Ethical Beauty Review: Paula’s Choice

For my first ethical beauty company review, I had to pick Paula’s Choice! Paula Begoun and I go way back. Long before the internet became a useful source of product reviews, Begoun’s Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me was my beauty bible. She did a great job of piercing the veil of hype surrounding each product and discussing the performance and benefits of various cosmetics and skincare products. (Since that time, I’ve discovered the reviewers at Makeup Alley and I never buy a product without checking the site to see what consumers like me think of it. The seeds of this blog are really born in my product review profile at MUA.) In the 90s, Begoun started developing her own skincare line. Every product in her line is formulated using ingredients that are proven to be safe and gentle and that have excellent research supporting their claims. I started using Paula’s Choice skincare products just over a year ago because I was frustrated by the hyper pigmentation on my face which is a side effect of the hormones I take to treat my endometriosis and the improvement in my skin’s texture and appearance is extraordinary. I used to have to wear full-coverage foundation AND concealer to hide the brown spots. (They really stood out since I am otherwise very very pale.) Now, I can wear tinted moisturizer and sometimes even go without makeup and still I get compliments on my skin! I sent a friend who suffers from cystic acne Paula’s Choice’s acne starter kit and she reported that it has done more for her skin than the expensive department store products and prescription drugs that she was using. These products are just really well-formulated. One of the things I love about Paula’s Choice is that there is a lot of diversity in the product options. Instead of just offering one or two retinol products, she offers several, each with a slightly different product base, so you can find exactly the right formula for you skin. Another wonderful thing is that you can buy samples of every product on the site. This enables you to try all those retinol formulas until you find the one you like the best. The samples are not only great for trying out new products, they are also FANTASTIC for traveling! Since the samples come in sealed packets you don’t have to worry about anything getting confiscated and you can just take exactly how much you need for your trip. There are some duds in the line, just as there are in every line, but they are few and far between. And if you do happen to end up with a dud, Paula’s Choice products are 100% guaranteed so you can return them even if you’ve used half the bottle!

Top tip: every month Paula’s Choice has some kind of sale on their website. So I always wait until the product I use is on sale before I stock up! In the last year I don’t think I’ve paid full price once for a PC product. Right now it’s 15% off everything on the site so it’s a great time to try the brand! Also, if you use this link when ordering, you’ll get $10 off your first order!

Below is a list of the products I’ve used and a short review of them:

AHA & BHA Exfoliants

One of the best tools for keeping your skin in its best condition is gentle daily exfoliation. Paula’s Choice doesn’t make any manual exfoliants (other than their lip scrub) because chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs tend to be more gentle for daily use. Because AHAs and BHAs are acids, in order for them to work properly, the product formulations must have the right pH. Strangely enough, quite a lot of products that advertise themselves as containing AHAs or BHAs have an incorrect pH which nullifies the exfoliating properties of the product. The basic difference between AHAs and BHAs is that AHAs make your skin better at retaining moisture and BHAs help clear pores for those prone to blackheads. For that reason, Paula’s Choice’s AHA formulations are designed for normal to dry skin types whereas her BHA formulas are designed for normal to oily. Some notes on using chemical exfoliants: be careful when you’re layering different products as they can interfere with one another. I usually wait 10-20 minutes after applying an AHA or BHA before putting on another product so that the pH of the second product doesn’t negate the exfoliant benefits.

  • RESIST Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA This product is great to use as an exfoliating toner after washing your face. Even though my skin is dry, I did not find it drying.
  • RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment 5% AHA This is my favorite of Paula’s Choice exfoliant products because my skin gets painfully dry in the winter. Although I’ve strayed and tried the other exfoliant products in her line, this is the one I keep coming back to. For those of you with normal to dry (rather than dry to very dry) skin, this could be all your need for a moisturizer. I put this all over my face, neck, décolleté and on my hands leaving my nose alone for the BHA 9 treatment below.
  • RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment 10% AHA This product is formulated to give a deeper exfoliant effect. I use it in place of the 5% AHA treatment above one day a week.
  • RESIST BHA 9 Treatment Even though I have super dry skin, I still get blackheads on my nose. I use this treatment nightly just on my nose and I’ve noticed a huge difference in the appearance of my blackheads. (Update: I’ve noticed my skin has started peeling so I’m not using this every night anymore. I’ve switched to using the 2% BHA above just on my nose.) I also use this as a spot treatment for any pimples I get – it really speeds up the healing process! The nice thing about this gel is that unlike most acne products it doesn’t dry out my skin. The only downside is the pump – it almost always squirts out too much product for my needs.
  • RESIST Dark Spot Eraser 2% BHA This is a hydroquinone product designed to reduce dark spots and it is one of the few duds I mentioned before. I really dislike this product. Since it is formulated for oily or acne prone skin, it comes in a gel, rather than a lotion. You are supposed to dab (NOT RUB) a small amount of this product on your dark spots. The only problem is the runny formula squirts out a huge glob of product which means that I always end up putting too much and because of that, the product balls up on my skin. (If you have a problem with any product balling up, it’s because of your application technique – you must dab those products and only use a small amount to cover the area you’re treating.)
  • RESIST Dark Spot Erase 7% AHA As much as I hate the product above, I LOVE this one! I have tried almost every hydroquinone product on the market and this one is not only more effective, it’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than, say, Murad’s hyper pigmentation treatment. It’s an AHA lotion rather than a BHA gel so the formula is much more forgiving to work with. This product was sold out for months this last year so now I stockpile it!

Anti-Aging Boosters

  • RESIST C15 Super Booster This dropper bottle of vitamin C is fantastic. I add 3 drops of it into my antioxidant serum to supercharge it. It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way.
  • RESIST Moisture Renewal Oil Booster If you love a product, but occasionally need it to be a little more moisturizing, three drops of this product will give you just the boost you need. If you’re sensitive to retinol products, 3 drops of this can make retinol more tolerable for your skin. If you prefer oils to creams, you can also use this as a moisturizer on its own.

Antioxidant Products:

  • RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum This is one of the antioxidant serums formulated for dry or mature skin. It’s made with a silicone base so it feels oily but it’s non-comedogenic. The rich silicone base gives my face a beautiful, radiant glow however my skin is VERY dry, especially in the winter. If your skin is combination or oily this is NOT the serum for you!
  • RESIST Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum If you have combination or oily skin, this is the serum for you. It’s got a gel texture rather than an “oily” texture and is formulated with hyaluronic acid to give the face a radiant glow without the (for oily skinned types) greasy finish of the Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum.
  • Skin Recovery Antioxidant with Retinol I’ve used almost all the retinol products in the Paula’s Choice line and ultimately have decided that the right formula for me is layering this under my sunscreen in the morning and using the moisture rich retinol cream at night. If you don’t want to layer a lot of products, this is a great “does it all” with the two best anti-aging ingredients (after sunscreen) – antioxidants and retinol.

Retinol Treatments

  • Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment This is the most powerful retinol treatment in the Paula’s Choice line. If you have a tendency to be sensitive to retinol, they recommend that you mix a few drops of the Oil Booster into the product before applying it. You should also start by only applying it twice a week. Once it’s clear that your skin has adjusted to it, then you can up to 3 times a week, then every other day, then every day. If you have any reactions, then step back the frequency of application. This product was a great instance of why I love Paula’s Choice’s generous return policy. My skin is fairly sensitive and I found that I just did not tolerate this well, not even with the oil booster. However, your results may vary!
  • RESIST Retinol Serum Until Paula’s Choice released the Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment above, this was the product with the most retinol in the line. I was able to use this product every day with no problems. I really like the product itself. However, I’ve had a lot of problems with the pump mechanism breaking and it got really annoying having to return partially full bottles so instead of using this as a night treatment, I use lighter retinol treatments twice a day.
  • RESIST Intensive Repair Cream If it were legal, my very dry skin would marry this cream. My skin loves this product soooo much. I use this as a night cream (I layer the antioxidant retinol above under my sunscreen for day). Even in the depths of winter this cream comforts my skin and when I wake up in the morning, my skin has a gorgeous glow!
  • RESIST Retinol Body Treatment The skin on our face isn’t the only skin that ages – the skin on our body needs exfoliation and retinol (contrary to popular belief, retinol is NOT an exfoliant) to keep it firm and supple. I use this product about twice a week. I smooth it on to my wet skin after a shower and then blot with a towel. (If you have problems with dry skin, the best way to maximize your moisturizer is to apply to wet skin BEFORE you towel dry. It should feel yucky and slimy. That’s when you know you’re going to get the maximum effect of your moisturizer. This trick works for *any* moisturizer.) Since I’ve started using this product my skin is ridiculously soft and smooth – even my elbows made it through this winter without getting chapped!


  • RESIST Hydrating Cleanser So far, this is the only cleanser I’ve tried in the line. It never ever dries my skin out and it does a really good job of removing makeup (although I usually use the oil cleansing method with coconut oil to remove makeup, this’ll do when I’m feeling lazy).
  • Lip Exfoliant Ugh, another dud. This product is supposed to be more gentle than sugar scrubs for removing dry flaky skin from lips. Unfortunately, that means that it really doesn’t do much for me. Also, it is formulated with micro beads which are polluting the great lakes.
  • RESIST 25% Vitamin C Spot Treatment My preciousssssss. Along with the Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA this is my holy grail dark spot treatment. I apply both morning and night and my dark spots are practically invisible. This product is a dry cream (I suspect she added cornstarch to the formula to give it a matte texture) that you dab onto dark spots. Just a little bit is all you need, which is good because this stuff is HELLA pricey (although WAY more affordable than any luxury brand product with bogus beauty claims).
  • Suncare Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 When I was in high school I started developing sun rashes and ever since then I’ve been religious about applying sunscreen every day to any skin part that isn’t covered by clothes. Even in winter in Chicago. Whenever this sunscreen goes on sale, I stock up because it’s such a great product. It doesn’t leave my skin greasy yet it’s easy to rub on so it doesn’t leave a weird white cast on my skin. And it has never, ever irritated my sensitive skin.

That’s it for my Paula’s Choice reviews! In the coming months as I try other products in the line, I will write reviews for them. Thanks for reading!

NOTE: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). Paula’s Choice is one of the few companies that makes the effort to be certified as cruelty-free by all the different organizations that assess a company’s animal testing policy. Their cruelty-free status has been verified by the Leaping Bunny, PETA and my favorite blogger Logical Harmony.


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