Editor’s note: We’ve updated this ode to reflect that the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2021 is offering an exclusive 8 oz. version of the Paula’s Choice exfoliant below for $20 off its retail value (which is nearly the same price as the standard 4 oz. version). In other words, a great deal.
My skin and I often find ourselves in a bit of a predicament. It’s both acne-prone and sensitive, which makes treating either issue a challenge. I need thick moisturizing creams to calm down the sensitivity, but those products often make me break out. And treating those breakouts with harsh, drying acne treatments usually just isn’t an option.
Using a creamy, low-concentration retinol serum for a few months has been a real breakthrough in keeping my skin mostly clear. But I still find myself getting the occasional hormonal breakout along my chin and jawline, now made up of extremely stubborn closed comedones. They appear in small clusters and don’t seem to want to leave for weeks—sometimes months—on end.
These types of pimples, SELF explained previously, are flesh-colored little bumps that aren’t inflamed (yet) and don’t have a poppable head, even though they are colloquially called “whiteheads.” A closed comedone forms when the pore gets clogged with excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cells. Thick, occlusive moisturizers and oil-based products can also contribute to that. The pore is covered with a thin layer of skin cells, which gives closed comedones their characteristic fleshy look.
I was beginning to lose hope that these clusters of little bumps would ever leave my face, so I decided it was time to finally try something new, the cult-favorite Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($39, originally $59). In addition to the 2% salicylic acid, this liquid leave-on exfoliant has a refreshingly short list of ingredients, including moisturizing butylene glycol and calming green tea extract. But knowing how my sensitive skin reacts to acids, I was still nervous to use it.
I started by using it just a few times a week in the morning, letting retinol be my main active in the evenings. Initially I tried to use the liquid on a reusable cotton round, but I felt like too much of it got absorbed into the round and not enough got on my face. So, since then, I’ve been applying it directly to my face with my (freshly washed!) hands.
From the first use, I was struck by the product’s texture, which, I’m sorry, is hard to explain. It’s a liquid, but it’s not watery. It feels moisturizing without being oily. My skin feels softer and glows immediately after using the product. At first I noticed a slight tingle as it absorbed into my skin, but now my skin has adjusted and it absorbs without any irritation. I usually follow it with some gentle azelaic acid on my cheek area where I get rosacea and my favorite SPF 30 moisturizer.
I’ve been using the Paula’s Choice BHA exfoliant about four times a week for almost a month now, and I’ve seen a noticeable improvement in my skin’s texture—including gradually whittling down those pesky closed comedones. I haven’t been using it long enough to know whether or not it can also help prevent new acne on my face, but right now I’m optimistic.