Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant review

Glycolic acid is all the rage at the moment – and for a good reason. This chemical exfoliant fades away dark spots, smooths out the texture of your skin, and makes your complexion glow. Who doesn’t want that?

One of my favourite exfoliants with Glycolic acid is Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant. There are soooo many reasons for that. I’m very picky when it comes to exfoliant and I’ve tried my fair share of them with mixed results.

This one keeps topping up my list to the point I’m purchasing it over and over again. Why? What’s so special about it? Let me tell you all the reasons why I love it…

About The Brand: Paula’s Choice

If I had to pick only one skincare brand to use for the rest of my life, I’d pick Paula’s Choice. Founded by skincare guru Paula Begoun, the brand is famous for creating skincare products based on science, not hype. Paula was one of the first to make retinoids, Vitamin C, and exfoliants (you know, all that good stuff that works) accessible to skincare shoppers.

Plus, every product goes the extra mile. In addition to moisturising skin, providing sun protection, and treating acne, every serum and moisturiser is loaded with antioxidants to help you slow down premature aging and look your best at any age.

As long as Paula was at the helm, the brand was true to its values. Now she’s left the company, you can spot the odd product that uses the latest fad ingredients instead of solid science-based actives BUT, overall, it’s still one of the best brands out there for cost effectiveness. You just need to know what to avoid, so you can get what really works and avoid the marketing gimmicks.

Key Ingredients In Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant: What Makes It Work?


Glycolic acid is the smallest member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family, a group of exfoliants that dissolves the glue that holds on skin cells together, so they can slough off your skin faster.

Once they do, your complexion improves: its texture becomes softer to the touch; fine lines and dark spots look a little less obvious; and the whole complexion is brighter. Plus, glycolic acid is hydrating, too.

Its small size is its strength: Glycolic Acid penetrates deeper than other AHAs, so it works better and faster. The catch? That also makes it more irritating. Glycolic acid can cause redness, peeling, and dryness when used too often or in high concentrations.

This acid is a great option for dry skin that’s starting to show sun damage. But if yours is so sensitive that anything irritates it, try its cousin lactic acid instead.

Related: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Should You Use?


Doesn’t matter how gently you do it, the exfoliating process always has the potential to be a little irritating for skin.

Enter skin-soothers. They calm down inflammation, soothe redness, and even provide some antioxidant protection against free radicals (the main cause of wrinkles).

The main skin-soothers in Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant are:

Related: Is Green Tea The Most Powerful Antioxidant Of All?


Part of the glue that holds skin cells together, hyaluronic acid is a humectant.

That’s a fancy way of saying “moisture magnet”. This acid attracts and binds moisture from the environment into the skin, pumping up its hydration levels.

Other ingredients do this. Glycerin and Urea spring to mind immediately. But Hyaluronic Acid goes the extra mile: it can bind up to 1000 times its weight in water! That’s a waterfall of moisture!

When skin has all the moisture it needs, it his softer to the touch; it’s all plumped up, which in turn makes wrinkles look smaller; and has that beautiful dewy glow that makes it look like it’s lit from within.

Hydration is Hyaluronic Acid’s main job, but this superhero has other tricks up its sleeve. It also:

Related: What Are Humectants And Why Do You Need Them In Your Skincare Routine?

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?!
  • Aqua: The best of this (and most) skincare products.
  • Sodium Hydroxide: It’s used to adjust the pH, so that glycolic acid can work its best.
  • Panthenol: Like Hyaluronic acid, it attracts water from the environment into your skin, helping to keep it hydrated, softer, and smoother for longer.
  • Sodium PCA: A powerful hydrator, it attracts moisture from the environment and reinforces the skin’s protective barrier to make skin softer, smoother, and brighter. It also helps heal dry skin.
  • Propylene Glycol: Another humectant that draws moisture into your skin to keep it hydrated.
  • Butylene Glycol: Yep, one more humectant to attract extra moisture into your skin. All this extra moisturise counteracts the drying effects of exfoliation and makes your skin softer and suppler.
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose: This baby has NO impact on skin itself. It’s simply used to improve the texture of the product (and this has a beautiful texture).
  • Polyquaternium-10: Used mostly in haircare products to tame flyaways, it’s here to enhance the texture of the formula.
  • Phenoxyethanol: A preservative that keeps bacteria from growing into your makeup, spoiling it, and giving you an infection.
  • Sodium Benzoate: Another preservative that keeps the product safe from bacteria, so you can use it for longer.


The texture of this exfoliant looks like water, but it’s thicker and feels a little slimy to the touch. It absorbs immediately into your skin, without leaving a greasy residue behind. It’s just so pleasant to use, which is always a plus.


Like all Paula’s Choice products, it’s fragrance-free. This is a controversial choice. Skincare purists like me like it because fragrance is one of the most irritating ingredients in skincare, especially for sensitive skin. Without any other benefit for skin, why add it?

On the other hand, fragrance-free products have their own natural smell. That’s because every skincare ingredients have their own smell. This smells ok – not like a fragrant bed of roses, but not like dirty feet, either (yep, some fragrance-free products smell like that…).

How Do You Use Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant?

These tips apply to ALL AHAs exfoliant, FYI.

Paula’s Choice says you can use this exfoliant once or twice a day, but NO ONE needs that much exfoliation. It may irritate your skin and dry it out. Instead, I recommend you use it two or three nights a wee, right after cleansing. Glycolic acid works its best when it’s in direct contact with your skin.

One more thing: don’t use this exfoliant on the same nights you exfoliate. If you have VERY resistant skin, you may be able to tolerate this combo. Everyone else, you’re in for irritation, peeling, and dryness. Less is more when it comes to anti-aging.


The exfoliant comes in a white bottle with a pump dispenser. I like the look of it, it’s sleek and elegant. A bit medicinal, but to me, that reinforces the scientific vibe. The pump dispenser releases just a little bit too much product, but as long as you’re gentle with it, you won’t waste too much product. FYI, I have the travel version, which comes in a small white tube with a small opening you can easily carry with you everywhere. You don’t need to stop exfoliating just because you’re travelling. Phew!

Performance & Personal Opinion

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant leaves a shiny residue on the skin. I use it before going to bed (exfoliation makes skin more susceptible to sun damage), so I don’t mind that much.

It tingles a little when you first apply it, but it’s not irritating or painful in the slightest. I find the soothing botanical extracts + hyaluronic acid minimise any irritation Glycolic acid may give you – unless you have sensitive skin.

The exfoliant does a good job at smoothing out imperfections. With regular use, it fades away rough patches of skin and dark spots (even those left behind by pimples) and gives my skin a radiant glow.

Instead, it doesn’t really help with blackheads (you need salicylic acid for that). I’m also on the fence re wrinkles. Glycolic acid can smoothen out their appearance, but 8% is too low to get rid of them long-term.

Related: The Best Exfoliants With Salicylic Acid

How Does It Compare To BHA/Salicylic Acid Exfoliants?

Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid (BHA) exfoliate skin in the same way: they dissolve the glue that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off and reveal the softer, smoother, and brighter skin underneath.

But, there’s a key difference between them: Glycolic acid is a big, water-soluble molecule that stays on the surface of your skin, exfoliating its uppermost layer only. Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, so it exfoliates the surface of your skin and penetrates through it and deep into your pores to unclog them from within.

This means that Salicylic Acid is better at preventing and treating every type of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, opt for Salicylic Acid.

If you have dry skin or want to fade away your dark spots faster, stick with a glycolic acid exfoliant like this one. It does a better job for your needs.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

How Does Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant Compare To Other Paula’s Choice AHAs Exfoliants?

Isn’t it confusing when a brand creates more than one AHAs exfoliant and you’re left wondering, which one is best? Which one should I use? Fret not, I’m here to help you make the smartest skincare choice for your skin. Here’s how Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant compares to the other AHAs exfoliants from the brand:

  • Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment 5% AHA Exfoliant ($37.00): This exfoliant contains the smallest concentration of Glycolic Acid + a drop of Salicylic Acid to unclog pores, and plenty of antioxidants to fight premature aging. This is better for people with dry skin on the sensitive side. Available at Paula’s Choice and Selfridges.
  • Paula’s Choice Resist Advanced Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA ($39.00): Similar to the Daily Soothing Treatment 5% AHA, this exfoliant contains a higher concentrations of AHAs + a bit more Salicylic Acid to unclog pores, and lots of antioxidants to slow down premature aging. Because of the higher concentration, this could be a tad more irritating, but it’s a better option for dark spots. Available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, and Selfridges.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant ($34.00): This is very similar to Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant. The main difference is the texture – a lightweight lotion instead of a gel. This makes it more suitable for dry skin, while the Gel version is better for normal or combination skin. Available at Dermstore, Nordstrom, Paula’s Choice and Sephora.
  • Paula’s Choice 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel ($41.00): I don’t recommend peels because, in the wrong hands, they can seriously irritate and dry out skin. If you go too far, it may take weeks to recover.

What I Like About Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

  • Lightweight texture, it absorbs quickly without leaving a greasy residue behind.
  • It’s fragrance-free.
  • It exfoliates skin well, leaving it softer and smoother.
  • It gives skin a dewy glow.
  • It helps to fade away dark spots.
  • Beautiful and practical packaging.
  • Travel size version available.

What I DON’T Like About Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

  • I wish it had more antioxidants, but then this is more for exfoliation than anti-aging.

Who Should Use It?

Like all glycolic acid exfoliants, this is more suitable for

  • Dry skin
  • Normal skin
  • Dark spots and hyperpigmentation

Only if you’re dealing with acne/blackheads, you’re better off with salicylic acid.

Related: The Best Exfoliants With Salicylic Acid

Does Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant Live Up To Its Claims?

This ultra-light gel exfoliant gently dissolves built-up layers of dead skin to reveal a smoother, brighter, more radiant complexion. True.
Formulated with 8% AHA (glycolic acid), it helps to fade signs of sun damage and corrects uneven skin tone while improving the appearance of wrinkles. True.

Is Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant Cruelty-Free?

Yes, this is cruelty-free. The brand doesn’t test finished products or ingredients on animals, and doesn’t outsource the task to their suppliers. They also don’t sell their products where animal testing is required by law.

Price & Availability

$29.50/£28.00 at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Paula’s Choice, and SpaceNK

The Verdict: Should You Buy ?

If you’re looking for a glycolic acid exfoliant, this is one of the best on the market. So yes, it is worth the money.

Dupes & Alternatives


Aqua, Glycolic Acid (Alpha Hydroxy Acid, exfoliant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract (chamomile/skin-soothing), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (hydration), Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), etanorulayH muidoS (skin replenishing), Panthenol (hydration), Sodium PCA (skin replenishing), Propylene Glycol (hydration), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Hydroxyethylcellulose (texture-enhancing), Polyquaternium-10 (texture-enhancing), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Sodium Benzoate (preservative).