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Today we're talking Paula's Choice, the brand founded by beauty writer Paula Begoun, based on her own skincare philosophy. Do I agree with absolutely everything she says? No, but that's ok: I trust her line to focus on active ingredients proven by science and to minimise potential irritation. The brand is no longer owned by Paula, but so far it seems the products are still in line with most of her beliefs. As long as my favourite formulas don't change; I'm fine with it. Speaking of which, let's get into them!
The first product I'm going to discuss is their 10% Azelaic Acid Booster with Licorice + Salicylic Acid | £37. This is a powerhouse! It comes out as a sort of cream, so I use it at the serum stage of my routine maybe three times a week as a more concentrated treatment. Azelaic acid is technically an antioxidant with very mild exfoliating benefits. It works on several fronts, tackling both breakouts and the hyperpigmentation they can leave behind afterwards. It calms down irritation and redness, making it a great option if you're rosacea-prone but also for acneic skin. It can also help reduce acne-causing bacteria on the skin. It can also even out the skin's overall tone, making it great for post-acne marks but it can also act as a gentle supporting ingredient for improving the appearance of skin conditions like melasma. 10% is a really good amount for a cosmetic product; though azelaic acid shouldn't be irritating in itself, this is a blend of ingredients so be mindful of the overall formulation if you have quite sensitive skin.
Licorice extract has skin-brightening benefits that can help the look of dark spots and salicylic acid is your BHA exfoliant. It penetrates into the pores because it's oil-soluble and clears out spot-causing debris, but at the same time it increases cell turnover and helps improve the look of those post-breakout marks. Overall, this is fantastic for general skin clarity maintenance, but particularly when it comes to treating more acne-prone skin because it's tackling the active breakout, preventing scarring, then also helping improve the look of existing marks.
My next pick is the CBD Transformative Treatment Milk | £43. I feel like this was a bit controversial because Paula's Choice is more known for proven ingredients and a lot of crazy claims get made about CBD, however we do know it's soothing, moisturising and anti-inflammatory. This light milky serum formulates it alongside other nourishers and replenishers like squalane oil, jojoba oil and centella. I tend to patch-apply this before my retinoid in the evening to any areas that are irritated, inflamed or red and it works a treat to provide pretty much immediate calm. I've not really come across many products that deliver this in a light liquid form; it's not an oil or a rich cream and it's really easy to layer. My only negative is that the tube is a bit small for the price.
A recent discovery that I've been using for the past month or so and a bit that's really impressed me is the Clinical Discolouration Repair Serum* | £46. This is a multi-pronged attack on uneven skin tone. Whilst we obviously have to put on our sunscreen and do things like wearing hats and staying in the shade (especially on high UV index days), most of us are still going to get some sun. I feel it's a little bit taboo to say, but I've definitely personally have mishaps; accidentally missing around the hairline and getting sun damage in that area, ending up getting a bit lost out on a walk without sunscreen to re-apply and so on. Obviously we have to learn from these things, but we all make mistakes! Sometimes those mistakes were many years ago and we're still paying the price for them. I personally finished summer and thought maybe my overall skin tone wasn't looking its best. I've also been dealing with a lot of stress and hormonal issues recently that had me breaking out sporadically on my cheeks and chin and these left behind some red marks. This formula blends together different ingredients that can tackle pigmentation and uneven skin tone.
Niacinamide is in here at 5% and I was never a fan of their 20% formula because it's just too much when 2-5% is what has been studied and shown to be amazing for preventing melanin transfer from sites of pigmentation, regulating oil production in the skin and boosting ceramide production to encourage a healthy skin barrier. Tranexamic acid was a medication often taken orally for blood loss but was found to have benefits for treating melasma so is now available as a topical cosmetic for improving skin tone. This also contains bakuchiol, which is often called a 'natural retinol', though I personally like to use it alongside retinoids to boost their efficacy. It has antioxidant benefits (protecting the skin from free radical damage) and also can act to inhibit the overproduction of melanin that leads to dark spots. This is incredibly gentle, has a light, moisturising texture and I've used it every night after my retinoid (and occasionally in the day after my Vitamin C) with no irritation. It's really helped clear up the marks left over after blemishes far faster and help even out this sun damage that was like a halo on my hairline. I absolutely love it and will continue using it.
Let's talk about the C15 Super Booster* | £47 | which was kindly sent over to me by Cult Beauty just as I was finishing off my Skinceuticals Vitamin C serum. As this was meant to be a dupe for it (I'll compare them in depth in an upcoming post discussing cheaper alternatives to that formula soon), I added it right into my rotation to see how it compared. This is a l-ascorbic acid formula, meaning it's made with the pure form of Vitamin C. The reason most brands don't formulate with this is because it's so unstable compared to derivatives. The Skinceuticals research on this ingredient ascertained an optimal pH and concentration for stability and efficacy and also found that combining this ingredient with other antioxidants (specifically ferulic acid and Vitamin E) helps boost its effectiveness and stability. That particular sweet spot and combination of ingredients is patented but lots of brands are tweaking this formula or finding other ways around this issue like formulating fresh batches weekly.
The Paula's Choice formula was completely clear when it arrived, which is something to look for in these sorts of water-light formulas that contain minimal ingredients that shouldn't colour the product in any way. Whilst over the weeks I was using it, I did notice it go very slightly yellow. It still looks pretty fresh for me after a little over 6 weeks of use and I don't think there's much left in the bottle (it's 20ml as opposed to the usual 30ml for serums). It does come in a dropper but it has a plug in it to prevent too much oxygen getting in and the opaque bottle should stop light degrading the ingredient. Either way you'll want to order this to use it right away and definitely don't leave backups knocking around. Whilst derivatives can give you benefits like evening out the skin tone and giving you that immediate glow boost, l-ascorbic / ascorbic acid has been tested robustly and proven to help stimulate collagen production and provide antioxidant benefits, protecting the skin from environmental damage. Plus, this will work synergistically with your sunscreen (when layered underneath) to boost the effectiveness of both. I didn't find this irritating at the 15% concentration to use every morning, as someone who has used this form of Vitamin C for a long time. It's an impressive formula that gives me all the benefits I want from my Vitamin C at a reasonable price, whilst maintaining stability.
Next up: the Omega Complex Cleansing Balm | £25. I love a multi-tasking cleanser and I love a balm in a tube! This is a gorgeous soft melting formula with ingredients rich in replenishing omega fatty acids like meadowfoam seed oil. Yes, it's a cleanser so it's going to wash off rather than really penetrate the skin but this is gentle and something that's great for more sensitive skin. I use this a gentle way of breaking down makeup and sunscreen at the end of the day, as it melts down into an oily texture then emulsifies easily on contact with water and doesn't leave behind a film or anything like that. Sometimes I use in the morning when my skin is feeling a bit irritated or dry. Whilst I wouldn't expect this to effortlessly remove really heavy makeup, I don't really tend to go for that and this works perfectly for what I do day-to-day.
Lastly, we have the legendary Skin Perfecting BHA 2% Liquid Exfoliant* | £29 | which I got in a recent Space NK Gift With Purchase. This is a product that so many people love and I do too. It can truly be transformative. This is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, which is the maximum concentration for cosmetics here in the UK. As I mentioned earlier, salicylic acid goes into the pores and exfoliates within them, as well as providing surface-level clarity and skin evenness. Do you need this and the azelaic booster? I'd say not; I personally used this maybe once a week as general maintenance but also could go in with it daily when I was breaking out actively. I'd say if you have a lot of active acne then go for this leave-on toner because it gives you a concentrated hit of what's going to treat that. It's just amazing for clearing up minor breakouts and improving the look of more serious acne. Once you have that under control and you want to maintain things and help with the scarring, that's when I'd progress to the azelaic blend.
A lot of people love the retinol from this line but personally I just like a retinal as my retinoid, so it was fine but didn't change my life. I would definitely pick it up and try it out if Paula's Choice did bring out a retinal though! I've also not loved their sunscreens so far. Overall, Paula's Choice is a brand I trust with actives though and they're undergoing some internal changes currently so I'll be interested to see what direction they go in next.
Have you tried Paula's Choice?