60 days trying Paula’s Choice Clear 2% salicylic acid toner and 2.5% benzoyl peroxide treatment

September 25, 2015
Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% salicylic acid, Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% salicylic acid, Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide

I made my first purchase from Paula’s Choice recently, and was prompted by my quest to clear up my face. My hormones lost control when I quit birth control about a year ago, and my face hasn’t been quite the same since. After chatting with a sales rep on their website, the two Paula’s Choice Clear Blemish Control products I purchased were the 2% salicylic acid exfoliating lotion and the 2.5% benzoyl peroxide daily treatment.

Paula's Choice
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% salicylic acid

Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% salicylic acid ($26 for 4 oz.) –

This post is primarily a review of the benzoyl peroxide treatment, but I also went through a whole bottle of this salicylic acid toner during the same period of time. I generally have less to say about it, though, because I used this for a whole lot less time, as it ran out rather quickly. I think it does help smooth pores, textural issues and blemishes, but I also found it a little drying and it left my face a little tight. My big issue was that I hadn’t initially realized that the bottle was only 4 oz – $26 seemed kind of steep with the smaller bottle size taken into account. I’d be open to giving it another try sometime in the future, just not right now.

Active ingredients: Salicylic Acid 2% Inactive ingredients: water (Aqua), Dipropylene Glycol (slip agent/penetration enhancer), Pentylene Glycol (slip agent), Polysorbate 20 (emulsifier), Butylene Glycol (slip agent), Glycerin (skin-identical ingredient), Sodium Hyaluronate (water-binding agent), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (anti-irritants), Allantoin (anti-irritants), Panthenol (skin-conditioning agent), PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer (solvent), Methyl Gluceth-20 (skin-conditioning agent), Glycereth-26 (thickener), Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane (skin-conditioning agent), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Tetrasodium EDTA (chelating agent), Sodium Metabisulfite (stabilizer).

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide

Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide ($17 for 2.25 oz.) – This treatment has a white creamy texture, and it was the first benzoyl peroxide product I’d ever used. This is what the sales rep recommended to me when I asked about a spot treatment for my face. Her suggestion was to use this daily to prevent breakouts from forming, rather than using a treatment on visible blemishes. I’d heard mixed things about benzoyl peroxide before. Some people talked about how harsh it was, while others saw it as the key to their clear skin. I’d been fairly unsatisfied with all of the acne treatments so I figured it was worth a shot. The thing I’d seen consistently about this ingredient, though, is that it can take about 60 days for your skin to adjust and look its best, so I decided to keep a diary.

Active Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5% (topical disinfectant). Inactive Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Propylene Glycol (slip agent/penetration enhancer), Bisabolol (anti-irritants), Allantoin (anti-irritants), Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer (film-forming/suspending agent), Hydroxyethylcellulose (thickener), Sodium Citrate (pH adjuster), Laureth-4 (emulsifier), Caprylyl Glycol (preservatives), Hexylene Glycol (preservatives), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Disodium EDTA (chelating agent), Phenoxyethanol (preservative).

60-day Diary

Days 1-7: I initially started off using using both the toner and treatment twice a day. This may have been overly harsh, but I did see quick improvements, particularly in the hormonal bumps around my face. Both of the products leave my face feeling dry, and the BP gives me some significant burning. It dissipates after a while, but burning can reoccur when I sweat during the day.

Day 8: Things have gotten pretty dry, despite the fact that I have begun layering moisturizers. I have avoided peeling and flaking so far, but things feel really, really tight and makeup kind of looks like it’s sitting on top of my skin. This evening I skipped the treatment and tried to replenish.

Redness and overall tone have noticeably improved, excluding the redness from blemishes. Blemishes continue to arise, but seem to progress into whiteheads really quickly and then also heal pretty quicker than they used to.

I’m getting dry around my eyes and neck, so I could tell that the BP is moving around onto more delicate areas once I layer creams on top of it. I tried to slow everything down, patting things in and letting it dry pretty thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

Day 8-10: Kind of annoyed that pimples keep popping up here and there. The overall texture of my skin is much, much better, but I feel like it isn’t looking that much better because of sporadic pimples.

The redness from healing acne does seem to fade faster than it had before I started using the products.

Day 12-14: My face feels so dry it might fall off. Most of face is looking pretty phenomenal, except for my chin which erupts in a handful of angry pimples at once. They take around 2 days to heal. Right as the healing starts to become apparent, face-wide flaking begins. The corners of my mouth look and feel completely raw.

Over the next few days, a few small-medium pimples arise and I reduce BP applications to once a day.

Day 18: Moisture balance has improved and no new pimples seem to be appearing. Resumed twice-daily BP applications.

In order to improve moisture, I’m layering multiple lotions, creams, hyaluronic serum, but the real key seems to be pressing some argan oil as a last step in the PM. I’m using lip balm on the corners of my mouth throughout the day and night to repair the cracked skin.

Day 19: Ran out of toner. That was fast. I did leak a little during a weekend trip, so not quite all of it made it to my face, and I had used it twice daily since day 1. I purchased the Andalou Naturals Pore Minimizing Toner to start using the next day.

At this point small pimples come and go but aren’t as bad as they used to be. The areas affected by bumpy texture have shrunk a lot but are still hanging around a little bit in a few specific spots.

I’m still experiencing a little bit of dryness (after BP) and burning (after both BP and toner), but it’s gotten much better and feels less torturous.

Day 21: As a general note, I seem to be vacillating between having clear skin and having 3-4 pimples come up at the same time. I can’t keep the pimples away.

Judging by the waves of acne, headaches, and bloating, I feel like this may be a particularly bad month, hormonally speaking.

Day 28-31: A wave of hormonal acne arose and subsided, leaving me with the clearest skin I’ve had thus far (day 31). On day 30 I was relieved to see through a quick online search that it’s normal to keep experiencing regular acne at this stage (though typically the pimples are smaller in size). It can take 60-90 days of regular treatment for it to keep skin clear. 

Day 32: I can really tell that the more stubborn bumpy texture around my chin is starting to clear for real.

Day 35: I’m still in decent shape with smaller and fewer pimples, but dryness and peeling/flaking seems to have reappeared on sides of chin and outer corners of eyes.

Day 40: A couple of pimples have popped up but they’re definitely smaller in size and fewer in number. Bought the Simple Replenishing Rich moisturizer for hydration support after running out of my bottle of the Light version.

Day 46: I still can’t stay entirely clear for more than 2 days, but the pimples aren’t that bad. Moisture levels are better (but I’m also just getting better at dealing with it). Ran out of my Clarins AHA lotion, which I think had been a helpful component in treating the acne that continued to appear. I’m within a time of the month where I’d normally see an increase in acne, so that could be an influence at the moment.

Day 47: I noticed some bumpy texture reappear on the left side of my chin. Went on Vitacost to shop for some salicylic acid gel and a toner with glycolic acid. Started layering extra BP along my jaw and making sure to let it set for a while before moisturizing.

Day 49: Two small pimples did pop up and while they’re annoying to look at, they were small and didn’t cause pain so it does feel like I’ve entered a new phase!

Day 60: I’m still basically dealing with 2 small pimples at a time. Annoying to look at, but it’s definitely an improvement from where I started. I received my Vitacost order today and started using the Derma E Vitamin A Glycolic toner and Yes to Tomatoes Roller Ball Spot Stick salicylic acid blemish treatment. I’m hoping that the combination of active ingredients helps to bring a more final resolution to my situation.

In general: At this point I’m past day 70, and I’m still dealing with dryness, flaking, and cycles of breakouts. I haven’t completely reached my target skin yet, but I’m also not going to quit on benzoyl peroxide because I can definitely tell it’s made a difference. I know that having a couple of pimples here and there doesn’t sound terrible, but I’m honestly really frustrated that a year into this post-birth control life I’m still dealing with this. I really thought that things would sort themselves out, or that I’d find the perfect product to help. It seems that I still need to find the right balance of active ingredients that treats effectively without zapping the life out of my skin. To be continued, I guess.

Have you tried these products, or ones with similar actives in them? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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  1. I went through the same thing after stopping birth control. 1 year after going off, I started to get regular breakouts around my chin and mouth, and I had never dealt with acne before in my life!

    It took me 6 months of using a combination of Benzoyl Peroxide and Tretinoin cream to finally get my breakouts to stop.

    I am at almost 7 months now and I’m mainly just dealing with little whiteheads that generally clear up overnight, and aren’t red or painful at all, just little tiny bumps.

    My routine is as follows:

    PCA Skin Benzoyl Peroxide Wash 5%
    Neutrogena Oil Free Sensitive Skin Moisturizer mixed with
    La Roche Posay Anthelios Sunscreen
    (wait 10-15 mins after wash to apply moisturizer)

    La Roche Posay Foaming Cleanser
    Tretinoin Cream (get from Dermatologist)
    Clinique Turnaround Night Time Moisturizer
    (wait 20 minutes after washing to apply Tretinoin and then 20 minutes before applying moisturizer)

    I also use a fresh towel to dry my face after each wash. (went to Family Dollar and bought a ton of little wash cloths so I never run out)

    Hope that helps!

    1. Thanks, Joanna! It’s really nice to hear what’s worked for you. Since a couple of years have passed since this post, my hormonal skin issues have relaxed somewhat. I still have some congested skin around my jawline, but it feels pretty controlled. I reach for The Ordinary’s 2% retinoid and azelaic acid, and then also try different acid toners here and there, but at the current moment I’m no longer needing acne-specific products, and I’m thankful to have reached that point. Like you, I also really enjoy having a collection of clean washcloths–it’s hygienic and also feels luxurious! I’ve also been really curious about Clinique’s moisturizers.

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