natural brigade to make a fuss about it. Scientists found it’s safe in low concentrations in cosmetics as it can’t penetrate skin anyway.

Reply
Elisa March 16, 2019 - 5:23 am

I think I am going to skip it , I prefer to avoid this ingredient… what could it be another good option for dry skin but a bit oily in the t zone just to get rid of the very heated blackheads and big pores on the nose and chin? Better a BHA alone to put only in the t zone (and an AHA on different days) or an exfoliant that contains both BHA and AHA ? Any particular brand? Thanks so much, I find your articles very interesting!

Reply
Gio March 16, 2019 - 12:34 pm

Elisa, both are good options. One doesn’t work better than another, it’s what works best for your lifestyle. Are you ok with using two products or do you prefer the convenience of having both in the same product? Drunk Elephant Glycolic Night Serum and Nip + Fan Glycolic Fix Gel have both. The latter is cheaper, but it has a tendency to peel.

Reply
Elisa March 17, 2019 - 8:51 pm

Is it the T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum? I cannot find it, maybe in the US has another name.
Did you try the HONEYMOON GLOW AHA resurfacing night serum with hydrating honey + gentle flower acids? This one as well has a combination of both but I am not sure the BHA are powerful enough do get rid of the blackheads (1% BHA: Natural salicylic acid from willow bark)

Gio March 21, 2019 - 2:01 pm

Elisa, yes T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum. The Honeymoon Glow isn’t a bad product but it probably won’t work as fast because it uses a salicylic acid derivative.

Reply
Elisa March 25, 2019 - 4:26 pm

Thank you for answering, you are so helpful with all of the information you provide with your blog! I will probably buy the drunk elephant but it’s soo expensive!

Reply
Gio March 29, 2019 - 1:33 pm

Elisa, my pleasure! Have you considered getting a mini set so you can try a few products without spending a fortune?

Reply
Elisa April 1, 2019 - 6:49 am

I didn’t know that they make a mini set, great idea!!

Reply
Paloma May 7, 2019 - 4:33 am

Thank you for writing this guide! I’ve been planning to buy one of PC’s BHA exfoliants for a while but I haven’t figured out which one to get. I bought a few samples of the Skin Perfecting Liquid Exfoliant and I hate how it leaves my skin shiny. I also got a few samples of the Gel Exfoliant and I thought it also looked a little shiny, though not as much as the liquid one. I have super oily skin with acne (stubborn forehead pimples that are taking forever to go away and a few blackheads that aren’t very noticeable). An employee a therapist Sephora told me last year that my skin looked dehydrated. I can definitely see that because before a lot of the times I washed my face it felt very tight afterwards and then it would get super oily not even an hour later. But recently it doesn’t feel tight anymore after I wash it – I think it’s because I’m using a better face wash (just using samples from Sephora to try to find a new, better one – lately, it’s Amira’s Clarifying Cleanser).

All of this to say that I’m not sure whether to get the BHA in the Clear line or Skin Perfecting line. Help please!

Reply
Gio June 4, 2019 - 6:47 pm

Paloma, as it’s just a matter of texture, try a sample of both and see which one you like best. 🙂

Reply
Vana May 7, 2019 - 1:50 pm

Dear, which of these exfoliant would you suggest for sensitive acne-prone combination skin type (dry cheeks, oily T zone)?

Thank you in advance.

Reply
Gio June 4, 2019 - 6:44 pm

Vana, try the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. It’s a classic and works well for combo skin.

Reply

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