Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Review: Why You Should Avoid It

by | Last updated Apr 19, 2020 | Reviews | 64 comments

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I must be the odd one out, but I gotta say it… Paula’s Choice is constantly letting me down. I’M SORRY! Please, don’t hate me for saying that.

It doesn’t help that Nathan just resigned today as well (he was my favorite on the Paula’s Choice research team).

You see, I understand they’re a great company. I understand they formulate products well. I understand they look at research. And I understand they use ingredients that work. But their products simply don’t work for my skin (stick around for photos to see what I mean). I guess I’m just terribly unlucky.

Anyhow, let’s break down one of their most popular products: the Paula’s Choice 2% Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliate, then I’ll tell you why I’m not a fan of it.

paulas choice 2% bha liquid

Check on Amazon

Ingredients and Benefits.

A short ingredient list this one has. It’s actually one of the reasons this BHA appealed to me. I figured, “hey, looks innocent enough, I doubt such a minimal ingredient list will cause me problems.” Anyway, check it out.


Water, Methylpropanediol (hydrator/penetration enhancer), Butylene Glycol (slip agents/penetration enhancers), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (anti-irritant/antioxidant), Polysorbate-20 (solubilizing agent), Sodium Hydroxide (pH balancer), Tetrasodium EDTA (chelating agent)

There isn’t much to break down here, but let’s do it anyway.

  • 2% Salicylic Acid

A beta hydroxy acid, naturally occurring plant hormone, and chemical exfoliant. It can be found in foods likes fruit juices, vegetables, herbs, tea, wine, spices etc., and may play a role in reducing the risk of butthole cancer. (123)

Sorry, I’m immature. I meant “colon cancer.”

As a topical, research has shown it’s an effective acne treatment because it contains bacteriostatic (anti-bacterial), comedolytic (unclogs pores), kertolytic (removes dead skin), and anti-inflammatory properties, meaning it addresses all major causes of acne. (4) What makes salicylic acid even more particularly elegant, is it’s ability to control fungal conditions like pityrosporum folliculitis as well. (5)

Additionally, salicylic acid peels have been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation, and unlike AHAs (another kind of chemical exfoliant), it doesn’t cause sun-induced erythema (redness). (6, 78910) In fact, it might even provide some photoprotective properties! (11121314)

So yeah, just an overall great ingredient for skin and treating acne.

  • Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract

A great natural antioxidant, and an effective wart treatment. (1516) It smooths skin, reduces roughness, has anti-aging benefits, provides photoprotection, and controls sebum (oil) production. (171819202122)

And that’s it for ingredients. It’s really just those two that that are pulling the weight in this formula. Everything else is little more than necessary filler. For example, the butylene glycol is used to dissolve the salicylic acid, sodium hydroxide is to adjust the pH, methylpropanediol is to make the product penetrate deeper etc.

So what’s my beef with it?

It’s drying beyond belief! Sheesh. To give you an example, my hands are really freaking tough and have hardy skin. Just look at em!

my hand

Yet despite this, if I pour the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA liquid into my palms I’ll have peeling skin there within the next couple days! (Note: I don’t use cotton pads because it waste product.) It’s absolutely nuts. And that’s my hands we’re talking about! You can only imagine what it does to my face.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to use this consistently enough to notice results, because I had to constantly take breaks so it wouldn’t wreak havoc on my skin. Even using it two or three times a week would give me flakeys like no other! My spirit animal is basically a lizard when I’m on this stuff.

And to make matters worse, it never did anything for my clogged pores. I tried and tried. Sometimes, even spot treating a few days consecutively just in places were the stubborn closed comedones were, and they never budged.

Worse of all…

It once completely nuked my acid mantle and moisture barrier!

what does over exfoliated skin look like

Cringe. Just looking at that photo gives me the chills. If you didn’t know what over-exfoliation looks like. Enjoy. Can you believe I was only using it 4 times a week when that occurred?

UPDATE 5/15/2017: I also found out this product broke me out because it contains polysorbate-20, which aggravates the fungal skin sensitivities I have. If you want to read more about how to treat “fungal acne,” or adult acne that is incredibly stubborn, check out this guide I wrote that took me 3 months to finish!

Now back to our scheduled programming….

So… what I’m trying to say here is…. I don’t like this product. And the thing is, I didn’t even realize how bad it was for my skin until I tried the COSRX BHA. I shit you not, within a week of using that a closed comedone I had for months shot right out of my face! I was beginning to accept that it was just going to be part of my skin, but nope! COSRX was like, “hell nah man, I gotchu.”

As an aside, I will be doing a full review on the COSRX BHA in the future. UPDATE: Here it is.

It’s my absolute holy grail BHA product. It’s gentle (uses betaine salicylate instead of salicylic acid), contains niacinamide, and is even a bit moisturizing because the addition of hyaluronic acid. So, if you came into this review thinking of buying the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA liquid, I highly recommend you try the COSRX BHA instead.

See COSRX BHA on Amazon

UPDATE 7/4/17: If you’re looking for a true salicylic acid product (not betaine salicylate) then I recommend the good ole’ trusty stridex. My full review can be found here. It’s quite literally the only BHA I’ve tried that worked really well for me.

Many people find that the COSRX BHA is too gentle to eliminate blackheads and decongest pores. There’s also been controversy as of late, regarding it’s efficacy after a recent reformulation.

Application, Feel, and Scent.

Not gonna lie, this is yet another reason I’m not a fan of this product. It leaves you looking like an oily mess.


It has a very watery consistency, but somehow adheres to the skin just slightly which makes it hard to spread evenly across the face. And once it is spread, it just sits there! The difference between the second and third photo was literally 20 minutes! As you can see, it takes forever and a day to dry (if it ever does), and leaves you looking like an oil skillet regardless.

Did I mention it smells like dirty tires too? Well yeah, it stinks. Can’t say I’d like a cologne in Paula’s Choice BHA scent.

The Takeaway.

  • Ingredients: 3/5

Nothing out of the ordinary or groundbreaking here. Just contains salicylic acid and green tea extract, as far as the beneficial ingredients go.

  • Benefits: 3/5

Salicylic acid is supposed to have a myriad of benefits, but this product is so irritating and drying it’s hard to imagine it will do much for those with sensitive skin. If you have tough oily skin, this might be better suited for you.

  • Application: 2/5

Leaves an oily residue that adheres to the skin, and doesn’t spread easily across the face. Smells like ass.

  • Packaging: 4/5


A pump dispenser would have been nicer, but I’m already complaining too much here so I’ll give it a 4 star out of pity.

  • Value: 3/5

Getting pretty damn expensive for what you get. On the upside, if this product works for you then it will last you foreverrrr.

Overall: 3.0/5 (Not impressed. That’d be a D- in school. I use to get spanked for getting D-‘s.)

Check on Amazon
paulas choice skin perfecting 2% bha

(Symbolic photo of Paula’s Choice BHA in dead grass, because that’s how dead my skin was after using it.)

Can’t say I recommend the Paula’s Choice 2% Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliate. But hey, remember that everyone’s skin is different. Just cause it didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work wonders for you.

If you’re still on the lookout for a solid BHA product, I don’t think you can go wrong with stridex pads (see on Amazon)! These things have been around for 50+ years and have a long history of efficacy. To this day, they’re the only salicylic acid product I’ve used that worked for my skin.

Welp, that does it for this one ladies and gentlemen. Please don’t hate me for being so negative. :'( I am more than aware of the cult following Paula’s Choice has, so I’m hoping people don’t come looking for me after this review. If I suddenly go missing…. Y’all know why.



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