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.

Is that too much for one exfoliant to do or is this the real deal? Let’s find out!

What’s In Paula’s Choice Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier?


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):


Super lightweight, runny, fast-absorbing. It sinks in quickly without leaving a greasy residue behind.


It’s fragrance-free.

How To Use It

  • 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.

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.

Who Is This For?

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

Who Is This Not For?

  • Dry skin
  • If you don’t have acne, blackheads, or whiteheads, you don’t need this


A coral tube with a pointed applicator that dispenses the runny juice inside right where you need it, so that none gets wasted.

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.

Price & Availability

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

Do You Need It?

No. Paula’s Choice has better, more effective, salicylic acid exfoliant. 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).