Which BHA Exfoliant is Right for Me?
Paula’s Choice Skincare is known worldwide for our extensive selection of gentle, leave-on chemical exfoliants, a fact we’re very proud of. Our 2% BHA Liquid is our top-selling product globally, but we’ve developed more than a dozen BHA exfoliants, each with its own unique characteristics.
For the uninitiated, BHA is the abbreviation for beta hydroxy acid, which appears as salicylic acid on an ingredient list. BHA provides stunning benefits, particularly for oily skin prone to blemishes and clogged pores.
To be clear, BHA benefits all skin types, and share 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 rough, bumpy skin texture.
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 that’s best for you depends on your skin type, skin concerns, and your preferences regarding product texture and strength. Most people need to experiment with different strengths before they find the best option.
BHA Exfoliant for Your Face
Paula’s Choice Skincare offers many BHA exfoliants in a range of textures and strengths. We formulated higher strengths to supplement daily use; formulas for sensitive and acne-prone skin; products with extra anti-ageing 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 sensitising ingredients like denatured alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, or peppermint.
BHA For All Skin Types
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant: 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 not only hydrates for instant radiance, but also helps the BHA absorb deeper and work faster.
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant: A silky, hydrating, oil-free gel that clears clogged pores and refines skin. Formulated for all skin types who prefer a gel texture, but ideal for those with normal to combination or oily skin.
BHA For Sensitive Skin
CALM 1% BHA Lotion is our gentlest BHA formula, 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 oat, green tea, and licorice extracts. It’s suitable for all skin types, but ideal for extra-sensitive skin prone to redness, even for those with rosacea.
BHA For Dry Skin
SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant : This lightweight, silky lotion is ideal for normal to dry skin struggling with bumps and clogged pores. Its moisturising texture slows the absorption of the BHA for steady-but-sure results.
BHA For Anti-Ageing and Wrinkles
RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA is a water-light liquid exfoliant that delivers advanced anti-ageing benefits. Supporting antioxidants combine with skin-replenishing and skin-restoring ingredients to target dullness and the look of wrinkles as well as clogged pores and bumps. It’s perfect for normal, oily, or combination skin struggling with signs of ageing and enlarged pores.
RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA is a powerful-yet-gentle time-released formula that’s rich in antioxidants. Suitable for normal, oily, or combination skin, this luxe serum-textured exfoliant perfectly addresses persistent congested pores along with advanced signs of ageing, including deep wrinkles and loss of firmness.
BHA For Blackheads and Acne-Prone 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 (described below) to provide gentler exfoliation. The soothing formula contains licorice and allantoin to quickly calm acne-related redness for all skin types.
CLEAR Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution 2% Salicylic Acid is the same all-skin-types formula as the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. 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 anti-acne line. This product is spiked with a hefty dose of antioxidant green tea, which helps soothe redness.
BHA Spot Treatment
RESIST BHA 9: Our most potent BHA solution (for all skin types), this 9% concentration of salicylic acid has a serum-like texture and a unique time-release technology that keeps it remarkably effective as a targeted spot solution for stubborn bumps and other imperfections. Soothing oat and sea whip extract allow the formula to work without causing dryness or irritation.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS: Protect exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen. This is critical to the success of any BHA chemical exfoliant, not to mention your skin’s overall health.
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. If all of your other products have a similar texture, apply based on personal preference.
BHA Exfoliants for Your Body
Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA is a silky, lightweight body hydrator that improves the appearance of raised red bumps and hard, clogged pores on arms and legs. A favourite of those with “chicken skin”, (keratosis pilaris, or KP), its non-greasy formula works for all skin types and layers beautifully with a regular body moisturiser, if needed.
CLEAR Acne Body Spray for Blemish-Prone Skin is a water light, quick-drying, spray-on formula to treat acne and blackheads on the body (including bacne). 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.References for this information:
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, ePublication; and 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
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!