Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a cult-favorite among many. Read on to learn what we think of this product in our extensive review of this popular exfoliant.

Key Takeaways

  • Potent chemical exfoliant containing salicylic acid
  • Suitable for those with oily, acne-prone skin with clogged pores
  • Helps with grade 1 acne with mainly comedones

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ExfoliantCult favorite

Chemical Exfoliator for Pores and Breakouts

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

This cult-favorite exfoliant contains salicylic acid, which gently unclogs pores and minimizes their appearance, while also reducing wrinkles and evening out the skin tone.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Exfoliating, Unclogging Pores, and Minimizing Breakouts
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing and drying your face, soak a cotton pad with the liquid and gently apply it all over, starting with the cheeks and forehead. Be careful around the mouth and eyes.
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This product is effective but gentle on the skin, which is why it is one of Paula's Choice's best sellers. The 2% concentration of salicylic acid helps shed excess skin cells and decongests pores to fight acne and blackheads and promote a more even skin tone.


  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Non-greasy


  • May irritate more sensitive skin types

This product also contains green tea, which soothes irritation and provides anti-aging benefits. It is also known for having anti-acne properties.

Chemical exfoliation is a way of speeding up the process of shedding off the superficial layers of the skin, causing the skin to 'turn over' faster. This basically results in rejuvenated skin as the dry, dull top layers are shed off.

Alpha (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are the two main types of chemical exfoliators. Of these, the BHA salicylic acid has an added benefit of being 'lipophilic' which means it loves all things oil.

It dissolves the sebum in pores, clearing them up. Pores which are clear of sebum look smaller and less prominent.

Product Overview

The Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant has been a cult-favorite of many skin care enthusiasts, with its potent formula containing a 2% concentration of salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is a standard BHA chemical exfoliator, and is a part of many clinic-based acne peels as well.

It also helps with acne, trichostasis spinulosa, ingrown beard hair and dyspigmentation.


The Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant claims to gently unclog pores and minimize their appearance, smooth wrinkles and even out the skin tone.

The main active ingredient is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). It hastens the natural exfoliation process of skin, helping it shed the superficial layers (which make it look dull, dry and congested). It also unclogs and clears up pores.

Key Ingredients

1. Salicylic Acid (2%)

Salicylic acid acts in various ways:

  • It exfoliates the surface skin by dissolving the bonds between skin cells (we call it a keratolytic, where 'kerato-' means skin and 'lytic' means to break down)
  • It is also a comedolytic, as it goes deep into the pores and dissolves sebum and dead skin cells, thus 'dissolving' comedones (which are nothing but blackheads and whiteheads).
  • Additionally, it is a potent anti-inflammatory agent, bringing down the inflammation associated with acne.
  • It can also be used for other follicular conditions like pseudofolliculitis (ingrown beard hair) and trichostasis spinulosa (sebaceous filaments).

2. Green Tea Extract

  • Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract is added for its anti-acne benefits.
  • It helps soothe the inflammation.
  • It has antioxidant properties.

How to Use

  • After cleansing and drying your face, soak a cotton pad with the liquid and gently apply it all over, starting with the cheeks and forehead.
  • Be careful around the mouth and eyes.
  • Apply it on dry skin as damp skin increases penetration of the ingredients and thus increases irritation.

When to Apply

Although the company website mentions that it can be used twice a day, it is better to use it once at night only.

Several studies have shown that salicylic acid has photoprotective properties, so it could be used during the day. However, since the product itself is to be used once a day only, opt for night-time application.

Avoid using retinols or retinoids or other chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid on the same night that you're using any salicylic-acid based exfoliants.

If you are prone to barrier dysfunction, restrict yourself to twice weekly usage.

Other Tips

1. Use sunscreen

Even though salicylic acid has been shown to have photoprotective properties, the process of exfoliation itself makes the skin sun-sensitive.

While using any kind of acids like AHAs and even PHAs, it is important to use sunscreen, as exfoliated skin is more sensitive to sunlight. So, using sunscreen is a no-brainer.

2. Do not over-exfoliate

Excessive chemical exfoliation can and will eventually strip your skin's natural barrier.

So, watch for signs of redness, itching, flaking and dryness and adjust the usage of the exfoliant accordingly.

3. Moisturize liberally

Chemical exfoliation does tend to make the skin dry. Although this formulation is gentle, it can still dry your skin out.

So, at night, layer on a moisturizer containing ceramides, glycerin and other ingredients to give the skin some much-needed nourishment.

4. Watch for purging

Please give your skin time to adjust to chemical exfoliation.

You may initially expect a worsening in the acne due to the effect of 'purging'.

This means that as the skin exfoliates, the sub-surface whiteheads and blackheads will move to the surface and cause inflammation. This is temporary and settles in 2-3 weeks.

What to Expect

It takes at least 4 weeks of consistent use for skin changes to slowly start becoming visible. Give it 12-16 weeks to see the best results.

Within the first week, the skin will look less greasy and clogged. As the weeks pass, the skin will look fresher and the texture will also be more even. Blemishes will decrease.

Do not use several different acids at the same time. This can result in barrier dysfunction and a paradoxical increase in oil production, making your skin dehydrated.


How do you use Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant?

After cleansing and drying your face, soak a cotton pad with the liquid and gently apply it all over, starting with the cheeks and forehead. Be careful around the mouth and eyes.

Can I use Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant every day?

Yes, you can use this product every day. However, if you notice any irritation, or are prone to skin barrier dysfunction, it is best to reduce your usage.

Can I use niacinamide with Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant?

You can use niacinamide along with the 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. Paula’s Choice recommends starting with the liquid exfoliant, and then following with a few drops of a niacinamide product, such as the Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster.

What should you not use BHA with?

You should not use any BHA product at the same time as a retinol, as it will likely cause irritation, redness, and sensitivity. Additionally, you should be very cautious about combining BHA products with other liquid exfoliants, as this can cause irritation and barrier dysfunction. It is best to use one chemical exfoliator at a time.

The Bottom Line

Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a great choice when it comes to oily, congested skin with large pores and a tendency towards acne. It also works well for combination skin.

It is a good way to start exfoliating gently. Use it correctly, and the product can do wonders.