If you’re looking for a product to help exfoliate, even skin tone, and fight the signs of aging, you’ll want to work an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a chemical exfoliator, into your skincare routine. Here is our review of one of the most popular chemical exfoliator products on the market: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant.

Key takeways:

  • Chemical exfoliant containing glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid
  • Suitable for those with oily, acne-prone skin and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Excellent choice for more mature and sun-damaged skin

Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Chemical Exfoliator for Smooth, Even Toned Skin

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

This gel exfoliant contains glycolic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA), a chemical exfoliator that sheds dead skin cells to reveal smooth, even, and younger looking skin.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Exfoliating, Anti-Aging, and Evening Skin Tone
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing and drying the skin, apply a dime-sized amount all over the face, starting with the cheeks and forehead.
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AHAs like glycolic acid are commonly used to reduce the signs of aging and even out the skin tone. This gel exfoliant contains an effective 8% concentration of glycolic acid, along with other soothing ingredients.


  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight


  • May irritate more sensitive skin

In addition to the glycolic acid, this exfoliator contains soothing and hydrating ingredients, including chamomile, aloe, and green tea.

Chemical exfoliation is a way of speeding up the process of shedding of the superficial layers of the skin, causing the skin to 'turn over' faster. This 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 exfoliants. Examples of AHAs are glycolic acid, mandelic acid and lactic acid.

Glycolic acid is the most well-researched of the AHAs. It helps with skin concerns like uneven skin tone and dullness of the skin, as well as fine lines and wrinkles.

Product Overview

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant is a potent leave-on chemical exfoliating formula with 8% glycolic acid.

It also contains botanical extracts which are intended to combat the irritation from the glycolic acid. These extracts are also antioxidant in nature. Antioxidants help fight sun damage and other stressors (such as pollution and dust), thus helping with skin rejuvenation and pigmentation.


The Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant claims to remove built-up layers of dead skin to reveal smoother, firmer-looking skin. It is supposed to revitalize uneven skin tone and smooth the appearance of wrinkles.

The brand claims that the product can be used up to twice daily after cleansing.

Key Ingredients

1. Glycolic Acid (8%)

Glycolic acid exfoliates the surface layers of the skin by dissolving the bonds between skin cells. The top layers (which are dry and dull) are shed off faster and the skin cell 'turnover' is increased.

This reveals underlying fresh skin layers, which are smoother and more even. It helps give the skin a fresh glow.

This is also why it helps get rid of pigmentation, as superficial pigmented cells are shed off faster.

Higher concentrations of glycolic acid and other AHAs are known to promote collagen production.

2. Botanical Extracts

Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract: It is added for its anti-acne benefits.

Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract: Chamomile extract helps soothe the inflammation and also acts as an antioxidant.

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice: It has soothing and healing properties, and is also a great moisturizer.

3. Additional Soothing and Moisturizing Ingredients

Other soothing and moisturizing ingredients include panthenol and sodium hyaluronate (a salt of hyaluronic acid). These hydrate and soothe the skin from potential irritation caused by the active, glycolic acid.

How to Use

Here is how to use Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant:

  • Cleanse and dry your face completely
  • Apply a dime-sized amount all over the face, starting with the cheeks and forehead.
  • You do not need to rinse it off.
  • Top it off with a generous layer of moisturizer.

Note: Be careful around the mouth and eyes, as the skin here is thinner and tends to be more sensitive. Apply it on dry skin, as damp skin will increase absorption and irritation.

When to apply

Even though the company website mentions it can used twice a day, it is better to stick to using it once at night only.

This is because AHAs and other chemical exfoliants make the skin photosensitive. Use during the day can potential cause irritation and redness (sunburns) and even result in worsened pigmentation.

Use it only twice or a maximum of three times a week. Daily exfoliation can result in an impaired barrier.

Other Tips

1. Don't skip sunscreen

While using any kind of acid (like chemical exfoliants), it is extremely important to use sunscreen. The chemically-induced exfoliation makes the skin photosensitive.

If you skip sunscreen, you run the risk of developing worse pigmentation and wrinkles (the very things you are looking to treat!).

2. Go slow

Over-exfoliation can result in an impaired skin barrier, as the skin doesn't get a chance to 'repair' itself. The rate of skin cells replicating cannot keep up with this artificially induced exfoliation, resulting in irritated and sore skin.

Signs of a damaged skin barrier that you need to watch out for are redness, itching, flaking and dryness.

Exfoliate only once or twice a week based on how your skin is feeling.

3. Using other actives

Avoid using retinols or retinoids or other products containing actives such as salicylic acid on the same night that you're using any glycolic acid-based exfoliant.

If salicylic acid and glycolic acid are part of the same product, it is okay to use that formulation. However, strictly avoid use of two different products containing acids in the same routine.

What to Expect

The irritation potential of glycolic acid is minimized in this formulation by addition of the soothing botanicals. However, it can still cause a tingling sensation, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Because of the length of the skin turnover cycle (28 days), it takes at least 4 weeks of consistent use for skin changes to slowly start becoming visible. After 3-4 months of regular use, you'll be able to see the best results.

The product exfoliates and brightens out the skin tone, while also minimizing the appearance of post-inflammatory pigmentation.

Although the concentration of glycolic acid is less than 10%, regular use can boost collagen production, diminishing fine lines and wrinkes.


How do you use Paula’s Choice AHA gel?

After cleansing and drying the skin, apply a dime-sized amount all over the face, starting with the cheeks and forehead. Be cautious around the mouth and eyes, as the skin in these areas is thinner and tends to be more sensitive. You’ll also want to ensure your skin is dry before, as damp skin can increase absorption (which means the product is more likely to irritate the skin).

What percentage of AHA is effective?

AHAs are most effective around the eight to ten percent concentration range. However, if you’re new to chemical exfoliators or have sensitive skin, a lower concentration may be more suitable to avoid irritation.

What should you not mix with AHA?

AHAs should not be used at the same time as retinol or retinoids, as this can lead to irritation. You should also avoid layering a product with AHAs with a product with BHAs, as this also can increase the likelihood of irritation.

The Bottom Line

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant is a great choice when it comes to chemical exfoliation. It suits most skin types, including normal, combination and oily skin. It is not the best choice if you are new to chemical exfoliation or have sensitive skin.