Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel Review: A Beautiful Exfoliant

by | Last updated Apr 18, 2020 | 17 comments

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Now that I’ve utterly roasted the Paula’s Choice BHA, let me try and redeem myself in the eyes of the PC fanatics by reviewing one of their products I do enjoy very much: the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

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Hopefully this will stop some of those hardcore fans from hunting me down after my last review (sorry). Let’s waste no time and get right into it!

Ingredients and Benefits.

The full ingredient list.

Paula's Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant ingredients

Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Chamomilla Recutita Matricaria Flower Extract (chamomile/skin-soothing), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (hydration), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (green tea/antioxidant/skin-soothing), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin replenishing), Panthenol (hydration), Sodium PCA (skin replenishing), Propylene Glycol (hydration/penetration enhancer), Butylene Glycol (hydration/penetration enhancer), Hydroxyethylcellulose (texture-enhancing), Polyquaternium-10 (texture-enhancing), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Sodium Benzoate (preservative).

  • Glycolic Acid (AHA)

A naturally occurring alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), commonly derived from sugar cane found in fruit juices (for example, orange and grape. (1) Among the other AHAs (lactic, mandelic, acetic etc.) it has the lowest molecular weight, meaning it penetrates the skin the easiest, which also makes it’s potential for irritancy a bit higher. (2)

A way to counteract this irritation is by formulating glycolic acid into a gel vehicle, which studies have shown slows the penetration. (3) So kudos to Paula’s Choice here for making this a gel rather than liquid. If you recall my article on how to get rid of acne, it’s important we reduce irritation whenever possible, so this would be a great AHA to use if you’re struggling with breakouts.

What does glycolic acid do for the skin?

Glycollic acid exfoliates the surface of skin and increases cell turnover rate. Unlike salicylic acid (BHA) it’s water-soluble, meaning it isn’t as effective at unclogging pores and decongesting closed comedones. Doesn’t mean it won’t work! It’s just simply less effective than BHA in doing so.

Glycolic Acids most notable benefits include a reduction in wrinkles, upregulating collagen production, and increasing the hyaluronic acid content in skin. (456789) It also improves skin texture, smooths roughness, provides hydration, and lightens skin. (10111213)

As far as acne is concerned, it’s been shown to reduce pore size, unclogged pores, treat whiteheads, inflamed lesions, and reduce acne scarring. (141516171819) And when I say “acne scarring,” I mean both hyperpigmentation (PIH) and atrophic scarring — that is, the actual indentations in the skin (e.g. boxcar or icepick scars) leftover from previous acne.

  • Chamomilla Recutita Matricaria Flower Extract

Or more simply, chamomile. A plant extract with antioxidant activity and powerful skin-soothing benefits. (202122)

  • Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice

The thing you gotta slather on after a terrible sunburn from a long day at the beach. Just kidding, I know you’re being diligent about using daily sunscreen so that doesn’t apply to you. Right? RIGHT? RIGHT!?!?!?

Aloe vera is a naturally occurring ingredient that’s been used as a skin treatment for over 3,500 years. It has lightening, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties. (23, 24252627)

A few studies have also shown it’s an effective treatment for psoriasis. (27282930) When I was dealing with psoriasis personally, it helped a little bit. In case you don’t know what that looks like — enjoy. (Yes, it’s painful.)

psoriasis aloe vera

  • Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract

In other words, green tea extract. It’s a great natural antioxidant that smooths skin, reduces roughness, provides photoprotection, treats warts, controls oil production, and provides anti-aging benefits. (3132333435363738)

  • Sodium Hyaluronate

A very powerful humectant that can hold up to one thousand times it’s water weight. (3940) Studies have shown it significantly speeds up wound healing, and hydrates the skin by binding water from the dermis and atmosphere. (41424344) The boost in moisture it provides often gives the skin a plumping effect that reduces the appearance of shallow wrinkling and scarring.

  • Panthenol

A provitamin of b5 that has humectant-like abilities and hydrates the skin by preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). (4546) It promotes keratinocyte differentiation, and may help treat burn wounds and dermatitis. (47, 48, 49)

Note: this product is suitable for those that have malassezia induced pityrosporum folliculitis or seborrheic dermatitis.

Application, Smell, and Scent.

As you can see, a little goes a long way. It feels like slimy water, and spreads across the skin really easily.


It’s hard to see from the third photo, but it leaves the skin slightly shiny. The only unfavorable thing about the application is that it does dry a bit sticky. Nothing too bothersome if you’re going to only apply it at night, which you should considering AHAs increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Can’t say I’m fan of the scent. Like the Paula’s Choice BHA, this one smells like butts too. On second thought, I’m probably not in the best position to complain about scents, considering I have said elsewhere on this site that I’d prefer to smell like cat piss if it meant the products I’m using aren’t irritating. I digress…

Kudos to Paula’s Choice for taking the fragrance-free route here.

How to Use Paula’s Choice AHA Gel.

Because this is a pH dependent product it’s important to use it in the right step of your routine. It goes on after cleanser, but before moisturizer. Here’s an example skincare routine considering many steps. Depending on what you’re using personally, some of this stuff won’t apply so adjust it accordingly.

  1. OCM (oil cleansing method), or oil cleanser.
  2. Gentle pH-balanced cleanser (5.5 or below)
  3. Low pH serums or toners. Wait approximately 25 minutes.
  4. Salicylic Acid (BHA). Wait approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Use Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant here. Wait approximately 25 minutes.
  6. Retinoids (e.g. tretinoin)
  7. Spot treatments like or creams like Benzoyl Peroxide or Azelaic Acid.
  8. Moisturizer.
  9. Occlusive (e.g. Vaseline, CeraVe Healing Ointment, Aquaphor etc.)

The Takeaway.

  • Ingredients: 5/5

Solid glycolic acid (AHA) product formulated into a gel to reduce irritation, with additional kickass ingredients like chamomile, aloe vera juice, green tea extract, sodium hyaluronate, and panthenol.

  • Benefits: 5/5

Exfoliates and brightens the skin, increases cell turnover rate, provides hydration, improves the appearance of shallow wrinkles and acne scarring, and reduces hyperpigmentation.

  • Application: 4/5

A little goes a long way, it spreads very easily, and feels soothing on the skin. Only giving it a 4 star because it does dry a bit tacky.

  • Packaging: 5/5

Fantastic packaging. It comes in bottle with an airtight lid and pump dispenser.

  • Value: 5/5

Very decently priced considering the impressive formula and how long it will last you.

Overall: 4.8 (Highly Recommend!)

paula's choice 8% aha gel

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Indeed, you might have expected I disliked Paula’s Choice after reading my very critical review of their BHA exfoliant, but the Paula’s Choice AHA Gel is a very solid product and a holy grail of mine.

My extremely sensitive acne-prone skin is able to use it 3 times a week without experiencing any irritation whatsoever. I might even be able to get away with using it 4 or 5 times weekly, but I’m playing it safe for now. Better safe than sorry!

Welp, that does it for this review. Hope you’ve enjoyed it!



Tell your friends about this holy grail glycolic acid gel! (That alliteration though.)