I Can't Live Without This Liquid Exfoliant

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Paula's Choice Liquid Exfoliant Review

Olivia Muenter

When I started to simplify my daily skincare and beauty routine a year ago, I made a point to stop trying and buying the newest, trendiest products. Sure, I was still tempted by the endless Instagram posts about a certain face mask or that French body lotion every influencer seems to have (you know the one). But for the most part, I was able to resist. I was determined to get my skin to a place I felt good about without spending endless cash each and every month. So when I first received a press sample of Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, I was a little conflicted. Since I had eliminated cleanser and narrowed down my daily products, my skin was better than ever. But I also didn’t want to waste a perfectly good skincare product (especially one that had so many positive reviews online). Eventually, I decided to give it a go. And honestly? I haven’t looked back since. 

Nightly use of the exfoliator has completely and totally changed the texture of my skin. My skin was relatively clear before, but it is smoother than ever. Not to mention, the tone is more even (less of the redness that my skin is naturally prone to). Below is the breakdown of everything you need to know about my skin, this product, and whether it might work for you, too.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

STAR RATING: 4.9/5

BEST FOR: Any skin type, but especially if prone to wrinkles or redness

USES: To balance the skin, exfoliate, and and nix breakouts

ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Salicylic acid, camellia oleifera leaf extract, sodium hydroxide

BYRDIE CLEAN: Yes

PRICE: $30

ABOUT THE BRAND: Paula’s Choice’s philosophy is "smart, safe beauty" and prides itself in creating products that are effective, fragrance-free, cruelty-free, and backed by scientific research. 

About My Skin: Occasional cystic acne, prone to redness with dry spots

While a combination of switching to a gentler cleansing routine (micellar water only), a new toner (Nuria's Rescue Pore Minimizer Toner), and drinking a gallon of water per day virtually cleared the hormonal acne, I still deal with the occasional cystic pimple a few times a year. My skin also requires a ton of moisture (especially in colder months) to stay hydrated, and I swear by a nightly combination of Weleda's Skin Food (the original—not the light version) and face oil to keep it dewy all over. I have also always had an underlying redness in my cheeks, especially around my jawline. 

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant $30
Shop

Ingredients: Gentle but powerful BHA

Though the results are why this product is often called a “cult-favorite,” as the brand’s site states, the ingredients are why it works for so many people with so many different skin types (just look at the reviews if you’re skeptical). While the product contains a handful of different ingredients as listed above, the main, most powerful one is its two percent BHA.

Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) is also known as something you are probably a little more familiar with: salicylic acid. As the name states, this exfoliant contains two percent of BHA—an amount that is powerful enough to exfoliate away dead skin cells, while still being gentle enough to remain on your skin overnight (or during the day, too, if you want to supercharge the product’s power).

“Beta hydroxy acids dissolve the glue that holds cells together in the skin, leading to a gentle exfoliation,” Dr. Maggie Kober, a dermatologist with Apostrophe (a skincare service that connects people to board-certified dermatologists online) explains. “BHAs are lipid oil soluble, meaning they absorb best in patients with oily and acne-prone skin. The amount of free acid in the bottle is actually what effects change, and this is dependent upon an ideal pH between 3-4. This product lists its pH between 3.2-3.8. Especially if you have acne-prone skin, it can be an excellent addition to the regimen prescribed by your dermatologist."

The Feel: Like an oily toner 

When you put the product on your face (via cotton pad, as the brand suggests), the first thing you will probably notice is that it has an oddly oily texture. If a face oil and a toner had a baby, it would probably feel like this. It also can sometimes feel a little astringent, but it rarely stings unless I have a recently popped pimple somewhere on my face—even then, it’s only mildly uncomfortable for a second or two. I usually let the product sink in for a few minutes and follow up with a thick moisturizer, at which point I no longer notice any greasiness. 

The Scent: A faint alcohol scent 

I’ve never actually noticed any particular scent when using this product, but when bringing the bottle to my nose all I noticed was a faint rubbing alcohol-y scent. Nothing pleasant, but also nothing unnatural or unexpected, either (Paula’s Choice products are fragrance-free).

The Results: Smooth, even, healthier-than-ever skin

I trust fully in my daily skincare routine now, but I also know that if I depart from it for a few days, my skin will most likely be OK. If I stop using this product for a few days, I immediately notice. Moisturizers and oils don’t seem to absorb as well, my natural redness is back, and honestly? I miss it. My skin truly craves this product. I recommend it to everyone I know. My only note? If I use it twice a day (as opposed to only a night), my skin does become just a tad irritated. However, using it once a day instead of twice just means it lasts longer, so... this isn’t exactly a complaint.

The Value: 100 percent worth it

If you’re going to spend $30 on anything per month (or every two months, which is about how long one bottle lasts me), let it be this. And like I mentioned above, if you only use it once a day (which is all you really need, honestly), you’ll still see results quickly and it will last twice as long.

Similar Products:

Glossier’s The Solution: There are other liquid exfoliators out there, like Glossier’s Solution, but they often (also like Solution) contain other acids in addition to BHA. If you want to start with something more intense, this one might be for you. Otherwise (and especially if you’re new to liquid exfoliants), I’d stick to the Paula’s Choice option.

Kate Somerville Exfolikate: This is another extremely popular liquid exfoliator (it also comes in a spray bottle, which is kind of handy), but is also extremely pricy and nearly double the price of both the Glossier and Paula’s Choice options. This also notably doesn’t contain BHA, but instead a blend of 10 percent worth of other acids (glycolic, malic, and lactic).

Our Verdict: This is a perfect first-timer liquid exfoliant

As someone with skin that can turn bright red with even a drop of the wrong product, I was almost sure this liquid exfoliant would destroy my skin. Instead, it led to my best skin ever and has become one of my most beloved products. And at such a reasonable price, it’s worth trying it out even if you’re just a little curious.

Related Stories