Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice BHA, your day of reckoning is finally here. Sort of. I’ve been experimenting with this product for close to a year now, and I’m actually still not quite sure where I stand on it.

The first thing I wanted to say is that this BHA was actually way more effective before they reformulated and chucked it in new packaging. Back then, I felt like I actually saw my pores shrinking in almost real-time. I think this is why it achieved holy grail status on a lot of blogs and subreddits. Back then, it was certainly worth it’s $24 retail value.

This exfoliant comes out of the bottle in liquid form — only a few drops will come out of the bottle at a time, which is really all you need for either your whole face, or any trouble areas that might be in need of it. It leaves a very slight oily residue behind, but nothing that will deter you from the rest of your skin routine.

The purpose of BHA (which is usually found in the form salicyclic acid) is to break through the oil and dead skin on your face and fight any acne-causing bacteria underneath, so the thought is that it’s good for both fighting and pre-empting acne. It can clear clogged pores, and help them to shrink. But this product does this in a very… hit or miss manner. On some sections of my face it seemed to smooth out my pores, and sometimes stop acne before it got any worse. On other sections, it was like I had never applied anything at all. My skin was either the same, or worse, by the next day.

I can chalk some of the skin-worsening up to the typical exfoliant “worse-before-it-gets-better” cell turnover, sure. But I never felt like certain sections of my skin got any better, even after long-term and careful use. I say careful because it is tempting and easy to want to go overboard with this liquid, but buyer beware: this stuff is crazy drying. You might not notice it until the end of the day, but be prepared for some skin pilling and cracking, particularly around your chin and lips.

What I liked about the old formulation was that it was fantastically effective against sebaceous filaments which a lot of people have trouble with on or around their nose. Actually, that was the only reason I ever bought this pricey BHA in the first place! But the new formulation doesn’t seem to address this problem.

This review probably seemed all over the place — there really were small sections of my face that showed a positive difference after using this, but overall, this wasn’t a good product for me. Different people have different reactions of exfoliants, so it’s possible this BHA is still worthy of the $24 spend for some people. For me personally, I think I’ll need to rely on AHA’s to keep my skin under control. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1.5/5

Longevity: n/a

How much I actually like this product: 2/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No. Or maybe yes? Who knows!

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

Once again, I fell victim to cute packaging, and a couple good reviews on Reddit. You can’t just print cute fractal flowers on the box and expect me not to be interested! I mean, it’s not to say that this product was awful: I suspect it might work better on some skin types, but certainly not mine, and I’m not convinced it was worth the $25 price tag.

I mean, come on…. just look at that cute packaging!

This is a no-frills, odorless serum that you apply on your face using the dropper. Unlike a few other serums I’ve tried, this product seems to start off faintly orange colored instead of clear, but I don’t think at that point it’s considered oxidized enough to lose it’s efficacy. Of course, it absorbs clear so there’s no issue with cast. So long as you’ve waited a few minutes to let it dry, this plays very well with anything you layer over it.

It seems like there’s a lot of good things going on in the ingredient listing. Vitamin C at 10% concentration, ferulic and hyaluronic acid, and a few other plant extracts like aloe, grapefruit, and chamomile. No drying alcohols, which is preferential for me personally, unlike the very well-known Timeless Vitamin C, which sports benzyl alcohol in the 2nd line of ingredients.

After a day of use, this serum will usually cause me to break out, and dries out my skin, causing my skin and/or makeup to flake off my face. To some degree, I would expect that, it is an exfoliant after all! But over two months of trial and every other day of use, it never really got better. I continued to break out, and my skin tone never became brighter.

I also felt like this product oxidized REALLY quickly, despite being in an air-tight, dark-colored bottle. The faintly orange cast became true orange in a little over a month, and also started to smell slightly iron-y. There’s a few outside factors that might have happened to cause this — maybe I had picked up a product that had been on the store shelves for a little bit too long — but most serums I’ve tried will stray away from oxidation for 3 to 4 months, at least.

The Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum definitely won’t be a rebuy of mine since it doesn’t play well with my skin. I also don’t think it’s worth the money for the short shelf life of the product. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1.5/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 1.5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

The Ordinary Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%

I have a section in my medicine cabinet that is reserved for products that I’m unsure about keeping around for the long haul — Skincare Purgatory, I call it. The Ordinary’s MAP was soundly in purgatory. I ignored it for a few weeks (probably destabilizing the Vitamin C in that time, but, this particular product isn’t as prone to oxidation as other formulas, so I don’t feel too bad), came back to it, and I’m so glad I gave it a second chance. Although MAP is not known to be a Vitamin C powerhouse, I’ve personally had great results while using this.

There’s not a ton of product in this little tube, which kind of stinks since I find myself reaching for this lotion at least three times a week. Granted, it is only $10 , but having to frequently rebuy is still kind of annoying.

The lotion itself has a bit of an orange-tan tint, but it applies white, and absorbs relatively quick, and fully, without any leftover cast. Unlike other Vitamin C formulations, this particular lotion is not gritty, thank goodness. Now, for the downside: this lotion smells like… cardboard. Or wet paper. Or, glue, maybe? Whatever it is, it’s pretty pervasive for the first hour of wear. Maybe this isn’t the worst smell in the world, but it’s definitely not my favorite.

When you apply Vitamin C products, you should wait a few extra minutes between that and your next routine step. This is no exception, it does take a little longer to dry. But once it’s dry, it plays PHENOMENALLY with any moisturizers or foundations you layer over it. (Don’t forget your sunscreen, too!) This wears well throughout the day, and doesn’t cause any faster-than-normal makeup breakdown.

I think I’ve gotten VERY tiny breakouts — like, one or two miniscule blemishes — since I’ve started using it, but it’s far less extreme than when I use regular Vitamin C serums, and they go away quickly. I don’t foresee this being a normal occurrence going forward, and I otherwise think it’s great for sensitive skin. My skin texture seems to have gotten brighter overall.

I haven’t had good luck with The Ordinary as of late, so I’m happy to finally have a win from them. MAP is officially out of my skincare routine purgatory shelf, and onto my “use a few times a week” shelf. If you’re looking for a less abrasive Vitamin C product, I absolutely recommend this one. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 4/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes — though you may experience some initial break outs, as it is an exfoliant.

Epiduo Forte

This stuff is so powerful that it is causing me to have to temporarily forfeit like, 70% of my regular skincare regimen. On that note, I may be taking a temporary hiatus until my skin gets back on track after having used this.

This is my second go-around with Epiduo Forte. I was prescribed this in conjunction with spironolactone when I first saw a dermatologist about my cystic acne. Yep, prescription only, depending on where you live — and I think there are different variants on the name of Epiduo, depending on the strength.

The first time around was a true clear out of my extremely broken out skin. I was excited to start using this white-gel-cream product, with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide for bacteria killing and .3% adapalene for cell exfoliation. The general Internet consensus is that this stuff really does work, but I quickly realized that applying Epiduo at night isn’t exactly the same pleasant experience as slapping on a sheet mask. For the first month or two? This stuff is gonna burn like mad.

You know that phrase “if it burns, it’s working”? Ok, first of all, that phrase is terrible advice to live by, because it’s NOT true for most skincare products, except maybe this one. Even then, you will question if it really is working for the first few weeks, because it actually makes your skin WORSE. Like, a lot worse.

The first time around, my cystic acne multiplied. By a lot. It was terrible, painful, and just all around hard to deal with. Even now in my second go-around, my skin is probably the worst it’s been in about two years. Epiduo forces your skin cells to turn over more rapidly, thus bringing the bacteria to the surface and causing a break out. It doesn’t matter how diligent you are keeping your face clean — you’re still going to break out, a LOT. And in areas you don’t normally break out in, too!

I waited it out for about six weeks, the first time. My skin finally started to improve! I mean, it doesn’t PREVENT your break outs from happening, but it makes your pores quite a bit clearer, and overall the texture and condition of your skin will be brighter.

So what’s my deal with Epiduo today, 3 weeks into my second go-around? Heck, why am I even here, on a second go-around? Shouldn’t my acne be mostly cured-ish after using it the first time? Not exactly. You need to keep using it. And that’s what I stopped doing. Sure, I would use it like… every two weeks… to spot treat, but that was it.

About nine months after I stopped using it consistently, my face started to get a little more… blotchy. Not so much cystic acne as it had been before, since the spironolactone keeps a lot of that at bay. But the texture overall just wasn’t great. My dermatologist told me in no uncertain terms that I “can’t just stop using Epiduo”.

So here I am, week three. I apply Epiduo every night. The first two weeks, my skin burned like CRAZY — that’s getting a little better now, though. Peeling skin though? Non-stop. Exfoliants are risky to use, since the Epiduo is already exfoliating for me and my skin is pretty raw. I can’t use most of my moisturizers or sunscreens, since they’ll pill, even if my face is 100% clean. And my skin is still… not great. New spots are turning up every day!

I’ve gone through Epiduo before and know it works, so I’ll have to just hold out for another month or so. In the meantime, my skin care routine is minimal: Clinique’s Dramatically Different in the morning, a TINY dot of Its Skin 2pm, and CosRX Honey Ceramide Cream at night (and The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid 5% if I’m feeling brave).

Hopefully my next post will contain some positive news. Hey, if the Epiduo works for me a second time around, then that will mean the product REALLY works! Unfortunately it’s a pricey venture at $375, and many insurers won’t cover the cost — although, manufacturer’s coupons will occasionally help to knock the price down if they’re available. Ah, the price we pay for clear skin… ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 3/5 (you have use it regularly)

How much I actually like this product: 3.5/5 (the burning! the purging!)

Recommended for sensitive skin: It will MAKE your skin sensitive, even if it wasn’t in the first place. Prepare for two months of total annihilation!

My Current Routine

For the sake of documenting a moment in time, and perhaps to reflect in five years to ask myself “why on Earth did I use that?”, I wanted to list some of my current skincare favorites. I recently went on a short trip, which is always great for forcing yourself to decide on which products are truly must-haves (and also useful in those moments where you think to yourself, “why did I forget to pack that?!).

Now, of course, I don’t use all of these every single day, but everything listed is in heavy rotation. All of these products have been in my routines for a minimum of five months — some have been in my routine for over six years. I can say that all of these have maintained or improved my sensitive, acne-prone skin. Everyone’s reactions are different, but if I had to recommend products to someone with skin issues, these would all be included in that list.

AM Routine

  • COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater Spray
  • Melano CC Gel (although I’m not 100% sold on this one yet…)
  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
  • Rohto Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk SPF50

PM Routine

  • COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser (I obviously love this)
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater Spray (same with this, I would spritz this every hour on the hour if I could)
  • Thayer’s Witch Hazel Toner

PM Exfoliant Options:

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA
  • The Ordinary 5% Lactic Acid
  • Epiduo
  • Derma-E Anti Wrinkle Eye Cream

PM Moisturizer Options

  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
  • Cerave PM

PM Heavy Moisturizers — “Last Step”:

  • Bio-Oil
  • CosRX Honey Ceramide Cream
  • HadaLabo Gokujun Hyaluronic Solution

Makeup

  • IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Illumination – Medium
  • Maybelline Stick Corrector Concealer (under eyes, and on/around eyelids with careful blending)
  • NYX Tinted Brow Mascara in Brown
  • L’oreal Lash Paradise
  • Physicians Formula Eye Booster Pencil Eyeliner
  • Physicians Formula Mineral Glow Pearls in Bronze (used as bronzer)
  • Maybelline Master Chrome Metallic Highlighter in Molten Rose Gold

The Ordinary 5% Lactic Acid + HA

The Ordinary’s had a lot of misses for me personally, but their 5% Lactic Acid + HA product absolutely knocks it out of the park, and for only $13. It’s on my very short list of their products that I would definitely re-buy if I ever ran out. I’ve never seen such visible, instant results in such a short period of time after usage.

Again: this is an acid, so exercise extreme caution. Your skin will probably burn a tiny bit, or purge, over the first couple of usages because… well, it’s an acid. There is a 10% formulation available, but I have absolutely zero confidence that my skin would survive it. Maybe someday!

This pink-orange liquid comes in a clear glass bottle with a dropper that you use to pull up the product and drop onto your face. One drop goes a long way, so I generally drop one on each side of my cheeks, my forehead (careful not to let it run into my eyes, of course!), and any small excess droplets can go on my chin.

I’ve seen results in as quick as an hour from this. My skin is noticeably brighter, and some of the errant texture is gone. Fine lines are at least superficially dimmer, and hyperpigmentation appears to have noticeably faded. My skin in general just seems more uniform in color and texture.

As I mentioned before this will probably burn a little bit unless you’re built up a tolerance already. I’ll wait about 30 minutes before applying my next step in my routine (usually moisturizer). As long as it’s dry, it shouldn’t pill with the next product.

Not going to lie, I did experience some trepidation when I applied this for the first time. I’ve had bad experiences with glycolic acid, and have heard mixed reviews on lactic acid as an exfoliant. So I reiterate to sensitive skin users to start at 5% if they’re going to try this, and remember to exercise the usual rules: try to avoid the sunlight, use sunscreen if you must go outside, build up your tolerance SLOWLY (even now, I only use this product twice a week, and it took two weeks for my skin to be comfortable with it’s usage) and don’t be shocked if there’s a brief purging period. Other than those standard exfoliant caveats, I think this product is totally worth the buy! ~A

Buy The Ordinary’s 5% Lactic Acid here:
https://amzn.to/2SDSCtA


Perceived efficacy: 5/5

Longevity: 4/5 – results are noticeable for at least a day or two

How much I actually like this product: 4.5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Maybe

Skincare “Restart” Tips

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Since I think all of my readers are amazing and I want you all to have perfect skin, I wanted to write a quick little post about some self-care items, regarding starting your skincare routine when it becomes a little too much.

Your skin changes — over seasons, months, and years. Sensitivities change. And sometimes that means the products you’re using, no matter how well they were working before, simply will not comply. Or sometimes, you’re just plain ol’ doing too much! 

Product overload: I personally tend to go a little crazy when I’ve ordered a bunch of new skincare products. Somehow convinced that every single one of them is a miracle item and that they’re all 100% going to play well with one another and that…. well, that just doesn’t happen. Recently I did this with Derma E Vitamin C (acids usually induce an initial breakout) and CosRX Galactomyces (clogs my pores, personally). Bad idea. Solution: Slow down. Go back to basics with your skincare routine, and add the products in slowly, one at a time! 

Skin Sensitivities Changing Naturally: There doesn’t even need to be a trigger, or even a “known sensitive ingredient” that causes sensitivities in a very large population. Currently, I’m having the weirdest problem with Neutrogena’s Hydroboost. This is normally my go-to HG moisturizer. But lately? It’s not hydrating enough, in fact, my skin’s been itching a bit after application. Weird, right? Am I allergic to dimethicone now, or something? I have no idea what’s going on. Maybe it’s just winter, and my skin needs something a little thicker. But I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. Solution: if you were using a product before with success, shelf it for awhile (or throw it out and buy another one later). See if it works after 3-4 months. If it’s still not working, it might be time to find another product.

Acid or Antiseptic Overload: Be wary of your acid, retinoid and benzoyl peroxide usage. These are all great and the exfoliation can give you visible results quickly, but it can turn on you just as fast. Your skin can become dried out, irritated, burn, or break out. I have a tough time with BP, because I think it works the best for reducing or preventing breakouts entirely, but I’ve discovered that my skin really isn’t interested in tolerating it more than “every other night”.
Solution: Build up your acid usage slowly. If your skin becomes irritated, decrease usage, and add in extra emulsifiers/heavy moisturizers to add moisture back into your skin. 

My ultimate “back to basics” routine:

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! ❤ ~A