Monday, July 21, 2014

A bunch of Paula's Choice reviews

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
I've been very lucky during the past few months of my unemployment that I was able to keep using my regular Paula's Choice routine, even though the products are not particularly cheap. That's because lots of people signed up through my invite link, and I really, really appreciate that. As a result, I've been able to replace the things I was already using when they ran out, as well as try a few new things. In return, I figured I should at least review some of the Paula's Choice (PC hereafter) products I've used. (I'm also hoping to do a PC giveaway sometime in the future as further thanks, but that will have to wait until I can swing the shipping costs.)

This week also seems like a good time for this post, since PC has a 15% off everything + free shipping on all orders sale going on (use code EDDVIPJUL14).

I've been using a few PC products for almost a decade now. I found out about Paula Begoun via a Canadian TV show called The Shopping Bags, which was almost like a shopping/consumer review blog in TV format, before there were blogs (it's still on TV somewhere in Canada, I think).  Paula was one of their regular consultants on makeup, skin, and hair care. I even owned one of her enormous books at one point. At the time, there weren't really many other sources of the kinds of information she provides, especially in terms of evaluating the marketing claims made by cosmetics companies. Now there are more options, but I still use the ingredients dictionary on the PC website all the time, because it's really comprehensive and easy to use.

Paula herself is a bit of a polarizing figure. She can be a little dogmatic and extreme at times. For instance, she used to insist that no one, no matter who they were, should ever wear any color of eye makeup other than neutrals and maybe, if you wanted to get a little crazy, plum. No shimmer, either. I get that it was a reaction against the frosty blue eyeshadows of the 80s, but come on (she's slackened only slightly on that point since then). There's more to life than matte neutrals. Because she was one of the first to do what she does, she can come across as a bit self important, too. In one of her radio shows from this year, she complained that she's seen other people online repeating information about cosmetics that originated with her. Well, do you want to inform people, or not?

These days, I'm a little more critical about the PC proclamations. I don't like fragrance in my skin care either, and I'd rather err on the side of caution for ingredients that cause irritation, but I think the their NO FRAGRANCE EVER OH MY GOD YOU'RE GOING TO BECOME A HAG IF YOU USE SOMETHING SMELLY stance is a bit much. Give me all the scented body lotion and lip balm! I also don't rely heavily on Beautypedia's ratings of makeup, because they often hinge on one or two details that have little to do with the actual performance of the product (I'll write something more about that another day). Today, PC/Beautypedia is one of many sources of information I consult.

All that said, I have had really, really good luck with the majority of the PC brand products I've tried. I get that they are trying to sell me shit just like every other company, but I appreciate their accessibility and transparency about why they formulated things the way they did and why they think the ingredients will be effective. That's still pretty rare. It's a brand I personally like, even though it's not the cheapest. They do have a lot of sales, at least.

Below are reviews of several PC products I've used, and I've indicated roughly how long I've been using them, in case that's useful information. I didn't bother to take photos of the packages, because I didn't think that would be particularly helpful (and a little too advertorial for a post like this). So this is a text heavy post. You might want to grab a cup of coffee before you read on (or spread it out over three days because, let's face it, after writing all that I'm going to need some time off). I'm not going to go into detail about the ingredients, because you can find all of that information at the links, so I won't repeat it here.


Comparison of three Paula's Choice Moisturizers (left to right): Skin Balancing Moisture Gel, Hydralight Moisture Infusing Lotion, and Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer
Comparison of three Paula's Choice Moisturizers (left to right): Skin Balancing Moisture Gel, Hydralight Moisture Infusing Lotion, and Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer 
Skin Balancing Moisture Gel: I've been using this stuff the longest of anything from PC: at least 8 years, maybe 10. I absolutely love it. It's an ideal moisturizer for oily/combination skin like mine. It's a really light gel that soaks in quickly and leaves absolutely no greasiness or shine. It feels really refreshing. I've described it as a "drink of water for your face" to my boyfriend (though he continues to use his generic Lubriderm knockoff).

The downside of this particular moisturizer is that it burns if I apply it anywhere near my eyes. It's annoying. I can see from reviews that this doesn't happen with most people who use it, but apparently there's something in it that my eyes hate. If I want to moisturize the eye area, I have to pick something else. This gel is my usual daytime moisturizer, nevertheless. I put it on when I get out of the shower and it leaves my skin soft and gets rid of whatever tightness was caused by the heat and water.

It's not cheap ($24), but I've continued using it because I haven't been able to find a comparable gel moisturizer at a more affordable price. The only ones I'd encountered until recently were more expensive, packaged in a jar, and/or highly fragranced. I came across this Simple brand gel moisturizer a few weeks ago, though, so I might try it when I run out of the PC. (Has anyone else used it?)
Hydralight Moisture Infusing Lotion: I also really love this stuff, but I suspect it's not as unique as the gel moisturizer. If I didn't have the credits to spend, I would probably substitute something cheaper.  I've been using this for just under 6 months. My skin has only in the past year or two become dry enough to need a product like this (hooray for being 30+), so I haven't shopped around much. You can see in the photo above that it's a typical lotion formula. It's fairly thin and very light. It also absorbs quickly. It contains no fragrance, but one of the ingredients has a pleasant scent that reminds me of cucumber. (I also have an unscented Sephora brand primer that also smells like this).

This moisturizer feels amazing when you come home from a day spent in the sun or wind and your face feels a little parched. It's really soothing and nice.

Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer: I don't like this one. I bought it in late winter/early spring of this year for the first time, because my skin was extremely dried out from the harsh winter and the heat in my apartment being cranked up all the time. Even so, I find it way, way too heavy. It feels like slathering Crisco on my face, and it never really seems to absorb. It has very high ratings on the PC website, so someone must like it. Still, unless you have severely dry skin, I wouldn't recommend it, even though it is labeled for normal/dry/very dry skin.

PC has a great return policy, so I should have sent it back, but I kept thinking I would find a use for it. I get dry flaky skin around my nostrils, and I've tried it there, but it didn't seem to have much effect. It also has a mildly unpleasant smell (the less appealing side of unscented). Sometimes I use it around my eyes, and it seems fine there.

Resist Barrier Repair Moisturizer with Retinol: I've only been using this one for a few weeks. I got it because I thought that my rosehip oil might have been causing me to break out. I no longer think that, but rosehip oil is pretty heavy to use in the sweaty summer, anyway. I figured I could have a two-for-one with this, some retinol and a moisturizer. It's a pretty good moisturizer - somewhere in between the gel and the lotion above in terms of how hydrated it makes your skin feel. It's definitely not as soothing as either of those. I assume it's the retinol, but there's definitely something noticeable in there that isn't irritating, exactly, but not calming, if that makes any sense at all. On the other hand, it's perfectly comfortable around my eyes.

I've been using this about 4-5 times a week. I'm not sure I've noticed any improvement in the overall texture of my skin or in lines or whatever. What I have noticed is that the morning after I've used it, the pores on my nose are smaller and lighter and less noticeable. The description of the product doesn't even mention pores, so that's interesting. I'm going to keep using it and see if I notice any longer term results.


My advice, straight off the top: Don't buy cleansers from Paula's Choice. It's not that they're bad; they're just way too expensive. While you might choose to pay more for a moisturizer or serum that is unique and works really well for you, you can easily find an equally good cleanser at a much lower price - and you're just going to rinse it off your face, anyway. I originally tried two of the PC cleansers around 7 years ago and I wasn't blown away then. They're just fine. I bought one again a couple of months ago, because I needed some face wash and I had credits. Still fine. Still don't recommend. If you want a good, gentle face wash, try Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser. It's $10 for 12 oz. (or 83 cents per oz.) vs. the PC ones, which are $16 for 8 oz. (or $2 per oz.) for the regular size. Another good option is Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Gel Cleanser ($8 for 6 oz.). I'm a fan of Neutrogena cleansers in general. If you prefer something creamier, maybe CeraVe? I haven't tried their cleansers, but I've heard good things. The PC cleansers do go on sale regularly ($12 right now), but so do most brands you can find at a drugstore or Target.

Skin Balancing Oil Reducing Cleanser: I'll give you my thoughts on this one, anyway, since I'm currently using it. (I've also used the Hydralight Cleanser in the past, but not recently enough to give a detailed description.) The Skin Balancing cleanser has a creamy texture that lathers on your face. It is very gentle and so you can use it to wash your eyelids as well (a step that I never used to do, because I was worried about getting soap in my eyes, but that I've recently realized is important). It cleans your face and doesn't leave it feeling stripped or dried up. It's fine. It does the job.

Exfoliants, Serums, and Misc.

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant: This is another one that I've been using for years. It claims to do all sort of miraculous things like help with wrinkles and enlarged pores and blah blah blah. Honestly, I've never really noticed any major improvement in lines or skin texture from using it (though maybe it's preventing things from getting worse?). What it definitely does help with is cutting down on enflamed, clogged pores/acne. I definitely have less angry skin in general when I'm using this stuff. (The identical product is also sold as an acne treatment.)

This is a thin, runny liquid. I use a cotton pad to apply it to my face, because if I dribble it directly into my hands, it ends up running down to my elbows when I try to spread it on my face. It leaves a slightly tacky, slippery residue that I don't love, so I prefer to put moisturizer on top of it. Once I do that, it feels fine. I use it once a day. For a more thorough review with a lot of additional information, check out this one from Skin and Tonics.

Be sure not to use this stuff if you are allergic to aspirin, or you could have a very bad reaction. The nice thing about PC is that they sell samples of just about everything for cheap, so it's definitely worth testing things before you buy a full size. Or just return it if it doesn't go well.

Resist Retinol Serum: I used this for about a month a little over a year ago. I didn't notice any improvement in my skin. I don't know what else to say, really. Again, maybe it would have had some long term/preventative effects, but that kind of thing is hard to gamble on, especially when something is pricey.

Resist C15 Super Booster: I only had a mini/sample size of this stuff, but it lasted a couple of months because you use just a few drops at a time. Again, I'm not really sure I noticed any improvement in my skin while I was using it, but I feel like things might be getting worse in terms of texture and inflammation now that I've finished it. I'd like to try it again to see what happens, but the mini is out of stock and has been for a while now. I'm not willing to shell out $45 for the full size just to play with it. Plus it's a huge bottle, and I don't think I'd be able to get through it all in the 3 months they recommend before the vitamin C destabilizes.

It's a liquid serum in a dropper bottle, but it's not particularly nice to use on its own. They recommend mixing a few drops into another product. I mixed it with the Hydralight Moisturizer, and that seemed to go on well. The weirdest thing about this stuff is that it smells like ham. Seriously.

Resist Ultra Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum: I have only been using this stuff for a couple of weeks, so I haven't reached a final verdict yet, but I can tell you what I know. I don't have any complaints, but I haven't woken up with a radiant, 16-year-old's face, either. It's a moisturizing enough serum that I can use it without an additional moisturizer, at least at this time of year when my skin isn't dry. One thing to note is that this is a teeny 1 oz. tube for $30, so unless it does something really impressive, I won't be buying it again. Even though you only have to use a few drops at a time, that's too fancy for me. (UPDATE: I actually ended up loving this and buying it again. And again. Reviewed here.)

Clinical Advanced Redness Relief: I actually have the previous version of this product. The new version is supposed to be better, but the old one works quite well, so the new one is presumably great. My bottle has lasted forever. It helps calm down the redness after you pluck your eyebrows, for example. I also mix it with body lotion and put it on my legs and armpits after I shave. It pretty much completely eliminates razor burn and ingrown hairs. Good stuff.

Brighten Up Teeth Whitener: This looks like a waxy lip balm that you rub on your teeth, leave for a few minutes, and then rinse. I prefer this to any other teeth whitening method I've tried. It does work, at least for the stains on my teeth which are caused by tea and coffee. It's not dramatic, but if you use this and then brush your teeth, you will notice a difference. It doesn't taste gross, just mildly minty. I'm on my second or third tube now.

Okay, I think that's everything I've tried, other than tiny samples that I didn't use enough to form an opinion about. Oh, and my beloved discontinued sunscreen (which I've since replaced). If you're looking for something to try, I think the best options are the Moisture Gel, 2% BHA Liquid, Redness Relief, and Teeth Whitener. Skip the cleansers. If there's any other information I can add, let me know.

New customers can still get a $10 credit by using my link (I get one too). You can also get an extra 5% back from Ebates.

ETA: I forgot to include this Paula's Choice sunscreen, which I tried out and then returned.


  1. Have you tried the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel? It's the same price as the Skin Balancing Moisture Gel, but it's 4 oz instead 2. It's got a similar "drink of water" feel to it.

    1. I used to us that a few years ago. I remember it being heavier than this gel, but I think I have a sample foil around here somewhere, so maybe I should try it again. I think it's missing some of the nice ingredients of the PC moisturizer (which is something I didn't really talk about here), but if I'm going to use serums and such anyway, that might not matter. Thanks!

  2. Hey, since the Skin Balancing Moisture Gel burns around your eyes, could I recommend the Alba oil-free green tea & aloe moisturizer?? It fits your description of the Moisture Gel perfectly - "It's a really light gel that soaks in quickly and leaves absolutely no greasiness or shine. It feels really refreshing" - minus the burning around the eyes part. It's currently available on Amazon in a 2-pack for $21. You can also get it at Whole Foods for $18 a pop.
    Also digging the Arrested Development gif, and now I want that Clinical Instant Calm stuff.

    1. I will look into that! Thanks! Sounds nice. The anti-redness liquid stuff is definitely useful.

  3. Oh Paula's Choice, you hurt my wallet. I really like the 2% BHA liquid (been meaning to review it) and the Skin Revealing AHA Body Lotion ... the latter is pretty expensive for what it is though ($27/7oz).

    1. Yes! Just read your review. :) I haven't tried any of the body products, but I have a few sample packs of the body BHA that I've been meaning to try. I'm not sure that I pay close enough to my body skin (uh or whatever I should call it) that I would notice a difference. Maybe on my chest where I break out sometimes.

  4. Hi! Long-time lurker, first-time commenter. I have that Simple gel moisturizer and I like it a lot. My skin is pretty oily but also has a couple of persistent flaky patches, and the Simple helps alleviate those while also not oversaturating the rest of my face. I've used it under my eyes with no problems. The only downside is it smells a little bit like plastic, but that fades pretty fast. Hope that's helpful :)

    1. Thank you! That's very helpful to know. I've generally had good luck with the Simple brand stuff I've used in the past, so I'm pretty excited about this moisturizer gel. Need to finish what I have before I buy anything new!

  5. Interesting reviews. I was curios about Paula's Choice products since I read some of her books. And I agree that she can be a bit too much sometimes. So far I tried 2% BHA Liquid and some make up. I really liked the exofoliant. I feel that it does make a difference for my skin even though I took a while to see that. Make up is just ok, with a possible exception of Resist Anti-Aging Foundation. but I only had a sample of that, so it's hard to make a definitive judgement.
    Now I'm really curios about that Gel Moisturizer. Gel moisturizers in general are not easy to find. I'm currently using Proactiv Green Tea moisturizer and Proactiv is a pain to deal with.

  6. You should try Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel in replacement of Skin Balancing Moisture Gel! I've never tried the Skin Balancing Moisture Gel, but the Neutrogena Gel sounds very similar to what you explained. It's around 16 dollars for 1.7 oz, which is alot cheaper than 28 dollars for 2 oz.

    1. Hey, thanks! I actually just posted a review of a cheaper gel moisturizer I found (it's the newest post here). I think maybe I was avoiding that Neutrogena one because it came in a jar? Or maybe I am confusing it with the Garnier gel moisturizer. I will look into it. I appreciate the recommendation!


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