Today I’m reviewing and comparing 2 BHA exfoliants:
• CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
• Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
I’ve been a long time devoted customer of Paula’s Choice – I just checked my account, my first order from her was in 2011! My favourite products from her are the chemical exfoliants – they just work and are well-priced. So what prompted me to try something else?
I guess I would chalk it up to curiosity and increased availability of alternatives. CosRX has been making a name for itself for effective yet affordable skincare so I had to give them a whirl.
First, a brief background what BHA exfoliants are about and how I use them: BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid. The primary ingredient for BHA is salicylic acid. It is a chemical exfoliant that is oil soluble and penetrates deep into pores to clear out sebum, dead skin and dirt. In order to be effective, BHA must have a pH between 3 and 4. BHA exfoliants are typically most suitable for oily skin types – some BHA formulations can be drying on the skin. My skin is combination with oilier t-zone and dehydrated skin on my cheeks and under eye area. I’m most blemish-prone on my chin area. I have sensitivity to a variety of ingredients and my skin doesn’t tolerate harsh physical exfoliation, but I usually tolerate chemical exfoliants quite well. I typically use BHA only at night, applying right after I’ve washed and toned my skin – then I wait about 15 minutes before applying other face products like serums and face moisturizer.
Here are my thoughts and comparison of the 2 BHA exfoliants.
CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
I bought this a few months ago based on rave reviews online. I’ve used BHA on and off over the years and lately I’ve been needing to use it nightly especially on my t-zone to combat blemishes. I thought I knew what I was doing until I started using CosRX…
The product has a scent which I can’t identify (like white glue?) but isn’t offensive to me. It has the consistency between water and an essence – I find the best way to apply onto my face is directly with my fingers rather than onto a cotton pad.
First night’s initial application: I used 3 pumps and spread all over face. Within the hour, my face turned red and felt hot to the touch and was slightly throbbing. 😮 My cheeks remained pink and warm for the next 24 hours! But, my skin felt very smooth. The next night I applied the liquid only to my t-zone where it tolerated it much better but my skin was still turning quite red on the areas where I had applied the product (the SO to me: “what did you DO do your face? It’s so red!” 😳 )
By the third night I reduced down to just 2 pumps spread very thinly on my forehead and nose, and more concentrated on my chin where I’m most oily and blemish-prone. My skin continued to look smooth and my active blemishes on my chin were reduced. In addition, my skin also started to slough off and peel.
I should note that I did not use any other exfoliants – chemical or physical – during my first two week trial with CosRX. Finally, after a couple of weeks of using this, I used my Up&Up Exfoliating Cotton Rounds (review here) and sloughed off a whole layer of skin, primarily from my chin and nose area. My skin felt incredibly smooth and the pores were so clear! Now I’ve been using this for over a month every night and my skin has mostly acclimated to it – no more bright red skin or burning sensation. But I only ever use this on my t-zone.
CosRX contains 4% Betaine Salicylate, which is the first time I’ve been this ingredient used as a BHA rather than Salicylic Acid. It is a natural BHA (made from sugar beets) and claims to be more effective than Salicylic Acid. I’ve read mixed thoughts on this – that Betaine Salicylate is more gentle and weaker than Salicylic Acid – so it might be why CosRX has bumped the concentration up to 4%. The Blackhead Power Liquid concoction also contains niacinamide* (brightening) and sodium hyaluronate (aka hyaluronic acid, for hydration – presumably to combat the drying effects typical of BHA).
Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Butylene Glycol, Betaine Salicylate, Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Arginine, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol.
* Note that since this contains niacinamide, it’s not advised to be use with vitamin C products. The combination of the 2 negates the effects of each ingredient (although, I have read that with modern formulations it’s not an issue – I don’t know who to believe!)
Overall, I do like this BHA product, BUT it’s not a miracle worker to prevent blemishes. I still get blemishes but I do find that my skin clears up more quickly. Where I find this product to excel is to keep my pores looking clearer especially around my nose area. So if you’re not experiencing active blemishes but want to keep your pores clear, this product is ideal for that purpose.
This retails for $21 USD (approx $28.80 CAD) for 100ml and I purchased it on sale for $15.75 from Jolse.com
• No sticky residue
• Absorbs quickly
• Pump bottle
• Correct pH level
• Also contains niacinamide and hyaluronic acid for additional benefits
• Inexpensive / affordable
• Has an odour
• May be irritating to those with sensitive skin
• Note readily available (must be ordered online)
Stash worthiness: 8/10
Bottom line: caution using this if your skin is sensitive!
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Paula’s Choice offers the BHA in 3 different delivery modes: liquid, gel or lotion as well as different concentrations ranging from 1% to 9%. I’ve only tried the liquid and gel and I prefer the liquid since I found the gel to leave a sticky residue. The liquid version does still leave a shiny finish but it’s not an issue for me since I only use BHA exfoliants at night time.
The formula is watery and the best way to apply it is using a cotton pad. I used to apply this with my fingers but I found that I was able to achieve a more even application using a cotton pad. This BHA product has no odour that I can detect. Unlike the CoxRX, I’m able to use this all over my face including my cheeks without any issues. In fact, I never experienced any burning sensation with this product even when I used it initially some years ago. I do like that I am able to use this on my cheeks where I sometimes experience the random clogged pore. I’ve never had peeling or dramatic sloughing off of my skin using the Paula’s Choice – just a steady gentle exfoliating effect.
This product works well for me to keep my skin smooth and clear but again, it’s not a miracle worker in preventing blemishes altogether. The main gripes I have of this product are that since I need to apply this using a cotton pad, I do waste a bit of product. And, without a pump, it`s more challenging to control the amount of product I use each time. Also, the price keeps increasing and it now costs $29 USD (approx $39.80 CAD) for a 118ml bottle. Recently there was a massive sale on this item, knocking the price down to $19 USD (approx $26 CAD). Now, if this was the regular price, I’d be 100% on board with it!
Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ingredient list:
Water (Aqua), Methylpropanediol (hydration), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Polysorbate 20 (stabilizer), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (green tea/skin calming/antioxidant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH balancer), Tetrasodium EDTA (stabilizer).
I must say, I always like how Paula’s Choice lists the ingredients with explanation of what each ingredient is for.
Lately I have been purchasing the CLEAR Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid in place of the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (shown here in my February Trash Stash) because it’s $2 cheaper and I find they work the same. In fact, I think the CLEAR product feels even better on my skin since it includes glycerin and hyaluronic acid for more hydration. I’m thinking I’ll try the Paula’s Choice BHA lotion one of these days to see if I like that delivery method better. You can read more on Paula’s Choice site on choosing the right BHA for you.
• Gentle / non-irritating
• Correct pH level
• Available in various concentrations and formats
• More expensive
• No pump on bottle
• Not readily available (only online)
Stash worthiness: 8/10
Bottom line: great starter BHA without any frills.
I’ve rated both equally, and I can’t definitively recommend one over the other! Going head to head, CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid against Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant:
• Effective in keeping pores clear
• Correct pH level of 3 – 4
• Do not prevent blemishes entirely
• Can only be purchased online
• CosRX has a pump bottle while PC is just an opening (+ CosRX)
• PC is odourless while CosRX has a smell (+ PC)
• CosRX is less expensive (+ CoxRX)
• PC can be used all over my face without irritation (+ PC)
• CosRX looks / feels better on the skin (+ CosRX)
• PC is offered in various formats and BHA strengths (+ PC)
• CosRX is made in Korea whereas PC is made is US (neutral)
• 4% Betaine Salicylate vs 2% Salicylic Acid – I’m not sure if these 2 ingredients’ concentrations can be compared directly so it’s a draw
Another limiting aspect of the CosRX for me is that it contains niacinamide which prevents me from using my vitamin C serum at the same time. I guess for some people, the inclusion of the niacinamide is a bonus, but for me, I wished the product just focused on the BHA without any bells and whistles. Which brings me to: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution:
It’s a basic formula and I’m planning on trying it next. It costs $4.90 CAD which seems inexpensive until I saw that it’s for only a 15ml bottle. To compare to other 2 BHA exfoliants:
And, keep in mind that both CosRX and PC do regularly go on sale, whereas The Ordinary does not. CosRX is still the cheapest option at regular price. 🙂 Stay tuned…
Are you a fan of BHA exfoliants? What do you use? Have you tried either the Paula’s Choice or the CosRX?