Any person “in the know” about skincare has at least a couple of Paula’s Choice products sitting on their shelf, or at least they did at some point. This brand and its iconic founder Paula Begoun were at the forefront of the shift towards skincare truly backed by science.
Reasonably priced, gentle, and full of truly beneficial active ingredients – the Paula’s Choice skincare ethos speaks to my very soul. There are a few other major benefits to Paula’s Choice products, like the fact that they’re all cruelty-free and that they never contain likely irritants like fragrances or essential oils.
The brand has gone through some changes over the years, and its range of products has grown exponentially, so it’s not always easy to tell which products to choose. We’ve cut through the noise to select the best Paula’s Choice products, along with clear explanations of how they work and for whom they’d be best. We then give a brief history of Paula Begoun and Paula’s Choice skincare, along with some thoughts about what makes this brand amazing as well as musings about a few of its drawbacks.
In this article:
Best Paula’s Choice Products Overview
- Best BHA Treatment: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
- Best Cleanser for Oily Skin: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser
- Best Cleanser for Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice RESIST Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser
- Best Gel Moisturizer for Oily Skin: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Invisible Finish Moisture Gel
- Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost Hydrating Treatment Cream
- Best Tinted Sunscreen: Paula’s Choice RESIST Super-Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30
- Best Toner: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner
- Best for Aging Skin: Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
- Best AHA Treatment: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant
- Best Vitamin C Treatment: Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster
- Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Paula’s Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide
- Best Acne Treatment for Sensitive Skin: Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
- Best Serum: Paula’s Choice CALM Redness Relief Repairing Serum
- Best for Body Acne: Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA
- Best Anti-Aging Body Treatment: Paula’s Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment
Our Picks for the Best Paula’s Choice Products
These are the best Paula’s Choice products that you should try for every skin type and concern, from cult-favorite treatments to routine basics to sunscreen and body care.
When this product was first released, finding a salicylic acid toner that wasn’t primarily made up of alcohol was a very difficult endeavor. The idea that those with oily or acne-prone skin needed gentle products to effectively treat their acne was revolutionary at the time, even though nowadays it’s well understood.
This was one of the first major anti-acne products made with soothing and hydrating ingredients like green tea extract and butylene glycol to mitigate the drying effects of exfoliating salicylic acid. Many brands have released similar products since, and while many are comparable, none has surpassed this wonderful toner. Get it from Nordstrom, Amazon or Paula’s Choice!
This is one of the best Paula’s Choice cleansers, and it’s a fantastic choice for those with oily or combination skin. It was introduced at a time when most cleansers on the market were very harsh, and it stood out as a very balanced option. It has a cream-to-foam formulation that cleanses the skin of oils and impurities without drying it out. Nowadays, this is true for a lot of cleansers, but this one is still a winner. Buy it directly from Paula’s Choice, Nordstrom or Amazon!
There are a lot of fantastic cleansers from Paula’s Choice in general, but especially for dry skin. From all of the options, we settled on this one. It’s a gentle lotion cleanser that removes all makeup thoroughly, with a very slight foaming effect. It’s made with glycerin and hyaluronic acid to keep the skin hydrated while it’s cleansed, and it rinses away clean to prepare the skin for strong anti-aging ingredients. You can shop for it on Amazon, Nordstrom or Paula’s Choice.
Matte yet moisturizing, this is the perfect hydrating gel for those with oily skin and excess shine. It’s made with pore-blurring and mattifying cyclopentasiloxane, which is responsible for the fantastic texture. The rest of the ingredients are hydrating, soothing, and pore-minimizing, which is exactly what those with oily skin need in a moisturizer. Glycerin, niacinamide, oat extract, and green tea extract are just a few wonderful ingredients that stand out to us. It’s available directly from Paula’s Choice, Amazon and Nordstrom.
If you have dry skin, this is the Paula’s Choice product to try. It’s a deeply nourishing moisturizer made with some lovely emollient ingredients, including jojoba oil and moisture-locking petrolatum. It also includes plenty of antioxidants and skin soothing-agents, making it a great choice for warding off the early signs of aging as well as for calming sensitive skin. It leaves the skin dewy and soft. Order it from Amazon, Nordstrom or Paula’s Choice!
This is one of the best tinted sunscreen formulas out there. This sunscreen is zinc-based, which means it’s fantastic even for extremely sensitive skin, and it is tinted to prevent the dreaded white cast. It’s nearly weightless on the skin with a long-lasting matte-finish, which makes it ideal for oily, combination, and normal skin. We’re just waiting for it to arrive in a few other shades, since the tint only works for light to medium skin tones. It’s available directly from Paula’s Choice, Nordstrom and Amazon.
Even Paula will tell you that a toner is not a mandatory skincare product, but when it’s this nice, how can you not want to use it? This liquid acts as a simple antioxidant and hydrating step that also helps to minimize the pores in the long term. It includes moisture-binding butylene glycol, a respectable amount of firming niacinamide, ceramides for added skin protection, and lots of antioxidant plant extracts. Shop for it on Paula’s Choice website, Nordstrom or Amazon!
Our love for retinol knows no bounds. Besides sunscreen, it’s considered the best anti-aging skincare ingredient available without a prescription. It improves skin texture and promotes skin cell reproduction to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It can also help fade acne marks and minimize the look of pores. Unsurprisingly, this Paula’s Choice product is formulated with soothing agents like licorice and oat extract that minimize retinol’s potential to irritate the skin. It’s a great choice for all skin types. Purchase it from Amazon, Nordstrom or Paula’s Choice!
It’s hard to go wrong with a Paula’s Choice chemical exfoliant, and while the BHA might be the major bestseller, this AHA gel is just as good. Made with 8% glycolic acid, this gel thoroughly resurfaces the skin, and it’s gentle enough for near-daily use. It has a hydrating texture, with skin-soothing chamomile and hydrating hyaluronic acid. It’s a fine fit for all skin types, but it’s especially great for dry and normal skin. You can pick it up from Amazon, Nordstrom or Paula’s Choice.
Vitamin C is the gold standard ingredient for skin brightening, though it is also a potent antioxidant that promotes collagen regeneration in the skin. It’s a great addition to any skincare routine, especially in this one-size-fits-all formulation. This booster is very stable thanks to the addition of ferulic acid, and it’s very lightweight, so it sinks into the skin quickly, leaving no residue. You can find it on Amazon, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice.
Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most well-researched anti-acne medications, so it’s natural that Paula’s Choice would offer it in their anti-acne line. The problem with benzoyl peroxide is that it can often dry out and irritate the skin, which reduces its anti-acne action, but here, it’s made with hydrating propylene glycol and soothing bisabolol, which keep the formula gentle to reduce irritation. It’s one of the best Paula’s Choice products out there for acne-prone skin, so get it from Amazon, Dermstore or Paula’s Choice.
Those whose skin is acne-prone but too sensitive to tolerate benzoyl peroxide should consider azelaic acid instead. This ingredient targets active breakouts, but it also has a soothing action that is especially effective at reducing redness. The Ordinary was the first brand to get attention for releasing an azelaic acid cosmetic, but we think this booster stands out from it due to the addition of exfoliating salicylic acid to the blend. It’s a little stronger, which makes us prefer it for sensitive, acne-prone skin. Buy it directly from Paula’s Choice, Nordstrom or Amazon!
With the exception of some of the stronger actives, nearly all Paula’s Choice products are great for sensitive skin. However, this serum goes above and beyond, helping to directly soothe irritation and calm redness. The formula is simple, with a lot of hydrating agents as well as skin-identical ceramides and fatty acids. Licorice and sea whip extract are just two of the many other soothing agents included here. It’s available through Paula’s Choice, Amazon and Dermstore.
The face is not the only part of the body that benefits from BHA. If you have keratosis pilaris or body acne, this lotion is a must-have. This salicylic acid body treatment has the texture of a light lotion, so it moisturizes but doesn’t leave a greasy residue on the skin. The ingredients in it help to slough away dead skin cells and to clear clogged pores, leaving the skin clear and smooth. Order it from Amazon, Nordstrom or Paula’s Choice!
This is another one of our favorite body treatments. It’s an anti-aging retinol cream made for the body. It’s made with 0.1% retinol, so it’s quite gentle but still effective at renewing the skin. Use it to smooth out skin texture. It has a creamy and moisturizing consistency that’s perfect for dry skin. Pick it up from Paula’s Choice, Nordstrom or Amazon!
The Paula’s Choice Brand Philosophy
Paula Begoun, the founder of Paula’s Choice, is an extremely influential figure in the science-backed beauty sphere. She called herself The Cosmetics Cop, and her website, Beautypedia, had a major influence on me back when I first started learning about beauty in 2009. I credit her with a lot of my early knowledge about what makes skincare products effective.
She started out as a makeup artist and esthetician, and she popularized the attitude that skincare needs to be made with research-backed ingredients. In 1992 she published the book “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me,” an encyclopedia of real skincare and makeup information that allowed readers to distinguish between misleading marketing claims and true ingredient benefits.
It’s because of her that I started obsessively reading and analyzing the tiny ingredient lists printed on the back of skincare products. She taught me not to be afraid of ingredients just because their names are long and complicated, and for that, I give her a lot of respect.
She founded Paula’s Choice in 1995 to offer skincare that was formulated with the principles she believed in. This meant products that were made with science-backed ingredients at high enough concentration to have an impact, no unnecessary fillers or potential irritants (fragrances and essential oils, especially), and at a reasonable price point. Notably, Paula’s Choice was one of the first brands to ever offer chemical exfoliants formulated at the right level of acidity and without additional irritants or dehydrating quantities of alcohol.
In a world where companies like to instill brand loyalty by scaring customers out of having mixed routines, Paula’s Choice (via Beautypedia) stood out as the only brand that will also recommend products from other companies as long as they are formulated in a way that fits with their standards.
Some of Begoun’s strongly-held beliefs about skincare might be a little overly stringent, so while I do still read Beautypedia reviews now and then, I also know that denatured alcohol isn’t as bad as she says and that for my skin, fragrances are usually fine. However, for those with sensitive skin and fragrance allergies, the Paula’s Choice is a safe and easy choice.
Paula’s Choice Nowadays
In 2016, Paula’s Choice was sold to a larger firm, and Begoun stepped away from the company’s day-to-day operations. Under the leadership of the new CEO, Tara Poseley, many of the staple Paula’s Choice products still remain the same, but many more products were released. One controversial choice was to release an eye cream, when Begoun had been saying for years that a moisturizer was more than enough for the eye area.
While the decision to expand the product line seems to have been commercially successful, it does seem like there are a lot of redundancies. No brand needs to carry 16 different cleansing products, for example, and I don’t like the addition of beauty supplements to the product line. While the brand still has a wonderfully educational blog that explains how to build a skincare routine, I can still imagine how difficult it is for newcomers to navigate through so many products.
Photos via Paula’s Choice