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  • Paula’s Choice launched its cult-favorite BHA liquid exfoliant more than 22 years ago.
  • It’s still the brand’s no. 1 bestselling product, and one is sold every 7 seconds around the world.
  • After using it for two weeks, I saw a noticeable improvement in my skin’s tone and texture.

Paula’s Choice Skincare was founded by Paula Begoun in 1995 and has since been a firm favorite of skincare fanatics. Long before the creation of her namesake brand, Begoun was struggling with acne and eczema, constantly searching for products that wouldn’t make her skin worse and brands that told the truth. Twenty years before launching her own skincare brand, Begoun was fired from her job on a cosmetics counter for telling customers the truth about what products could and couldn’t do for their skin.

Seven years after the business began, Begoun created one of the industry’s first leave-on liquid exfoliants, the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, which has won numerous beauty awards. “First of all, BHA (beta hydroxy acid), better known to consumers as salicylic acid, is such an effective skincare ingredient, particularly for those with breakout and acne-prone skin,” Begoun told Insider.

Black bottle of Paula's Choice toner

The 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant comes in a gray plastic container that blocks out light, which can make ingredients less effective.

Mollie Davies/Insider


This unique leave-on liquid is best applied with fingertips or a cotton pad to the entire face and neck, and it’s even suitable around the eye area. While many similar products on the market also have a 2% BHA concentration, they don’t always have the right pH balance. “Salicylic acid works best at a pH between 3 and 4,” says Begoun. Formulas outside of this pH range will be less effective or could significantly disrupt the skin’s barrier.

Anybody who knows their hyaluronic acid from their niacinamide would be able to spot the iconic bottle on a bathroom shelf. Paula’s Choice Skincare opts out of using jars or transparent packaging, as vital ingredients become less effective when exposed to air and light, and can become clogged with bacteria when using fingers.

Side by side comparison of the effect of the Paula's Choice Serum after two

Left: My skin after first using the liquid exfoliant. Right: My skin after two weeks of use.

Mollie Davies/Insider


Initial thoughts

My skin doesn’t like to make for easy work. I’m prone to hormonal breakouts and my skin is quite dull, with lots of enlarged pores.

After cleansing my skin and using a gentle toner, I applied the exfoliant to my face and neck. The product suggests use up to twice a day, but having relatively sensitive skin, I kept the use at a max of once a day. I concentrated more on areas where I’m blemish-prone and applied the liquid to a cotton pad and pressed it gently into my face and neck once every other day for around four days before changing it to once a day. A little coin-sized amount is plenty to cover your face and neck if using a cotton pad, but I found that reusable pads soak up the liquid quite quickly.

If I used it in the morning I always followed with a light moisturizer and SPF 50, as any acid can thin out the skin’s surface and make you more prone to burning and sensitivity.

I noticed my skin was instantly a bit more firm, and slowly, the stubborn milia on my forehead were starting to shift.

My skin after two weeks

I started to notice a huge difference in my skin around day nine. I’d upped my usage after day four and my pores started to shrink, some stubborn blackheads unclogged, and my skin had more of an overall glow, including a decrease in the pigmentation on my cheeks.

The bottom line

Although I was initially a bit nervous about using a liquid exfoliant, and not being able to feel with my fingers just how much I was exfoliating my skin, I am officially converted. The Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant delivers multiple benefits through its key ingredients. It also comes in a travel size at just $11.00 for those wanting to test it out before investing in the full size.

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