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Review: Paula’s Choice vs. COSRX BHA

Finally! It took me more than a whopping whole year, but two weeks ago or so I finally used up Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant. Not that I wanted to end it with the gel ASAP. In fact, I’ve come to rely on it so much I did not dare to ditch it before it was empty. But I was eager to finally try the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, too. Now that I have, let’s compare the two products

BHA exfoliant

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant vs. COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

Why BHA?

As I wrote before here, BHA products are a must-have for oily, acne-prone skin and against clogged pores. It’s a lipophilic chemical exfoliant that sloughs off dead skin cells but can dissolve oil-based matter, such as sebum, as well. In short, it rejuvenates your complexion and unclogs pores. I have been using BHA for more than a year and my skin’s never been clearer!

BHA, which is short for Beta-Hydroxy Acid, has antibacterial properties, so when you have spots it effectively works on them two-fold. First, by killing off the acne bacteria responsible for inflammation of the spot, and second, by eliminating the clogging inside of the pore which attracted the inflammation in the first place. BHA is therefore ideal as a spot treatment, but works nicely as preventative all over treatment, too.

I began using BHA back in April, mainly to unclog my many whiteheads and combat occasional acne breakouts. For a time, I even used it every day. However, this caused my skin to break out in small, white, pus-filled pustules due to over-exfoliation. I toned down my BHA use to twice a week ever since. But I still use BHA more often at times when my pores are clogged more than usual.

Product properties

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant is a water-based formula that exfoliates both the skin’s surface and inside the pore, reshaping the pore lining to unclog pores and improve skin cell turnover rate. This creates a dramatic improvement in the skin’s appearance, feel, and function especially for blemish-prone skin. There is a great deal of research indicating that BHA (beta hydroxy acid) increases collagen production and drastically smooths the surface of skin. Additionally, BHA has anti-bacterial properties that attack blemish-causing bacteria.

pH = 3.2-3.8

Natural BHA component (Betaine Salicylate 4%) removes dead skin cells and blackheads accumulated in pores. Forms moisturizing layer.

‘Trouble and blackheads don’t look for any particular skin types.’

BHA Blackhead Power Liquid gets rid of dead skin cell and blackhead within the pores and prevents oxidized sebum from turning into blackheads.
BHA Blackhead Power Liquid has mixed a natural BHA ingredient, Betaine Salicylate, at 4%, and you can witness your skin get smoother and glossy as time goes by, as well as it light texture.

pH = 4.0 (±0.5)

Ingredients: Water, Methylpropanediol, Butylene Glycol, (solvent/water-binding agent), Polysorbate 20 (emulsifier), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Phytosphingosine (cell-communicating ingredient), Hydroxyethylcellulose (gel-based thickener), Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract (antioxidant), Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract (antioxidant) Epilobium Angustifolium (Willow Herb) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract (anti-irritant), Bisabolol (anti-irritant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH-adjusting agent), Tetrasodium EDTA (chelating agent). Ingredients: Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Butylene Glycol, Betaine Salicylate Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Arginine, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol.
Texture and smell: Transparent gel with slightly chemical smell. Texture and smell: Transparent, viscous liquid with barely any smell.
About 30 €/100 ml About 14 €/100 ml

Product description and ingredients lists taken from the websites.

Similarities and differences at a first glance

The products both claim to exfoliate the skin’s surface as well as insides of clogged pores, and to improve the skin’s texture and appearance in this way. Both products are also water-based gels and transparent.

While the Paula’s Choice BHA product is formulated with a number of additional soothing agents and antioxidants, COSRX contains far fewer additional ingredients. But both ingredients are really nice and non-irritating. Sodium Hyaluronate as another humectant besides Butylene Glycol, however, already suggests COSRX will be slightly more hydrating than Paula’s Choice.

The difference in pH meanwhile can give a subtle hint about irritancy levels. Being slightly more acidic, Paula’s Choice is possibly a littler harsher on sensitive skin types while COSRX should feel quite mild.

The biggest difference between the two products is the main active ingredients they contain. Paula’s Choice uses 2 % BHA. However, that same ingredient is heavily regulated in South Korea. COSRX, which is from South Korea, therefore sidesteps this problem by using 4 % Betaine Salicylate, a commonly used alternative to BHA. 4 % is widely thought to be the equivalent to 2 % BHA in terms of effectiveness. You can read more about Betaine Salicylate here.

Last but not least, 100 ml COSRX is about half the price of 100 ml Paula’s Choice.

Now, shall we move on to performance?

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant

The Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant is a viscous, transparent gel product in an opaque pump bottle. The smell of the gel is slightly chemical and sharp, but I think I’ve gotten so used to it I barely take notice. I use about one and a half pumps for the whole face on two evenings a week.

The gel is easy to spread and sinks in quickly. It leaves my skin feeling tight at the beginning, but not terribly so. Sometimes I follow up with moisturizer after I’ve waited for at least twenty minutes. More often than not I just forget, though. But since my skin is normal and not particularly sensitive, it fortunately balances out its own hydration level over time and will feel normal and unproblematic again within an hour or so. During winter, I am more diligent.

The Paula’s Choice BHA gel took a few days to yield results. But after a week or so, the improvements were obvious: my skin visibly cleared up and felt smoother. Whiteheads disappeared and breakouts, even the mean, cystic kind, died down faster. I turned to the gel whenever I felt a spot coming, and it reliably took care of the matter. Honestly, I was impressed! From that moment on, my skin only got better and better. Now, I barely break out any more and although I still have small whiteheads, they are definitely more rare and less prominent.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant turned my oily, acne-prone skin clear and blemish-free, and later also proved apt at prevention. Just to have such an effective weapon against zits also put my mind at complete ease. And what’s more, my skin turned more even and smooth over time, too. For all this, I cannot praise the gel enough!

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

So basically, the main job on my skin – clearing up and diminishing acne – was already done when the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid got to take over. So in contrast to the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant, it only needed to maintain, not achieve, the clarity of my skin. Therefore a direct comparison between the two products is maybe a little unfair. However, I will attempt one nonetheless.

The COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid is a transparent, slightly viscous liquid, or a runny gel if you want. It barely smells, and I need two pumps of the liquid for my whole face. The product is not sticky and sinks in fast. It leaves my skin feel normal, with which I mean the liquid is neither drying nor moisturizing. I would therefore say that on my normal skin, it is hydrating just so. And like with the Paula’s Choice gel, I sometimes follow up with a moisturizer afterwards, sometimes not. It does not leave my skin for the worse when I forget to occasionally in any case.

Whether it’s strong enough to clear up heavily congested skin and acne I can’t tell. But it’s definitely splendid at maintaining the clarity of my skin and diminishing whiteheads. There was some heavier clogging at one side of my face, for example, that would have certainly inflamed at some point if left untreated. But one night with the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, and things already noticeably calmed down. I still have a few small and barely noticeable whiteheads along my forehead, upper cheeks and chin. But those I’ve had with the Paula’s Choice gel, too. I’ve no idea how to eliminate even the last one of those. Since I think I’m maybe one of the few persons in the world who ever notices them, however, I don’t fret about them much.

I really like the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid as it is gentle and non-drying on my normal skin, and above all does keep my overall well-behaved skin clear from clogging.


It’s unfair to directly compare the two products given the fact they had to deal with my skin under severely different circumstances: congested and acne-prone skin then, normal and well-behaved skin now. But what I will say is this: If you are looking for something that reliably clears up your acne-prone problem skin, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant is a safe and effective choice. But once you have your skin under control (here are a few tips on how to achieve this), it’s only fair game to switch to the milder and less expensive COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which will make sure you maintain your skin’s clarity.

Bottomline: Unless I break out again horribly – and I really hope I will not – I will continue using the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. But if worst comes to worst, I know where to turn!

Have you tried either of the two, and if so, how did you like them? Share in the comments!



  1. Michelle says

    how do you use this with missha’s time revolution first essence? or do you just use the missha on days u dont use bha? thanks :)


    • Yes, exactly! On days I exfoliate, BHA is the only thing I use after cleansing. I use essence only in my regular routine.


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