Paula’s Choice is a skincare brand known for formulations that are backed by scientific research. The focus isn’t on pretty packaging or fragrances, but rather reasonably-priced safe and effective formulas that work.
It’s hard to narrow down the best products when the entire line is good (there are currently about 150 products), but this list of the best Paula’s Choice skincare products address a variety of skincare concerns from acne and breakouts to wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
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About Paula’s Choice
Paula’s Choice has been formulating effective and safe skincare products backed by scientific research for 25 years. Paula’s Choice was founded by Paula Begoun, a beauty industry veteran and skincare expert known as the “Cosmetics Cop”.
Paula dealt with acne and eczema and the frustration of trying to find skincare products that worked. These struggles led her storied career in the beauty industry. She is an author of over 20 best-selling beauty books and is known for her consumer advocacy and beauty product reviews by analyzing product formulations. I remember reading many skincare reviews by Paula back in the 90s and she always told it to you straight without any sugar-coating!
Paula Begoun launched Paula’s Choice in 1995. It was one of the first online beauty brands at the time, although it is available at select retailers today. Since 1995, the brand expanded, has launched several best-sellers, and is now available worldwide.
Independent studies, consumer testing, and safety data all play a role in product development before Paula’s Choice products hit the shelves. Every Paula’s Choice product contains antioxidants and skin-restoring ingredients for skin health.
A Focus on Skincare Facts
Paula’s Choice explains product research to customers clearly and concisely, always citing studies and sources. One stand-out quality of the brand is that each product page on their website cites exact studies used to guide the product formula. Brilliant!
Natural and synthetic ingredients are used in Paula’s Choice products, but irritating and drying ingredients are always avoided. Ingredients that Paula’s Choice avoids include: 1,4 dioxane, abrasive particles, alcohol, aluminum powder, essentials oils, fragrant plant extracts, formaldehyde, nanoparticles, phthalaltes, sodium, laurel sulfate, synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrance, talc and toluene.
Paula’s Choice products are never tested on animals and the brand is Leaping-Bunny certified.
Paula’s Choice Ingredient Lists
One thing I love about Paula’s Choice products is that the purpose of every ingredient is disclosed in parentheses in one or a few words.
For instance: Sodium Hyaluronate (Hydration), Hexanoyl Dipeptide-3 Norleucine Acetate (Skin-Restoring Peptide).
This is so helpful when ingredient lists get confusing and often contain technical sounding actives, preservatives and other ingredients.
The Best Paula’s Choice Products
This list of the best Paula’s Choice products largely focuses on the serums because I think serums are where you get the most bang for your buck, so to speak, when it comes to skincare products.
NOTE: Certain actives like retinoids (including retinol) and exfoliating acids like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher while using those products and for 7 days after. Keep in mind that it’s best to wear sunscreen every single day regardless of the type of products that you are using.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is Paula’s Choice’s #1 product worldwide. This leave-on chemical exfoliant is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, a BHA (beta hydroxy acid).
Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble acid that gets deep into pores to remove excess sebum from clogged pores and reduces congestion and dead skin cells. This treatment also contains Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract. Camellia Oleifera is a green tea plant that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
This liquid exfoliant is popular because it really provides results especially if your skin type is oily or acne-prone. It’s excellent for clearing out pores and blackheads on the nose and can help to reduce acne and breakouts all over your face.
This BHA treatment even helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and evens out skin tone. This chemical exfoliant is formulated at the optimal pH of 3.2-3.8 and is perfect for dull, congested skin.
Related Post: AHA vs BHA Skincare Exfoliants: What is the Difference?
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) gel exfoliant that uses glycolic acid to remove dead skin cells and build-up of excess sebum (oil), dirt, and other impurities. By removing old layers of skin cells, skin appears smoother and brighten with better clarity.
Formulated at the optimal pH range of 3.5–3.9, this leave on lightweight gel treatment is loaded with additional goodies for your skin. It also contains skin soothers chamomile and aloe vera plus sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid) which helps the skin retain water, making it appear plumper.
Green tea extract, an antioxidant, is included in the formula, as it is an anti-inflammatory and protects the skin. Sodium PCA moisturizes while panthenol, also known as Pro-Vitamin B-5, has reparative and moisturizing properties.
I like to use this gel to clear out the pores on my nose since I am sensitive to salicylic acid. I really appreciate the soothing ingredients, as this product irritates my skin less than other glycolic acid products. The 8% glycolic acid concentration is ideal. It isn’t too high or too low.
Paula’s Choice C15 Vitamin C Super Booster brightens skin and evens out skin tone while reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It is formulated with 15% stabilized vitamin C, also known as l-ascorbic acid, at a pH of 3.0.
Vitamin E and ferulic acid are also included in the formula. These two actives are antioxidants that stabilize and boost the effectiveness of vitamin C.
Sodium hyaluronate, the salt form of Hyaluronic Acid, is water-binding, helping our skin to attract and retain water. Panthenol and Bisabolol soothe the skin. This booster serum, also contains Hexanoyl Dipeptide-3 Norleucine Acetate, which per the manufacturer, hydrates, improves skin texture and reduces wrinkles.
This concentrated booster is water-like in consistency and absorbs quickly without any stickiness or tackiness. You can apply it alone, or mix it with a serum or moisturizer. My favorite way to apply it is to mix a few drops in with a hyaluronic acid serum. This provides hydration, moisture and the antioxidant and anti-aging benefits of vitamin C.
Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment is a potent 1% concentration of retinol that is combined with antioxidants and soothing ingredients to create an effective anti-aging treatment.
Retinol, a type of retinoid, is really the gold standard for over-the-counter treatments to reduce the signs of aging, like wrinkles, fine lines, dullness, uneven skin tone and enlarged pores. It also stimulates collagen production and increases cellular turnover.
This retinol treatment contains a very long ingredient list. In addition to retinol, this retinoid treatment contains a brightening vitamin C derivative and a skin barrier-supporting ceramide. Peptides firm the skin while sodium hyaluronate hydrates and plumps the skin. Multiple plant extracts like licorice extract and oat extract soothe the skin to reduce redness.
The treatment comes in the form of a light lotion in an air-tight pump, which helps to improve stability since retinol is sensitive to light and air. Apply a pea-size amount after cleansing and toning. It’s light enough that you can use a rich moisturizer on top.
Paula’s Choice notes that if you experience flaking, tenderness, drying, or redness of your skin, reduce the frequency of use. You can also add one pump of this retinol treatment with a serum or PM moisturizer to dilute the concentration.
You may even experience delayed sensitivity to this 1% retinol. Adjust usage based on how your skin reacts. If you continue to experience side effects, discontinue use.
Paula’s Choice Retinol For Beginners
Paula’s Choice notes that initially you should use this only three times per week (I started at once a week), and gradually increase usage to every other night and then eventually to every night once your skin can tolerate it. Prior to your first application, be sure to spot test for sensitivity and remember that this retinol is very strong.
NOTE: If you have sensitive skin, you may consider starting with a lower concentration of retinol. I wrote about several drugstore options in this post.
Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster is a concentrated serum booster formulated with 10% niacinamide. Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, is a superstar skincare active because it offers many benefits to the skin including the following:
- Brightens the skin
- Refines the look of pores
- Improves the look of wrinkles and fine lines
- Improves the look of skin texture
- Helps to balance sebum production
- Increases cell turnover to even out skin tone
- Supports a healthy skin moisture barrier
This multi-tasking serum is enriched with a vitamin C derivative, ascorbyl glucoside for additional brightening and sodium hyaluronate, the salt form of hyaluronic acid, a humectant which aids in hydration.
Ubiquinone, epigallocatechin gallate, carnosine, and genistein provide antioxidant protection against environmental factors like UV rays and pollution. Licorice root extract, panthenol and beta-glucan soothe the skin.
This serum booster has an ultra light almost water-like texture. You can apply it alone to your face, neck or chest or mix it with another serum or moisturizer. It’s so light that it won’t interfere with other products.
If you want a super-charged niacinamide booster, consider Paula’s Choice Clinical 20% Niacinamide Treatment to tighten and minimize the look of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, post-acne marks and orange-peel skin texture.
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Moisturizer is a rich cream that restores dehydrated and dry skin with a blend of shea butter, omega oils, botanical antioxidants, and ceramides. Superfoods rich in omegas 3, 6, and 9 strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
This moisturizer has a LONG ingredient list, and is filled with enriching actives. Some highlights include:
- Salvia Hispanica (Chia) Seed Oil: An omega-3 plant oil that is the richest source of alpha-linolenic acid, plus linoleic acid and oleic acid making it a superb hydrator and moisturizer. This oil is also rich in antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory.
- Linum Usitatissimum Seed Oil: Also known as flaxseed oil. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, linolenic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid.
- Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil: An antioxidant-rich in the fatty acid oleic acid and also contains linoleic and palmitic acids. Excellent for dry skin.
- Passiflora Edulis (Passion Fruit) Seed Oil: Rich in linoleic acid oil and oleic acid, this oil supports the skin barrier from environmental aggressors.
- Psidium Guajava (Guava) Fruit Extract: An antioxidant that is an excellent source of vitamin C, known for its brightening, anti-aging, and skin-protecting benefits.
This lightweight whipped moisturizer hydrates and replenishes dry and flaky skin. It’s an excellent emollient and healing oil. This moisturizer is so rich and nourishing that it even made my list of the best drugstore skincare dupes.
Paula’s Choice RESIST Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF 30 is a mineral-based SPF that is lightly tinted to offset any potential white cast. It contains 13% zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen protection.
This sunscreen enriched with antioxidants like resveratrol, which comes from red grapes, to provide further protection against environmental aggressors. Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense also contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant found in green tea that soothes and protects the skin.
The formula of this SPF is light, silky and matte, making it ideal for acne prone, combination or oily skin types. It also helps to even skin tone and firm the skin with continued use. It’s the ideal last step in your morning skin care routine, as it wears well under makeup.
Related Post: The Best Drugstore Mineral Sunscreens
Final Thoughts on the Best of Paula’s Choice
Even if you incorporate one or two products from this list of the best Paula’s Choice skincare products into your skincare routine, you’ll be getting reasonably priced science-driven products that truly perform. I currently use the niacinamide and C15 booster serums daily.
If you want to try multiple Paula’s Choice products at a discount, they offer several kits such as:
- Niacinamide + BHA Duo: Includes 10% Niacinamide Booster (0.67 fl. oz. / 20 ml) and Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (4 fl. oz. / 118 ml)
- Advanced Firm & Brighten Kit: Includes CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment (30 ml / 1 fl. oz.) and C15 Super Booster (20 ml / 0.67 fl. oz.)
- Paula’s Choice Advanced Illuminate + Smooth Kit: Includes SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (118 ml/4 fl. oz.) C15 Super Booster (20 ml/0.67 fl. oz.) CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment (30 ml/1 fl. oz.)
Thanks for reading, and until next time…