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Which BHA Exfoliant is Right for Me?
Paula’s Choice Skincare is quite famous around the world for our extensive assortment of leave-on BHA (beta hydroxy acid, also known as salicylic acid) exfoliants. Our fascination with BHA exfoliants began years ago; the extensive research about its stunning properties for skin led us to develop BHA products for all skin types. (We didn’t want to leave anyone out.)
Today, we have 11 options, each with its own unique characteristics to accommodate the skin types and needs of millions of people.
All our BHA exfoliants can be used by all skin types, but choosing the one that works best for you (or at least which one to start with) depends on key factors—product texture, strength, and your specific skin type and concerns. And, of course, how it fits in with the rest of your skincare routine also counts. These important details are where the confusion lies, but not anymore: This article will help you determine which of our BHA exfoliants is right for you!
Why Using a BHA Exfoliant is So Important
Simply put, we continue to love what research shows BHA does for skin. It’s one of the most fast-acting, effective ingredients for treating a variety of skincare concerns. Even better, it’s completely non-abrasive, gentle, and even has hydrating properties!
How a BHA leave-on exfoliant works on skin is fascinating. As we age and because of unprotected sun exposure, the surface of skin gradually stops shedding as quickly as it did when we were younger. This leads to dry-looking, dull, rough, uneven skin and clogged pores. Using a leave-on BHA exfoliant steps in and changes that, helping skin to naturally do what it can no longer do well on its own. The result is unbelievably smooth, hydrated, and radiant skin!
BHA is a multi-tasking ingredient. No scrub or cleansing brush comes close to providing such benefits, especially not in such a gentle manner. A leave-on BHA exfoliant can do all the following:
- Imperceptibly exfoliate skin’s surface and inside the pores to diminish bumps and clogged pores
- Calm skin to minimize redness
- Hydrate and soften skin to smooth away roughness
- Revive skin’s healthy radiance
- Improve uneven, crepey skin tone
- Quickly diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles
How Our BHA Exfoliants are Different
At Paula’s Choice Skincare, we formulate every product, including all our BHA exfoliants, based on published, peer-reviewed scientific research. In this case, extensive research has shown that concentrations of 1–2% BHA are best for daily use. Higher concentrations are best for only occasional use or for more stubborn problems.
There’s a critical formulary issue we take into consideration as well. For a BHA exfoliant to be most effective, it must be formulated with a pH between 3 and 4. This is the magic range for gentle, optimal exfoliation that almost overnight will give you the beautiful results we want you to have!
Along with adhering to that narrow pH range, every Paula’s Choice BHA exfoliant contains an assortment of soothing ingredients to further calm skin. Most of these ingredients are antioxidants, which all skin types need to thrive.
The BHA exfoliants in our RESIST products provide an extra measure of specialized anti-aging ingredients to address such concerns as wrinkles, pronounced dullness, and loss of firmness, while also helping to shore up skin’s environmental defenses.
If you’ve used a product with BHA from a company other than ours and have not seen the results we describe above, it could be because they didn’t follow the critical guidelines in their formulation; we diligently adhere to these guidelines for all our BHA exfoliants.
The Differences Between Our BHAs
Given all the benefits listed above, it’s no surprise that BHA exfoliants are among our best-selling products. We offer several with a 2% concentration of BHA, one with a 1% concentration, and a couple with higher concentrations for more advanced concerns or spot-application for persistent imperfections.
As is true for all Paula’s Choice Skincare products, our BHA formulations are fragrance free and do not contain common sensitizing ingredients like denatured alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, or peppermint.
No matter which BHA exfoliant you choose, you can apply it to face, neck, back, chest, or body once or twice daily. You’ll need to experiment to see what frequency of application works best for you.
When using BHA on your face, apply it after cleansing and toning and then follow with the rest of your morning or evening skincare routine. You do not need to wait for BHA to be absorbed before applying other products.
During the day, the last product you must apply is a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater. This is critical to getting maximum results from your skincare routine.
Paula’s Choice Skincare 1% BHA exfoliant:
CALM Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion is our most gentle BHA, best for calming redness and other signs of sensitivity. The lightweight, matte-finish lotion is laced with an exclusive mix of research-supported soothing ingredients. Suitable for all skin types, but ideal for extra-sensitive skin prone to redness, even for those with rosacea.
Paula’s Choice Skincare 2% BHA exfoliants:
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid: Our worldwide best-seller, this all-skin-types formula dramatically improves uneven skin tone, texture, dehydrated skin, and clogged pores. It contains an ingredient that helps the BHA absorb deeper and work faster, while also hydrating for visible radiance. (This is Paula’s desert island favorite!)
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Lotion: A lightweight, silky lotion base makes this best for normal to dry skin. Its moisturizing texture slows the absorption of the BHA for steady-but-sure results, one more reason it’s great for dry skin struggling with bumps and clogged pores.
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Gel: A silky, hydrating gel texture formulated for all skin types, but ideal for those with normal to combination or oily skin. If you prefer a hydrating, oil-free gel texture, this is your BHA!
RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA is a water-light liquid exfoliant that delivers advanced anti-aging benefits from antioxidants, skin-replenishing, and restorative ingredients. These work with the BHA to target the look of wrinkles, loss of firmness, and dullness. It’s perfect for normal, oily, or combination skin showing signs of aging plus clogged, enlarged pores and bumps.
CLEAR Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution 2% Salicylic Acid is our ultra-light liquid exfoliant formulated for acne-prone skin, regardless of skin type. It’s formulated at a slightly higher pH than the Extra Strength version in order to provide gentler exfoliation. The soothing formula contains specialized ingredients to quickly target acne-related redness. Choose this if you have mild to moderate or occasional acne and blackheads.
CLEAR Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution 2% Salicylic Acid is the same all-skin-types formula as the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid above. It’s so effective for moderate to stubborn acne and blackheads that Paula also included it in our CLEAR line because it exfoliates to clear pores deeply and smooth skin texture, even skin prone to cystic acne. This product is spiked with a hefty dose of antioxidant green tea, which helps calm redness.
Paula’s Choice Skincare Specialty BHA exfoliants:
RESIST Weekly Retexturizing Foaming Treatment 4% BHA is a high-performance liquid-to-foam exfoliant for addressing stubborn pore-related concerns plus advanced signs of sun damage on normal, oily, or combination skin. Use at least once per week, in place of or with your regular BHA. The antioxidant-rich formula provides anti-aging benefits while diminishing redness.
RESIST BHA 9: Our most concentrated, potent BHA solution, its serum-like texture contains 9% BHA in a unique time-release technology that makes it gentle while remaining remarkably effective. All skin types can turn to this as their targeted spot solution when nothing else seems to work for stubborn imperfections.
RESIST Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA is a lightweight, silky, matte-finish body hydrator that improves the appearance of raised red bumps and hard, clogged pores on arms and legs. All skin types can use this non-greasy formula, and it layers beautifully with your regular body moisturizer, if needed.
CLEAR Acne Body Spray Blemish-Prone Skin is a wonderfully light, quick-drying, spray-on formula to treat acne and blackheads on the body. Sprays from any direction, so it’s easy to apply to those hard-to-reach areas, such as on your back. Soothing plant-based ingredients calm redness without making skin feel coated, dry, or slippery.
Still unsure which BHA is right for you? We invite you to check out our other articles about exfoliation, or contact us via phone, email, or live chat so we can provide you with more personalized assistance.
References for this information:
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, November 2010, pages 135–142
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2010, pages 174–184
Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, September 2008, pages 170–176
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, February 2000, pages 21–52
Seminars in Dermatology, December 1990, pages 305–308
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!