The Skin Perfecting Liquid You Need On Your Shelf

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Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid

It’s taken me four years to get around to writing this post. I often think that it’s the products you use the most – the unglamorous workhorses – that never get enough attention, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t give this one its own post. Because the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting Liquid is definitely a hard-worker and it’s a multi-tasker to boot; whether you put up with the occasional hormonal breakout, suffer from adult acne or simply want a gentle, non-abrasive way to exfoliate, this BHA liquid does it all. Brightening, de-clogging, soothing and clarifying, it’s simple, effective and doesn’t cost the earth. Everyone I’ve recommended it to in my personal life, without exception, has seen great results which leads me to make the uncharacteristically bold statement: you need this on your bathroom shelf.

People often ask me to suggest good skincare products that contain salicylic acid and the Paula’s Choice range of BHA liquids are the ones that immediately come to mind every time. Mainly because they’re really quite uncomplicated – a massive whack of salicylic acid, some bits and bobs to hydrate or make the acid work harder and a formula that you just wipe on and leave. So whether you have redness, sensitivity or you’re constantly battling sore, bumpy breakouts, it’s just a very simple solution.

Because salicylic acid has quite the reputation when it comes to keeping skin clear in a relatively soothing, gentle way – not only is it an excellent exfoliant, helping to slough away dead cells to leave skin brighter and smoother, it’s anti-inflammatory, which means that it can have a calming influence on angsty, sore skin. It’s also effective at getting right into the pores to remove excess oil and give them a de-clogging session – something that alpha-hydroxy acids (your glycolics and lactics and mandelics) can’t do.

The soothing properties make salicylic acid great for more sensitive skin, those with rosacea and anyone suffering with painful, stubborn spots. I particularly like it for the pre-period week, because it feels less harsh than using products with glycolic or lactic acid but at the same time seems to keep spots (as well as dullness) at bay.

Paula’s Choice has quite a big range of BHA products – there are lotions, gels, sprays and liquids, all with different strengths and (very slightly) different formulas targeted at lots of different skin concerns. It’s a clever range, because despite the general function of the product being more or less the same there’s something specific for nearly everyone – those with blackheads, those with stubborn spots, those with spots and advanced signs of ageing – the list goes on. There’s a 1% BHA lotion for very sensitive skin or those with rosacea, there’s a 2% Extra Strength Liquid for stubborn acne. There’s a BHA Gel, a body spray, a 2% Lotion and then – this is the one I’ve probably tested out the most – the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid*.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid

The Skin Perfecting Liquid is, apparently, the bestseller; perfect for blemish prone skin, hormonal breakouts and skin with an uneven tone, it’s also great if you simply want a brightening exfoliant that’s gentle and calming. If you don’t get on with AHA products, perhaps finding them too strong for you, then this may just be your bag. Salicylic acid works differently to AHAs because it’s oil soluble, so it gets right into the pores rather than just exfoliating on the surface – it still has a brightening effect, but it’s possibly the pore de-clogging benefits you’ll notice more. (On that note, if you have drier skin and no blemish problems, or sensitivity problems, I’d opt for AHAs over BHAs. Try the First Aid Beauty pads, Liquid Gold, Skinceuticals Glycolic 10* or the L’Oreal Peel Pads*.)

To use the BHA Liquids, just wipe on with cotton wool after cleansing. (Or pour a little into your palm and pat it on, which is what my sister-in-law likes to do because it’s always such a waste of product letting it soak into the cotton wool pad!) You can follow the 2% BHA Liquid with a serum and moisturiser, or just a moisturiser if that’s usually enough for you. (I like to use something light but hydrating; try Toleriane if you’re not into spending zillions, Elemental Emulsion from Omorovicza if you’re feeling incredibly spendy, new Indeed Labs Hydraluron Lotion* if you’re partway to spendy, Sunday Riley Tidal Cream if you’re very spendy but not at Omorovicza level.)

So that’s the beauty of the BHA Liquid – just wipe (or pat) it on and you’re good to go with the rest of your routine. It doesn’t disturb anything else, it doesn’t require any special measures or considerations and the bottle of liquid lasts for ages. Years, if it’s just your pre-period skin fix. The one thing I would say is that too much of anything can have its adverse effects, so if you do start to see any flakiness or feel any tightness or dryness, cut back and adopt a slightly less enthusiastic usage regime.

I’ve put together a couple of little skincare routines for hormonal weeks or for if you’re suffering with adult acne (I had it for a relatively brief but depressing period a few years ago and made extensive notes!) so I’ll get those typed up as soon as I can. They’re very basic – it’s just product combinations that work well for me – but for now I can tell you that salicylic acid features prominently, so if you want a head start then the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid will slot in very nicely.

It’s £26 for a large bottle at Lookfantastic* or Amazon* and you can get a trial bottle at Lookfantastic here* for £8.

Extra reading, should you fancy it:

Treating spots during pregnancy…

Skincare products for hormonal skin…

Treatment masks for sensitive skin…


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  1. Adella
    October 12, 2018 / 8:15 am

    I second this hold grail for me I LOVE this stuff
    If I’m feeling a little breakout coming (and I agree period week is the one!) I just put a little in my hand and dan on the spots that need some TLC at night
    Next day smoothed over redness gone and spots reduced or even vanished
    Great review ❤️

  2. September 10, 2018 / 6:09 pm

    This sounds great!

  3. Emma
    September 9, 2018 / 8:37 am

    I couldn’t agree more! It’s an unsung hero. Not at all glamourous but most definitely works. Has really improved my hard to treat acne AND eczema prone skin – and I had been on failed prescription medication beforehand. Thanks for giving this product some love!

    • September 9, 2018 / 3:05 pm

      Thanks Emma, always good to hear backup anecdotal material! : )

  4. Yvonne
    September 8, 2018 / 12:43 pm

    I’m frantically trying to find out if Sunday Riley is reformulating it’s Good Genes and replacing Lactic for glycolic. I heard this devastating rumor a few days ago and need to know if I should break the bank and begin stockpiling it straight away.
    I love PC bha 2% and “upgraded” to Good Genes this year. I tolerate lactic fairly well. Any PC lactic acid treatment recommendations would be appreciated.
    Thank you so much!

    • September 9, 2018 / 3:06 pm

      Noted, will keep my eyes peeled. x

    • Monica
      September 9, 2018 / 6:57 pm

      The only PC product with lactic acid is Resist Anti-Aging 10% AHA Exfoliant.

  5. Eloise
    September 8, 2018 / 9:37 am

    Great post. I have recently started using this, but am wondering if this is the best one for me. I suffer from blackheads and the occasional breakout. Do you think this is the best one from the BHA range for that?

    • September 9, 2018 / 3:06 pm

      Yes, I’d say so. If you had very stubborn or more severe breakouts then I’d say the extra strength.. x

  6. September 8, 2018 / 8:14 am

    I rely on the version by The Ordinary to keep my hormonal breakouts at bay and only add in some ahas when my skin is looking extremely dull. The PC range was on my list of things to try, but I picked up the TO version earlier and now I am reluctant to spend more money…

    Anne – Linda, Libra, Loca

  7. Heather
    September 7, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    Thank you for recommending this, Ruth! You raved about it a little while ago (maybe on InstaStories?) and I went ahead and purchased a small bottle from Amazon. It arrived on Tuesday, and after only TWO DAYS (maybe 3 applications?) of use, my chin – which was painful, angry, and poised for a major breakout – has completely calmed down. I don’t expect I will be without this product ever again!

    • September 9, 2018 / 3:07 pm

      Oh excellent! So glad it works for you xx

  8. Rachel
    September 7, 2018 / 4:50 pm

    Perfect timing for me! Jawline spots all over the place this month :( I’m currently using Effaclar Duo + but I think I need something with a bit more oomph!

    Can you use it with retinol? I tend to separate my AHA and retinol use because I feel like they both should go on bare skin, but I don’t know if my logic is based on actual reasons.

    • September 7, 2018 / 5:16 pm

      Yes, works well before retinol. Though I don’t tend to use it before AHAs, I’ll separate them out and do them on different nights! x

      • Rachel
        September 7, 2018 / 8:54 pm

        Thanks Ruth !

    • Trudy
      September 8, 2018 / 3:05 am

      I use this Skin Perfecting Liquid in the morning, and retinol at night. Works well for me, and I think I’ve read that retinol makes your skin more sun sensitive, so it’s best used at night anyway.

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