Paula's Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier review

Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier is a jack of all trades. Word on the street is, it helps you fight acne, protect you from environmental damage, and brighten your complexion.

If any other brand would have made this claim, I would have smelled BS. But Paula’s Choice is the queen of multi-tasking skincare formulations. If someone can deliver all these benefits in just one tiny product, she can. But that doesn’t mean she will. You know what I mean?

The question still remains: is all that too much for one exfoliant to do or is this the real deal? I’ve put it to the test to find out!

About The Brand: Paula’s Choice

Founded by Paula Begoun, Paula’s Choice has been for decades the underdog of the skincare world. Skincare fanatics loved it for its no-nonsense approach for skincare. Paula refused to use the latest IT ingredients of the moment, opting instead for science-backed actives that may be less sexy but get the job done.

Plus, she sprinkled antioxidants everywhere. While other brands only used the tiniest concentration of a lone antioxidant so they could claim their creams fight wrinkles, Paula’s added a fair share that could really do the job to every serum, cream, and lotion.

For the longest time, this was a brand you could rely on. Whatever product you picked off the shelf, it’d do its job. Sadly, things are changing. Paula sold the brand and the new owners are very happy to jump on the latest marketing nonsense to sell more bottles. *sighs* Still, most formulas are still solid and science-based. For now, at least.

Key Ingredients In Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier: What Makes It Work?


If you’re suffering from ANY type of acne – pimples, blackheads, whiteheads -, you need salicylic acid in your skincare routine. Here’s why:

  1. Surface exfoliation: Salicylic acid dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together so they can slough off. Once they’re off your skin, they won’t accidentally fall into your pores and clog them up.
  2. Pore exfoliation: Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, so it easily penetrates the skin’s lipid barrier and gets inside the pores, removing all the gunk that’s clogging them up and giving you blackheads and pimples.
  3. Soothing: Salicylic Acid has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the redness that always comes along with pimples.

The catch? Salicylic acid works best at 2% concentration. Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier only has a measly 0.5%. It works – very slowly.

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


Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier is loaded with antioxidants, little molecules that fight free radicals.

It works like this. Unprotected sun exposure, pollution, and other environmental stressors generate free radicals, a.k.a. the source of all skincare evils. Free radicals give you wrinkles, dark spots, cancer… There’s to blame for everything.

When an antioxidant spots a free radical, it neutralises it before it can wreak its damage on your skin. The more antioxidants you use, the more free radicals you can neutralise.

This exfoliant has too many antioxidants to mention them all, so here are the highlights:

Related: Common Antioxidants In Skincare: Which One Is Best For You?

Paula's Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier


Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier claims to contain Azelaic Acid, a powerful molecule that fights acne and fades away dark spots.

That’s not exactly true… In reality, it contains Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate, a derivative of Azelaic Acid. Close, but not the exact same thing.

Azelaic Acid is awesome, but it has an unpleasant texture that’s hard to formulate with. Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate is water-soluble, so much more formulation-friendly. But what does it do for your skin?

It fades away dark spots by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme that triggers the production of melanin (the pigment that gives your skin its colour). Bring down the level of melanin and your skin slowly goes back to its natural colour.

The catch? I’ve only found one study that proves Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate is effective against melasma and dark spots. It was used together with niacinamide, so it’s hard to tell if it would have worked equally well alone.

P.S. Yes, niacinamide is here too. But in a very small concentration, so don’t expect too much.

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Azelaic Acid In Skincare

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

The Rest Of The Formula & Ingredients

NOTE: The colours indicate the effectiveness of an ingredient. It is ILLEGAL to put toxic and harmful ingredients in skincare products.

  • Green: It’s effective, proven to work, and helps the product do the best possible job for your skin.
  • Yellow: There’s not much proof it works (at least, yet).
  • Red: What is this doing here?!
  • Water⁠: The base of this (and most) skincare products.
  • Propanediol⁠: It enhances the texture of the product, helps actives ingredients better penetrate skin, and even has some moisturising properties.
  • Butylene Glycol⁠: An humectant that draws moisture from the air into the skin, helping to keep it hydrated. It also enhances the texture of the exfoliant.
  • Ethoxydiglycol⁠: It helps active ingredients better penetrate skin as well as helping the product spread easily and evenly on your skin.
  • Glycerin⁠: A humectant that attracts moisture from the air into your skin, deeply hydrating it.
  • Panthenol⁠: Also known as pro-vitamin B5, this humectant helps skin attract and retain moisture. Plus, it has soothing properties that help reduce facial redness.
  • Coffea Arabica (Coffee) Fruit Extract⁠: A powerful antioxidant that fights off free radicals, the nasty molecules that give you wrinkles. 
  • Ceramide NP⁠: Part of the skin’s protective barrier, it helps skin retain moisture for a softer, suppler, and smoother appearance.
  • Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract⁠: A plant extract shown to reduce the negative effects of pollution on skin.
  • Niacinamide⁠: One of my fave skincare ingredient, this multi-taster hydrates skin, fights acne, reduces the look of wrinkles, soothes irritations and redness, and even helps fade away dark spots.
  • Phytic Acid⁠: A plant-based exfoliant that helps soothe skin sensitivity.
  • Epigallocatechin Gallate⁠: The key antioxidant in green tea, it helps neutralise the free radicals that cause wrinkles, keeping your skin smoother and younger-looking for longer. It also has soothing properties.
  • Adenosine⁠: A plant extract that’s also naturally present in your skin, it has skin-soothing and wrinkle-smoothing properties.
  • Ubiquinone⁠: Also known as coenzyme Q10, it’s naturally found in the body. It has powerful antioxidant properties that help your skin stay younger for longer.
  • Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract⁠: It soothes skin and helps reduce facial redness.
  • Lonicera Caprifolium Flower Extract⁠: This plant extract is a great source of flavonoids and saponins, powerful antioxidants that slow down the formation of wrinkles and soothe skin irritations.
  • Sodium Hyaluronate⁠: A form of Hyaluronic acid (the most powerful humectant out there!), it draws up to 1000 times its weight in water to the skin, infusing it with a waterfall of moisture that keeps it suppler, smoother, and softer.
  • Lecithin⁠: This multi-taster makes skin softer, boosts hydration, and prevents the oily and watery part of a formula from separating.
  • Centella Asiatica Extract⁠: The main ingredients in Korean cica creams, it has powerful soothing properties that reduce redness and irritations. It has antioxidant properties too. 
  • Sucrose Stearate⁠: An emollient that makes skin softer to the touch.
  • Glycine Soja Seed Extract⁠: A humectant that draws moisture from the air into the skin, helping to keep it hydrated for longer.
  • Hydrogenated Lecithin⁠: It makes skin softer to the touch and prevents the oily and watery part of the formula from separating.
  • Carbomer⁠: It’s used to create gel-textured formulas or to adjust the product’s thickness. 
  • Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate⁠: It’s used to boost the effectiveness of preservatives, so you can use a lower dose without compromising results.
  • Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride⁠: Derived from coconuts, it’s a rich source of fatty acids that moisturise skin and help it retain moisture for a suppler, younger-looking appearance.
  • Caprylyl Glycol⁠: It moisturises skin and functions as a preservative, too.
  • Polysorbate 20⁠: Derived from coconut, it keeps the watery and oily parts of a formula from separating.
  • Polyglyceryl-10 Stearate⁠: It makes skin softer to the touch.
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose⁠: It’s used to thicken the texture of skincare products.
  • Sodium Hydroxide⁠: It’s used to adjust the pH of skincare products.
  • Ethylhexylglycerin⁠: It makes skin softer to the touch. It’s also used as a preservative to keep the formula stable and safe to use for longer.
  • Phenoxyethanol⁠: A preservatives that kills a wide range of bacteria and microbials.


This exfoliant has a wonderful texture. It’s super lightweight to the point of being runny and that makes it very fast-absorbing. It sinks in quickly without leaving a greasy residue behind.


Like all Paula’s Choice’s products, this exfoliant is fragrance-free too. It’s mainly a good thing. Fragrance is one of the most irritating ingredients in skincare products (especially for sensitive skin), so I’m glad they left it out. But if you’re into your scents, you’ll be disappointed this hasn’t too much of a smell. Is the trade-off worth it for you?

How Do You Use Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier?

  • Every other night, all over your face, just after cleansing and before serums.
  • If you’re using it as a spot treatment, twice a day on pimples only.
  • If you’re using retinol, alternate it with this at night. Exfoliating on retinol nights can lead to redness, dryness, and irritation. All things you want to avoid.


A coral tube with a pointed applicator that dispenses the runny juice inside right where you need it, so that none gets wasted. I love the colour. I know it’s such a small detail, but it’s a brightening addition in my stash. Plus, I appreciate the ease of use. Packaging should be both beautiful and functional, don’t you agree?

Performance & Personal Opinion

Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier has an incredible texture that feels weightless on your skin. It’s much lighter than the brand’s cult 2% Liquid Exfoliant and leaves no greasy residue behind.

The exfoliant does a great job at calming down the redness and irritation that come along with rosacea or acne. It also makes the texture of your skin softer and smoother.

The addition of salicylic acid also helps you get rid of blackheads and pimples – but more slowly than a 2% salicylic acid exfoliant does. It’s up to you to see if it’s worth it. If your skin’s so sensitive, it can’t take 2%, this is a great option. But if you want faster results, this’ll frustrate you.

Ditto for dark spots. You’ll see some fading, but it’s a slow process.

Ditto for wrinkles, too. This exfoliant prevents them, so it’ll take years to see results.

Skincare ain’t a miracle potion, ladies. But if you’re willing to play the long game, you’ll like this.

What I Like About Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier

  • Lightweight, fast-absorbing texture.
  • Fragrance-free.
  • Contains its fair share of antioxidants to slow down premature aging.
  • Makes skin softer and smoother.
  • Calms down redness and irritation.
  • Helps with acne – slowly.
  • Beautiful and practical packaging

What I DON’T Like About Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier

  • I wish it had a higher dose of salicylic acid, so it could fight acne better and faster.

Who Should Use This?

  • Oily skin
  • Acne-prone skin
  • Whiteheads and blackheads
  • Sensitive skin that can’t tolerate 2% concentrations of salicylic acid

Does Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier Live Up To Its Claims?

Helps protect skin from environmental damage. True. Anything with antioxidants does this, by fighting the free radicals that environmental damage generates.
Salicylic acid clears and refines pores. True. Note how Paula’s Choice claims salicylic acid, not the product, does this. That’s because there’s not enough salicylic acid to give you fast results.
Ultra-lightweight fluid texture. True. I’d call it runny.

Is Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier Cruelty-Free?

Yes, Paula’s Choice is cruelty-free. They don’t test on animals, they don’t outsource the process to any third parties, and they don’t sell in countries where animal testing is required.

Price & Availability

$31.00/£31.00 at Dermstore, Nordstrom, and Paula’s Choice

The Verdict: Should You Buy It?

It depends. Paula’s Choice has better, more effective, salicylic acid exfoliants, like Clear Regular Strength 2% Salicylic Acid Exfoliant (my absolute fave from the line). But if high concentrations of salicylic acid irritate your skin, this may be worth a try.

Dupes & Alternatives

I don’t know any exact dupes for this product.


Water, Propanediol (solvent/hydration), Butylene Glycol (texture enhancer/hydration), Ethoxydiglycol (solvent), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), Ascorbyl Glucoside (vitamin C/antioxidant), Panthenol (hydration), Salicylic Acid (exfoliant), Camellia Sinensis (White Tea) Leaf Extract (antioxidant), Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract (skin-soothing), Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate (skin-brightening), Coffea Arabica (Coffee) Fruit Extract (antioxidant), Ceramide NP (skin-replenishing/restoring), Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract (antioxidants), Niacinamide (skin-restoring), Phytic Acid, Epigallocatechin Gallate (antioxidants), Adenosine (skin-restoring), Ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10/antioxidant), Calendula Officinalis (English Marigold) Extract, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract (skin-soothing agents), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin-replenishing), Lecithin (skin-restoring), Centella Asiatica Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), Sucrose Stearate (emulsifier), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract (antioxidant), Hydrogenated Lecithin (skin-restoring), Carbomer (texture enhancer), Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate (chelating agent), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (skin-replenishing), Caprylyl Glycol (emollient), Polysorbate 20, Polyglyceryl-10 Stearate (emulsifiers), Hydroxyethylcellulose (texture enhancer), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol (preservatives).