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Which BHA Exfoliant is Right for Me?
Paula’s Choice Skincare is known worldwide for our extensive selection of gentle, leave-on exfoliants, many of which contain BHA (beta hydroxy acid)—an ingredient that provides stunning benefits, particularly for oily skin prone to blemishes and clogged pores. We’ve developed more than a dozen BHA products, each with its own unique characteristics.
To be clear, BHA has benefits for all skin types, and shares certain properties with AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids): They both diminish the look of lines and wrinkles, make skin look and feel firmer, improve the look of dull, uneven skin tone, and smooth out rough texture. But BHA’s standout feature is its ability to work inside the pore as well as on the surface of skin. It goes deep to help clear out excess oil, prevent imperfections, smooth bumps, and reduce pore size. It has soothing properties as well, so it helps reduce redness—and is gentle enough for skin prone to rosacea. BHA is also suitable for those with milia.
Choosing the BHA exfoliant best for your skin depends on your skin type, skin concerns, and your preferences regarding product texture and strength.
Why Using a BHA Exfoliant Is So Important
As we age, and because our skin is subject to unprotected sun exposure, skin’s surface gradually stops shedding as quickly and evenly as it did when we were younger. This leads to a constant buildup of dry-looking, dull, rough, uneven skin. A leave-on BHA exfoliant helps skin slough that buildup—the result is unbelievably smoother, younger, hydrated, radiant, even-looking skin.
The Science Behind Our BHA Products
At Paula’s Choice Skincare, we formulate every product based on published, peer-reviewed scientific research. BHA exfoliants must be formulated with a pH between 3 and 4 to be most effective. Look for concentrations between 1% and 4% BHA, although higher concentrations can tackle occasional, more stubborn problems.
The Differences Between Our BHA Products
Given all their benefits, it’s no surprise that BHA exfoliants are among our best-selling products. We offer many with a 2% concentration, one with a 1% concentration, and several with higher concentrations for more advanced concerns or to spot-treat blemishes. While all deliver fantastic results and have their own distinctive qualities, it’s perfectly OK to use more than one BHA exfoliant, layering or alternating between them based on your skin’s needs and what works best for you.
Paula’s Choice Skincare BHA Facial Exfoliants
Paula’s Choice Skincare offers many BHA exfoliants, including essential options in a range of textures; higher strengths to supplement daily use; formulas for sensitive and acne-prone skin; products with extra anti-aging benefits that also help shore up skin’s environmental defenses; and body exfoliants. As is true for all Paula’s Choice Skincare products, our BHA formulations are free of fragrance and sensitizing ingredients like denatured alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, or peppermint.
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. It’s 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 (and Paula’s “desert-island” product), 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.
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Lotion: This lightweight, silky lotion is ideal for normal to dry skin struggling with bumps and clogged pores. Its moisturizing texture slows the absorption of the BHA for steady-but-sure results.
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Gel: A silky, hydrating, oil-free gel that’s formulated for all skin types, but best for those with normal to combination or oily skin.
RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA is a water-light liquid exfoliant that delivers advanced anti-aging benefits. BHA and antioxidants combine with skin-replenishing and skin-restoring ingredients to target loss of firmness, dullness, and the look of wrinkles as well as clogged pores and bumps. It’s perfect for normal, oily, or combination skin.
CLEAR Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution 2% Salicylic Acid is our ultra-light liquid exfoliant formulated for mild to moderate acne. It’s formulated at a slightly higher pH than the Extra Strength version to provide more gentle exfoliation. The soothing formula contains specialized ingredients to quickly target acne-related redness.
CLEAR Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution 2% Salicylic Acid is the same all-skin-types formula as the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. It’s so effective for moderate to stubborn acne and blackheads, clearing pores deeply and smoothing skin texture—even skin prone to cystic acne—that Paula included it in our CLEAR line. This product is spiked with a hefty dose of antioxidant green tea, which helps calm redness.
When to apply: All of our facial BHA exfoliants should be applied after cleansing and toning. Follow with your other skincare products, applying them in order from the lightest texture to the heaviest texture.
Paula’s Choice Skincare Specialty BHA exfoliants:
RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA is a powerful-yet-gentle, antioxidant-rich exfoliant perfect for addressing stubborn pore-related concerns along with advanced signs of aging.
RESIST BHA 9: Our most concentrated, potent BHA solution, with a serum-like texture and a unique time-release technology that keeps it gentle and remarkably effective as a targeted spot solution for stubborn imperfections.
RESIST Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA is an all-skin-types, lightweight, silky, matte-finish body hydrator that improves the appearance of raised red bumps and hard, clogged pores on arms and legs. Its non-greasy formula layers beautifully with a regular body moisturizer, if needed.
CLEAR Acne Body Spray for Blemish-Prone Skin is a wonderfully light, quick-drying, spray-on formula to treat acne and blackheads on the body. It sprays from any direction, so it’s easy to apply to those hard-to-reach areas. Soothing plant-based ingredients calm redness without making skin feel coated, dry, or slippery.
Apply the Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA to cleansed skin; if needed, follow with a regular body lotion on very dry areas.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS: Protect exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater. This is critical to the success of any BHA exfoliant, not to mention your skin’s overall health.
Still unsure which BHA product is right for you? 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!