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Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a celebrity in the skincare world; one bottle reportedly sells every seven seconds. The pore-clearing Skin Perfector has thousands of five-star reviews and a very dedicated TikTok following, so it broke my heart when I finally tried it and found that it was simply too harsh for my sensitive skin. Within a couple days of use, my skin felt inflamed, irritated, dry, and was breaking out — a complaint many reviewers echoed. A gentler alternative now exists thanks to Paula’s Choice’s new Calm 1% BHA Sensitive Skin Exfoliant, and InStyle readers get 15 percent off with the code INSTYLE23.
The first and most obvious difference is the 1 percent BHA concentration rather than the original formula’s 2 percent. Calm’s formula is also a thin gel that is dispersed through a pump, rather than a liquid that is best used with cotton pads. The gentle version also contains allantoin, a plant extract that soothes and hydrates skin, while healing wounds.
Shop now: $29 with code INSTYLE23 (Originally $34); paulaschoice.com
To really mitigate any chance of disaster during my test, I skipped all acids and active ingredients and used Tower28’s calming SOS Serum and Tatcha’s the Water Cream. I very carefully pumped out two pearl-size dollops and applied them to my skin, giving it 48 hours before reexamining.
The first thing I noticed was that nothing there — no redness, sore skin, deep cysts, giant whiteheads, peeling, or flaking. Then, I noticed the blackheads on my nose were noticeably more shallow — like they were closer to the surface. There were also way fewer of those small bumps that typically cover the entirety of my chin.
As is to be expected with an exfoliating treatment, there was some purging, but it was of a manageable scope — not so severe that I questioned if I was having an allergic reaction. This was characterized by a couple of surface-level blackheads on my forehead and some headless bumps on my jawline.
Since knowing my skin could handle the treatment, I’ve been using Calm 1% BHA Sensitive Skin Exfoliant when my skin deems it necessary (more on my new intuitive approach here), which is usually two to three times a week. I have noticed pores and blackheads that seem less deep as time goes on, with some even seemingly disappearing. My skin is brighter, helping me win my constant battle with hyperpigmentation as the marks are less dark and fade faster.
I am elated to finally be able to heed the glass skin-like benefits of one of the most famous skincare products around. While it launched in October 2022, it hasn’t amassed the fanfare surrounding the original, but give it time and the masses will discover Paula’s Choice Calm 1% BHA Sensitive Skin Exfoliant. Shop it for 15 percent off at Paula’s Choice with the code INSTYLE23.
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