Paula's Choice Exfoliant Review: Best Natural Exfoliator?

Paula's Choice Exfoliant Review: Best Natural Exfoliator?

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Paula’s Choice Exfoliant is one of the most popular facial exfoliators on the market. The brand describes it as their “most popular product worldwide” and claims that it “sheds built-up layers of skin.”

But does Paula’s Choice Exfoliant contain research-backed ingredients for exfoliating skin and improving skin quality, or are these just marketing claims? Does the product contain any questionable additive ingredients? What retailer sells it for the best price? And how do real users rate and describe the effects of Paula’s Choice Exfoliant?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze the ingredients in Paula’s Choice Exfoliant based on medical studies to give our take on whether the product is likely to be effective or if it’s a waste of money.

We’ll also feature a video demonstrating how it’s meant to be used, document which retailer sells it for the best price and share real, unsponsored user reviews of Paula’s Choice Exfoliant.

Ingredient Analysis

Paula's Choice Exfoliant ingredients

The ingredients in Paula’s Choice Exfoliant are shown above.

Salicylic acid, also known as BHA, is the most important ingredient for its exfoliating properties. A medical review on salicylic acid published in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology journal explains that this ingredient has been used to treat skin disorders for over 2,000 years, and that it’s an effective exfoliator.

Camellia oleifera, also known as tea tree oil, can be effective in the treatment of acne as we documented in our Amarose reviews article.

Sodium hydroxide is another effective exfoliator according to a 2013 medical review.

The remaining ingredients in this formulation are fillers, emulsifiers and other inactive ingredients which should all be non-toxic in our opinion, based on a review of clinical studies.

We consider Paula’s Choice Exfoliant to be likely effective based on its active ingredients, and we would recommend this product due to the lack of questionable additive ingredients.

But how do real users review the product? We’ll review in the next section.

Real, Unsponsored User Reviews of Paula’s Choice Exfoliant

A YouTube creator named Lavinia Rusanda used Paula’s Choice Exfoliant for two weeks in an attempt to treat her acne and scarring, and shares before-and-after images:

Another YouTube creator named Oluchi Onuigbo has a video demonstrating how to use this exfoliator with over 200,000 views:

Where to Buy Paula’s Choice Exfoliant for the Best Price

Paula’s Choice Exfoliant is sold at a variety of online retailers. Here’s a pricing breakdown accurate at the time of publishing this article:

Brand website: $34 (plus $5.50 shipping, link)

Dermstore: $34 (plus $7 shipping, link)

Sephora: $34 (free shipping, link)

Amazon: $34 (free shipping depending on plan – link to official Amazon listing)

This product is currently 14% cheaper on Amazon than on the brand’s website depending on Amazon plan.

Dermatologist Reviews Paula’s Choice Exfoliant

A dermatologist named Dr. Jenny Liu has a video reviewing Paula’s Choice Exfoliant:

Will This Product Cause Side Effects?

Paula’s Choice Exfoliant doesn’t appear to have been studied in any clinical trials published in peer-reviewed journals, so we can’t say for certain whether or not it’s likely to cause side effects. However, we can make an educated guess based on its ingredients and category of product.

According to a 2014 medical review, one rare side effect of salicylic acid use on skin is systemic toxicity. This is highly unlikely in healthy adults, but it may be worth speaking to a dermatologist about for immune-compromised individuals.

The medical review cited in the ingredient analysis section documented more common side effects of salicylic acid use. Dryness was reported 32.3% of the time and “intense exfoliation and crusting” was reported around 15% of the time. However, this cleared in 7-10 days.

We do not believe that Paula’s Choice Exfoliant is likely to cause side effects in the majority of users; it’s a safe and non-toxic formulation. But individuals with very sensitive skin or immune system issues may benefit from speaking with a dermatologist before use.

What is Exfoliation?

A YouTube video from a dermatologist named Dr. Shereene Idriss explains what exfoliation is and why she considers chemical exfoliation to be a better option than physical exfoliation:

Real Customers Review Paula’s Choice Exfoliant

Amazon is a better resource for honest customer reviews than a brand’s website in our opinion. Paula’s Choice Exfoliant has been reviewed over 81,000 times on Amazon with an average review rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named “Sarah H.” who claims that it cured their hormonal acne:

“I cannot believe how quickly this exfoliator cleared up and soothed my angry, persistent hormonal chin acne, I am absolutely floored!...My skin hated everything…I wish so badly I would have found it sooner! The horrific breakout on my chin that I had been battling for 5 months, is now COMPLETELY cleared in just 6 DAYS of using it morning and night! I just look in the mirror every morning seeing more improvement, and I’m floored….If you’re suffering from hormonal acne, regular acne, tough stubborn acne, I would absolutely 1 million percent recommend trying this product.”

The top negative review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named “G.K” who claims it caused minor side effects:

“Also, I know this part is probably just a me-thing but holy jeesh this stuff made my skin burn and itch. I tried using it once a week, three times a week, once a day, it didn't matter - my skin despises Paula's Choice. Honestly, don't waste the time and money.”

Paula’s Choice has a rating of 2.11 out of 5 stars on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website, and the brand does not currently respond to customer complaints. This suggests that consumers may benefit from purchasing the product on Amazon which handles customer complaints itself.

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    HYDRAGLOW by CLEARSTEM is our top moisturizer pick.

    It features bakuchiol as an active ingredient which was described in a 2014 clinical trial as "clinically proven to have anti-aging effects." 

    Bulletproof Collagen Powder is our top skin supplement.

    Collagen supplementation was shown in a medical review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology to reduce visible signs of skin aging as well as improve skin elasticity and skin hydration.

    All of the products recommended in this section are entirely free of ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.

    Paula’s Choice Exfoliant Pros and Cons

    Here are the pros and cons of Paula’s Choice Exfoliant in our opinion:


    • Effective formulation
    • No harmful ingredients
    • Favorable customer reviews


    • Brand doesn’t try to resolve customer complaints on BBB
    • Exfoliating ingredient may be harsh on sensitive skin
    Stay up-to-date on our research reviews


    We consider Paula’s Choice Exfoliant to be a high-quality product and recommend it. It’s one of the few skincare products we’ve reviewed on Illuminate Health that has no questionable or unhealthy additive ingredients.

    This product contains salicylic acid which is an exfoliating ingredient with some of the strongest research backing, and tea tree oil which can help reduce acne.

    Most customer and expert reviews of this product are favorable.

    For consumers interested in purchasing this product, it may be beneficial to do so on Amazon for two reasons. First, it can be cheaper when considering shipping charges. Second, it may make any customer complaints or order-related issues easier to resolve, because Paula’s Choice does not appear to respond to public customer complaints on the BBB website.