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In the world of various skincare brands, Paula’s Choice is truly unique. Mainstream enough that you or someone you know has probably dabbled with their various offerings, it’s still somewhat niche and with an under-the-radar cult-like following.
Originally founded in 1995, the Seattle-based company was created by Paula Begoun—yes, there is a Paula—who set out to create effective skincare with scientifically-backed ingredients…without questionable ingredients known to cause irritation. Ingredients are truly at the heart of this brand, both when it comes to what’s in the products and what isn’t (everything is free of dyes, fragrances, phthalates, just to name a few). In fact, the brand’s website even has a helpful ingredient dictionary. (Insider secret: Beauty editors rely on it all the time.) And if you check out the ingredients listed for any of their products, there’s a helpful parenthetical that denotes the exact function of each one. The line is also all about inclusivity, catering to pretty much every skin type and concern, with offerings that range from mega-gentle exfoliators to power-packed anti-agers to standout serums.
So, where to start if you’re getting ready to choose from all the goodness? We suggest any—or all—of these best Paula’s Choice products below.
This is the brand’s number one product worldwide, and if we absolutely had to choose, ours too. Why, you ask? It’s a unique leave-on exfoliator with a 2% concentration of salicylic acid to unclog pores and clear your complexion and it really, really works. Still, it’s gentle enough that it can be used twice daily, and also absorbs super quickly thanks to a lightweight, lotion texture.
There’s no denying that vitamin C gets an A+ in the skincare world, offering everything from antioxidant protection to collagen-boosting properties to spot-fading abilities. Here, you get it in an impressive 15% concentration, but of a stabilized vitamin C that will remain active (the vitamin is notoriously unstable and tricky to formulate with as a result). And it doesn’t stop there; it’s blended with ferulic acid, another potent antioxidant that works synergistically with vitamin C to up the benefits even further. Also nice: You can use this on its own, or mix a few drops in with your moisturizer or serum.
Allantoin, also known as aluminum dihydroxy allantoinate, is an extract from the comfrey plant (which is native to temperate climates of Asia and Europe). It has potent healing and soothing properties, and may also help exfoliate the skin.
This hits the perfect balance of effectively and efficiently exfoliating, without ever stressing out your complexion. Credit a combo of various alpha-hydroxy acids—glycolic, lactic, malic, and tartaric, to be exact—as well as salicylic acid that goes to work, dissolving dead cells that leave your skin looking lackluster and uneven. At the same time, soothing ingredients such as allantoin, oat extract, and licorice keep irritation at bay.
You’ll be hard-pressed to determine what you like most about this multi-tasker. Is it the silky texture that creates the perfect canvas for foundation? The built-in SPF 30? The protective antioxidants it contains? Happily, there’s no need to choose, since you get all three. It’s a morning routine must-use, whether or not you’re applying makeup over it.
Niacinamide gets major points for its laundry list of benefits, including but not limited to: evening skin tone, combatting redness, improving the look of stretched out pores, and more. Not to mention that, unlike many other powerful ingredients, it is generally very well-tolerated by most. This newbie touts the highest concentration to date of the superstar, in a featherweight serum that’s choice for helping to improve both the texture and tone of your skin.
Ceramides are a part of a complex family of fats or lipids called a sphingolipid. They work to restore the skin barrier and lock in moisture.
Another top-seller, this serum is a great universal pick, particularly for anyone dealing with dryness. Rich in Omega 3, 6, and 9 oils for extra hydration, it also touts ceramides, an essential ingredient for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. It’s moisturizing enough to use alone, though lightweight enough to layer under a moisturizer as well (try doing the former in the summer, the latter in the winter).
In case you missed it, pollution ranks up there with the sun when it comes to skin saboteurs. So what should city-dwellers do to safeguard their complexions? First starters, you can use this every morning, under SPF, obvi. Three types of algae create a protective shield that prevents pesky pollution particles (say that three times fast) from sticking to and damaging skin but has a silicone-free gel-cream texture that feels silky and never sticky. It also boasts not one, not two, not three, but 16 research-backed antioxidants to help counteract free radicals caused by exposure to sun and pollution.
Shea butter is a plant lipid that comes from African shea tree nuts and is rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It's used to help moisturize, nourish, and soothe the skin.
Anyone who knows their skincare stuff will tell you that the name of this product sounds oxymoronic; retinol and barrier repair usually don’t go hand-in-hand. Yet somehow in this formulation they do. You get the proven wrinkle-smoothing benefits of retinol, but without the likelihood of irksome side effects (think redness and flaking), thanks to hydrating, barrier-protecting ingredients such as shea butter and ceramides.
Oh yea, did we forget to mention that Paula’s Choice has some awesome body products, too? To take care of the skin below your chin, we especially like this lotion. Like the 2% BHA treatment for face, this also has salicylic acid. Here, it helps to remove dead, dry skin and leave it silky soft. It’s a great pick for anyone, including those trying to get rid of keratosis pilaris aka KP aka those annoying bumps that crop up on the backs of your arms.
In theory, you’re supposed to reapply sunscreen every two hours. It’s a lofty goal, we get it, but that’s where brush-on SPF comes in, namely this formula. The silky powder ‘screen offers mineral sun protection but won’t mess up your makeup. On the contrary, it helps absorb shine and minimizes the look of pores. And it goes one step further too, with ceramides and antioxidants infused into the powder for added benefits. As an extra cool feature, the clear plastic packaging is UV-coated to ensure those antioxidants stay potent.
Say peace out to parched skin. Using, you guessed it, hyaluronic acid, one of the best moisturizing ingredients out there, this almost instantly hydrates skin. Dab on the gel solo, or mix a few drops into any moisturizer or serum to up the hydrating benefits. And here’s the really nice thing: Hyaluronic acid also has an immediate plumping effect, so this is great for using to help quickly fill in fine lines and wrinkles, like crows’ feet around your eyes.
No matter whether you’re dealing with a condition such as eczema or rosacea, or are just having a temporary redness flare-up, reach for this skin savior. An effective combo of both hydrating and soothing ingredients (lots of antioxidant-rich plant extracts) go to town to quickly tamp down ruddiness and soothe stressed skin. For the best results, use it twice a day, pre-moisturizer.