The Ultimate Guide To Paula’s Choice Retinol Products: Which One Is Right For You?

by Gio

paula's choice retinol products guide

The worst mistake you can make with retinol is not to use it (once you’re 25+).

The second worst mistake you can make is thinking you’re special and can skip to the highest concentrations without irritating your skin. Hint: you’re NOT special.

Retinol is a double-edged sword. Yes, it makes your skin smoother, brightens it up and kicks wrinkles away from your face. But when you use too much too soon, it’s gonna make your skin all red and flaky.

The trick is to start with the smallest concentration you can find and work your way up. I’ve written a post on how to do this here.

FYI, I recommend Paula’s Choice retinol products for this. The brand has more than half a dozen, all with different concentrations, making it easy for you to up your retinol game when you’re ready.

(P.S. If you prefer The Ordinary, I’ve got a guide to their retinoid products, too. Check it out here.)

Here’s a quick guide to Paula’s Choice retinol products to help you choose which one to begin with and which one to upgrade to when the time comes:

BEGINNER RETINOL PRODUCTS

Resist Barrier Repair Moisturiser With Retinol ($33.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.01%.

What is it good for?: It also has ceramides to strengthens your skin’s protective barrier and antioxidants to prevent wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: Lightweight, creamy lotion.

Who is it best for?: Beginner retinol user with dry, sensitive skin.

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

Resist Intensive Repair Cream ($33.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.01%.

What is it good for?: It has oils to deeply moisturise skin and antioxidants to prevent wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: A rich cream.

Who is it best for?: Very dry skin.

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

Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate With Retinol ($34.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.03%.

What is it good for:? It’s loaded with antioxidant to prevent premature wrinkles; the silicones base smooths imperfection and makes pores look smaller.

What’s the texture like?: A lightweight gel.

Who is it best for?: Beginner retinol users with oily skin.

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

Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol ($34.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.01%.

What is it good for?: It has antioxidants to prevent wrinkles, oils to moisturise and soothing ingredients to reduce irritations.

What’s the texture like?: Silky serum.

Who is it best for?: Beginner retinol users with dry skin.

Where to buy it: DermstoreLook Fantastic and Paula’s Choice

SHOP INTERMEDIATE RETINOL PRODUCTS

Intermediate Retinol Products

Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser ($58.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.1%

What is it good for?: It has plenty of antioxidants to prevent aging.

What’s the texture like?: Creamy lotion.

Who is it best for?: Intermediate retinol users looking for an antiaging moisturiser.

Where to buy it: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice

Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum ($42.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.1%

What is it good for?: It has antioxidants to prevent wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: Silky serum.

Who is it best for?: Intermediate retinol users concerned with anti aging.

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

Related: Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum Full Review

Resist Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment ($27.00)

How much retinol is here?: 0.1%.

What is it good for?: It has natural butters to moisturise skin and antioxidants to prevent wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: Rich, but non-greasy.

Who is it best for?: Anyone (bar sensitive skin) who wants to keep the body young, too.

Where to buy it: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice

SHOP INTERMEDIATE RETINOL PRODUCTS

Advanced Retinol Products

1% Retinol Booster ($52.00)

How much retinol is here?: 1%.

What is it good for?: It has antioxidants to prevent wrinkles and skin soothing ingredients to reduce the risk of irritation.

What’s the texture like?: A fluid lotion.

Who is it best for?: Advanced retinol users who want the freedom to mix retinol with their fave serums and moisturisers.

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

Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment ($56.00)

How much retinol is here?: 1%.

What is it good for?: Emollients to moisturise skin, antioxidants to prevent wrinkles and soothing ingredients to reduce irritations.

What’s the texture like?: Light lotion.

Who is it best for?: Advanced retinol users who are serious about antiaging.

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

SHOP ADVANCED RETINOL SERUM

I hope this quick guide to Paula’s Choice retinol products has helped you find the right serum or moisturiser for your current stage in your retinol journey.

What’s your fave Paula’s Choice retinol product? Let me know your pick in the comments below.

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16 comments

Devika October 25, 2018 - 12:05 pm

May I use Eucerine even brighter spot corrector and concentrate in the morning and retinol 0.5 ,from dermaceutic at night..
Why you did not condider b resorcinol as an alternative to hydroquinon on your blog “skin whitening …..alernative to hydroquinon”

Gio October 25, 2018 - 12:50 pm

Devika, yes to your first question. For the second question, there isn’t much independent research showing that B-resorcinol is very effective yet. If I had hyperpigmnetation, I’d use hydroquinone for 4 months, then switch to either azelaic acid or alpha arbutin for 4 months, and start the cycle again. Hydroquinone is the most effective treatments for dark spots we currently have and I don’t believe B-resorcinol has proved itself to be a valid alternative. Of course, this may change as more research is done.

Kaido October 25, 2018 - 4:09 pm

Needs product suggestions for Azelaic Acid and Alpha Arbutin please. Is Alpha Arbutin proven to be better than Arbutin? Thanks!

Gio November 1, 2018 - 5:30 pm

Kaido, alpha arbutin is the most effective type of arbutin. But what’s the best skin-lightener for your skin depends on your skin! Different people react better to a different ingredient so it’s a matter of experimenting to find out what works best for you. The Ordinary has cheap azelaic acid and arbutin products you can try to see which one your skin likes best. Paula’s Choice makes some good products with them too but it’s more expensive.

Kaido October 25, 2018 - 4:03 pm

Great article! Been using TO Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion for probably 1 year before stepping up to PC Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment and quickly realized that’s a step too big. Currently buffering by applying Hada Labo Hydrating Lotion and then the treatment after the lotion is completely dry. This helps reduce the dryness and flaking on my skin. Any idea the retinol % for the emulsion? Do you recommend to continue with PC 1% or should I step down a level first? Thanks Gio.

Gio November 1, 2018 - 5:21 pm

Kaido, ouch! I hate it when that happens! I’m not 100% sure because TO doesn’t list the % but I’ve heard it’s 1% too. The difference is that TO is micro encapsulated so it doesn’t hit your skin at all once so it’s not as irritating.

I’d definitely try a smaller, non micronecapsulated concentration or just use PC 1% less often to give your skin more time to get used to it.

Sofie November 27, 2018 - 11:12 pm

Hi Gio 🙂

I have not been able to find recommendations from you on sunscreens from Paula’s Choice. I have been following your blog for some time now, so I know you like that brand. Are the sunscreens just no good? I have been looking at Paula’s Choice Calm Mineral Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Dry Skin and Paula’s Choice Defense Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30 because I want a sunscreen with a mineral filter. I broke out really badly this summer (looked almost like acne which I have never had before) when I started using the mineral sunscreen from Madara. Maybe it was the scent or something. My skin is starting to improve a lot, but it is still not the way it was before. I started a lot of very active ingredients this summer (vitamin c, granactive retinoid 2%, glycolic acid), so maybe it was just a combination of all of them, but I thought maybe Paula’s Choice would be the way to go from here on regarding sunscreen.

And thank you for an amazing blog and great advice!

Gio December 9, 2018 - 9:00 am

Sofie, Paula’s Choice sunscreens are good. Sure, like all mineral sunscreen, they can feel a little heavy or greasy, especially if your skin is oily. But they offer excellent protection. I just haven’t mentioned them often because there are so many good products out there and I don’t want to list 10+ in every post or it gets overwhelming for the reader!

Laura January 27, 2019 - 7:26 am

What a great site! I just came across it this morning, so informative!
I have a question re retinol and skin cancer, hoping you could share your thoughts 🙂 4 years ago I began a prescription grade retinol and about 8 weeks after use I noticed a BCC had appeared on my forehead. I was careful to use sunscreen of course but at the time lived in Australia so.. maybe I wasn’t protected 100% all the time? Anyway, it scared me off retinol for a few years. Until the middle of 2017 when I began using the PC Retinol (first one you review) and a serum with retinol in it-
Assuming the first BCC was an unlucky coincidence. However, 6 weeks later a second BCC appeared on my forehead (I’m 37 years-old). What on earth! I know the literature suggests retinol has a positive effect on skin cancers, right? So do you have any other theories? In my experience, retinol use has resulted in 2 scars on my forehead!! I use sunscreen everyday but admittedly did not reapply before I left work and walked home. I now live in Sweden, so at least I am no longer living in the harsh sunny climate of Australia.. But still trying to figure out whether what I am putting on my skin is exacerbating my chance of getting BCCs and also, how to avoid future ones!!

Gio February 8, 2019 - 12:03 pm

Laura, I’m sorry this is happening to you. It must be very frustrating. Retinol can make your skin more prone to sun damage if you aren’t religious with sunscreen. But if you really want to figure out if this is what happened, you need to consult a doctor. In the meantime, avoid retinol just to be on the safe side.

Elisa February 28, 2019 - 3:58 pm

Hi Gio! Is SKIN RECOVERY SUPER ANTIOXIDANT CONCENTRATE SERUM WITH RETINOL a silicone based product?

Gio March 1, 2019 - 9:43 am

Elisa, yes it is.

Lucy April 1, 2019 - 2:13 pm

Hi, Gio! I’m 23 and I’d like to ask if there’s a time when it’s too early to use retinol. Could it be wrong to use retinol before your 30s? If that’s the case, why would that be? Thank you so much and keep up your amazing work!

Gio April 4, 2019 - 11:30 am

Lucy, there is no clear date. But if you’re diligent with sunscreen, I wouldn’t bother with retinol until you’re 25 at least. Don’t get sucked up by the hype. Use what you need when you need it.

Alyssa April 13, 2019 - 4:36 am

Hi Gio, really hoping you can help. Your website convinced me to buy my first retinol- RESIST Barrier Repair Moisturizer with Retinol by Paula’s choice. I’ve been using it for past 4 months with little results and am wondering if I have been applying enough. I’ve been applying only one pump (ie one pea size). Is this not enough given that the retinol is diluted in the moisterizer and a low %? Does the pea sized application apply to concentrated serums (at higher strengths) only? Should I instead apply enough of this product to moisterizer my face? You are my last resort because I can’t find this information anywhere. THANK YOU!!

Gio April 20, 2019 - 3:48 pm

Alyssa, I think your expectations are just too high. Retinol works… SLOWLY. It takes at least 2 months before it can start affecting collagen production. At first you will see just an improvement in the texture of your skin and only with constant use a difference in your wrinkles.

Do keep using this moisturiser for the time being and then upgrade to a serum with a slightly higher dose so you can see results a little faster. Ideally, you should build up tolerance until you’re ready for prescription tretinoin, as that works the fastest. But it’s very harsh and can dry out your skin massively if your skin isn’t ready for it.

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