A Reluctant Review: Paula's Choice BHA Exfoliant

In last week's post Skincare SOS: My Recovery Routine When I've Been Bad, I mentioned I've been using the Paula's Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA to help undo the results of neglecting my skin.  While most of my Skincare Wardrobe is comprised of Korean beauty products and cosmetics from Asia, I can't deny that western skincare is still in the lead when it comes to acids.  Specifically, acid exfoliants, chemical peels, and prescription-strength "bring your skin to Snesus" topicals like azelaic acid and retinol.

Paula's Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA
Studies courtesy of my research frenzy for Cosrx BHA Power Liquid Exfoliant Review & My Descent Into BHA Research Madness
However, with a name like "Paula's Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA", you would think it was a K-Beauty product, right next to other "ridiculously long product name" titleholders like the "Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Borabit Ampoule" and ... well, too many others to list.  Interestingly, Paula's Choice does make Asia-exclusive versions of their products, but this isn't one of them.

In this post:

  • Product details
  • Ingredients & how to apply
  • How I was lured away from my usual BHA
  • The good and the bad

 I'm somewhat reluctantly reviewing this product, because I'm not a big fan of the company, but dodgy science demos and flip-flopping shade parades aside, they make some gooood acids.

Just as a quick reminder: this blog uses both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and if you choose to click the former before you shop, your purchase may contribute a tiny amount to the maintenance of this blog.  See full details at the end of this post! #receipts

Product details

Full product name: Paula's Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA.
Purpose: A daily-strength beta hydroxy acid chemical exfoliant, enabling you to clear clogged pores, slough off dead skin, and prevent new clogs from forming.
Scent: Unpleasant, but hard to describe.   It's not super potent, and it doesn't linger, thank goodness.
Texture: Like water, which is a key difference from other variations they make.
Quantity: 3 oz
Rating:  4/5, because it works without drying out my skin too terribly, but they lose a point for trying to demonstrate that layering skincare doesn't impact the pH of their products because their products don't change when you mix them with water.  Science fail demerit: that's not how pH works.
Where to get it:  Paula's Choice Website (you can get $10 off your first order with this referral code if you need one.) | Amazon | eBay
Repurchase:  If they do Black Friday sales or any sort of sale that drops this below $30, yes.  Then I will go make a donation of the difference to a science education charity so I can feel less guilty about it.

Ingredients & how to apply

Interestingly, their website goes out of their way to explain purpose of many of the ingredients, perhaps to combat the "if a gradeschooler can't pronounce it, avoid it" anti-chemical marketing hype out there.
Product Ingredients:
Water (Aqua), Dipropylene Glycol, Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid exfoliating agent), Pentylene Glycol (hydration), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Polysorbate 20 (texture-enhancing), Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (skin-restorings)[sic], Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (skin-soothing), Nordihydroguaiaretic Acid (antioxidant), Oleanolic Acid (skin-soothing), Sodium Hyaluronate (hydration/skin replenishing), Allantoin (skin-soothing), Trehalose (hydration/skin replenishing), Panthenol (skin-conditioning agent), Glycerin (hydration/skin replenishing), PEG-60 Almond Glycerides (texture-enhancing), Sodium Metabisulfite (stabilizer), PEG/PPG-18/4 Copolymer (solvent), Methyl Gluceth-20, Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane (hydration/texture-enhancing), Glycereth-26 (emollient texture-enhancing), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Carbomer (gel-based texture-enhancing), Disodium EDTA (stabilizer), Caprylyl Glycol (skin-conditioning agent).
I've periodically pH tested this exfoliant to see if it underwent any changes over time, and it's stayed consistently at the correct range of just below pH 4.  From what I've read, PC buffers their acids, making them more stable.

The site directions for application are:
Apply once or twice daily after cleansing and toning. Lightly soak a cotton pad and apply over the entire face, including the eye area (avoid the lower lash line and eyelids). Do not rinse. For daytime, follow with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater.
I don't follow them.  (Oooo, rebellious!)  At $33 a bottle, there's no way I'm wasting it on soaking a cotton square.  And a cotton pad, no less?  Nope.  Since it has the consistency of water, it can be tricky to apply with your hands without it running everywhere.

I splash a few drops into my cupped palm, and then immediately stick my cheek down into it,  then spread it over that side of my face with my palm and fingers.  Then I repeat on the other side.  I tend to apply it to each cheek/side of my face, and then down my t-zone (forehead, nose, around my mouth, chin) paying extra attention (and sometimes extra product) to my nose and the tyrannical sebaceous filaments that rule the pores there with a gritty fist.

I like to give it a good 20 minutes to chill on my skin, although it's not strictly necessary, because I want to extract the maximum benefit from it + it tends to loosen crud from my pores that I want to wipe away with a toner-soaked cotton pad before applying my next skincare steps.

How I was lured away from my usual BHA

So how did I end up using a product from a company that had famously dragged Korean beauty in the past?  (Sadly, the page in question has now been taken down, and PC has launched several K-Beauty-inspired products since.)  After trying 11 BHAs in the name of science and skincare, fellow Snailcaster Tracy of Fanserviced-b sent me a birthday box of skincare, featuring her favourite PC acids to try.  As someone who manages to snapchat chemical peels after a long night of drinking and has an acids routine that makes my pores blanch, I trusted her recommendations, and I was not disappointed.

Image from Winter is Coming: Plotting My K-Beauty Skincare Routine for Colder Weather
Her package also included some other interesting things, such as this BHA body exfoliant and the AHA exfoliant I'm using as a spot treatment while I'm purging breakouts.  She also sent me a bottle of their fancypants Vitamin C serum so I could compare it to our mutual standby, the OST C20 Vitamin C serum, which meant she didn't need to test it herself.  Full review is pending, but spoilers: it felt gross and broke me out, and is more than 4x the price.

The good and the bad

With all the aforementioned concerns over the company's shady behaviour, not to mention the sketchy appropriation of a study unrelated to topical skincare to support an anti-alcohol-in-skincare-stance (but I digress, and leave that tangent to cosmetic chemist Kind of Stephen's future post on that bit of dodginess), you might wonder why I'm favourably reviewing this product at all.  Also, it's expensive.  I'm not into expensive, unless it's packaged so beautifully I have an eyegasm every time I reach for it on my counter.  So, why does it get a good review?  Frankly, it's some good sh*t.

Paula's Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA pH level
pH results right where they should be.
For me, a good chemical exfoliant should be:

  • In the right pH range (less than 4.2)
  • The required concentration of BHA to exfoliate (2% and up)
  • A stable pH that does not widely change over time
  • Minimally irritating or drying
  • Effective at declogging my pores and preventing new ones
  • Cosmetically elegant on the skin

This hits all of those requirements.  The watery texture might be a pain to apply, but it feels weightless and ultra comfortable on the skin.  (If I had very dry or sensitive skin, I would stick with my old staple, the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, available on: Amazon  | eBay  |  Jolse  | Bisou Beauty Bar  | KoreaDepart | RoseRoseShop.)  This product might be too drying for those with very dry skin, but for oily, combination, acne-prone or clog-prone skin, this texture is a relief.

I'm also digging the fact that it's available on Amazon for cheaper than the official website, or the same price on Prime.  Here's crossing my fingers for a black friday sale, so I can grab my next bottle.

Have you found a BHA that has a similar consistency, concentration, and pH as this product? Hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and let me know!

Have something you'd like to share with me in general?  Snap a pic and tag me on Instagram at @snowwhiteandtheasianpear because I'd love to see it!

All the best,

**Disclaimer: All products I review on my blog are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever. Personal gifts from friends & family will also be identified, as it was in this post.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.


  1. "you might wonder why I'm favourably reviewing this product at all." I think it's good you did! If they make a good products that's really all you're looking for. I was waiting for this review and will probably purchase this for Summer use but the COSRX for Winter

  2. It smells like a nail salon to me; that weird mix of acetone and acrylic. Still a great BHA, but yeah, I put off trying it for a long time because I can't stand the company, so of course my skin loves it.

  3. Do love this one. Use the Cosrx as well. Both, at times. P's original bha is far too oily. My main thing is to avoid the sensitizers (chem sunscreens, benzoyl peroxide, Benzyl salicylate, aloe (Fah chrissake!) and too many others to mention. You inspired me to do it as watery as possible, so st 2 toners (Mizon aha/bha followed by cosrx galactomyces, followed by the PC bha, S.t. The other way round. What I do like about Paula is the alternatives, and they will good rate a cheap product. Finding an aha w/o aloe is an adventure. Using the derma e overnight peel aha. Cheap, nothing I dislike, and five star. And you know she hates everything. Want to thank you for cosdna. That is my third middle name, after google. It has been indispensable. I cosdna EVERYTHING. If there's no ingredients on the product site/page and not on cosdna, would not touch it. The only other Paulas that are HGs to me are the resist light serum and the long name rsldwd TM. Most TMs have octinoxate or pseudo hide it ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, whatever, or a cousin. To me, it means a massive flush and temp drop to 93 degrees. No thanks. You inspired me to become more familiar with ingredients, and now I can rule out stuff with too much silicone family. I was never able to comment before, until the latest iOS update. Lurked long, however, and have learned lots. PS don't particularly like the Paula C; haven't tried the AB/KB HGs. Might try it in curology, but am desperately afraid to go w/o 4 bhas a day!

  4. I have been using Obagi Clenziderm salycilic acid 2% for over a year now and I think it's comparable to PC, I don't know if you have heard of them. Price is about the same and I haven't heard any shadiness from Obagi and this BHA works very well for me.

  5. Yep, PC exfoliants are pretty good, but one problem I had with her exfoliants is that it only worked initially, but then broke me out in small bumps later on. From the reviews I've read, it seems like I wasn't the only one who had this problem. I tried almost all her BHAs (resist, clear, 4%, BHA 9, and original), but bumps didn't go away. It also started irritating my eyes (along with her sunscreens and serums) so at that point I decided to move on. That's when I found out about cosrx's BHA, and that has been my go to since then. I still use the PC 4% every week (the smell though T-T) and sometimes the BHA 9 if I could afford a sample. Her toners and sunscreens are pretty good as well...but again, some ingredient is just not agreeing with my eyes anymore. The sting gets unbearable during the day.