If you’re into skincare you’ve likely heard of Paula’s Choice (PC). I’ve covered some of their products before including BHA, Azelaic Acid, and Vitamin C products. It has a well warranted cult following at every age demographic. My mom is still a proud member of that cult. That’s no easy achievement to attract both 60+ year old women and the 20 something crowd with fervor.
I started using Paula’s Choice in the late 90s and continued through most of my 20s, which was the 2000s. I have been through all sorts of product including turning to PC for my very sensitive skin when I took Accutane. I have the Beauty Bible and turn to it even now when I’m shopping for something new to try.
But I really haven’t bought Paula’s Choice products in the last 10 years. That’s not to say the products are bad but I have noticed a fall in packaging quality and other brands are just easier to obtain that offer the same or similar quality at half the price.
Until very recently PC was only available after ordering it online from their website. She usually had a sale around Christmas so I got my own routine but always had another set under the tree or in my stocking that would see me through the rest of the year. Starting in early 2021, PC has been available at Sephora and the satellite stores in JCPenney and now Kohl’s and Nordstrom. It’s owned by Bertram Capital, a venture capital firm, since 2016.
My Biggest Problems with Paula’s Choice
Besides ease of availability, they’re expensive products in cheap packaging right now. I feel like I’m not the only person who has noticed the ‘Meh’ factor that has creeped into PC. If you read into their marketing and compare to other products there isn’t any added benefit for some of their newer products.
The C15/C5 line needs improvement. The C15 serum is $55 for a Vitamin C serum that has a 3 month shelf life. They insinuate significant results from just C15 Serum in the treatment of acne. That’s not what you’re going to get with a Vitamin C serum even after 4 weeks. There’s something else going on in their skin care routine that PC isn’t sharing. In 4 weeks you can see significant improvement in cystic acne using retinol, which PC also sells a 1% treatment at $62 for 1 oz.
The 20% niacinamide is unnecessary. It’s also $52 for a 20% booster and $49 for a 10% solution. The 10% solution also contains ubiquinone or CoQ10 which is also going to help brighten and enliven the skin and is likely doing more for the skin than the actual Niacinamide. The 20% starts getting into a lot of plant extracts. Not necessarily bad but PC for decades refrained from using a lot of plant extracts due to potential sensitivity. Niacinamide is also therapeutic at less than 5%. Their own marketing use to show this, you just had to pay attention.
Product waste. I felt like I was throwing away tons of product because the shelf life was so short. Or I was wasting product down the sink or on a cotton round. Their 2% BHA product is amazing but the packaging is such that it’s easier to apply using a cotton round. Competing manufactures use a dropper now which is easier to control and apply using finger tips. It also help with targeting treatment since individual faces might not need a BHA treatment everywhere.
On a random point, getting a BHA treatment into the cracks of your nose is harder when using a cotton round. People tend to swipe over the area without really getting into that crease on either side of the nose. It is one of those areas that requires a little more concentration.
The peer-reviewed Publications Listed on the Website
Lets look at the C5 Super Boost Eye cream. Some of these are great studies; however, some are very very questionable to cite for this product.
For one example: study conducted on older women (mostly post-menopausal) to test efficacy of hyaluronic acid in topical formulations to reduce the appearance of photoaging. It did. Not a huge shocker there. This study appears to be designed to achieve specific results. This particular paper is offered as proof one of their eye serums works. It does contain HA but its being marketed for it’s vitamin c treatment. Does this make it a bad product, no. I’m sure the product works extremely well. It is deceptive in my opinion because what you’re paying for and think you’re buying is vitamin c in the eye area and its supported by all these studies, not proof of concept in formulation. HA as a proof of concept in formulation benefits has been around for decades, that’s not new. What’s the Vitamin C doing for me and what’s the therapeutic level?
The research article from International Journal of Pharmaceutics from December 2019 is a great looking paper. I am not an expert in that field so I really can’t review engineering. It also has absolutely nothing to do with anything whatsoever regarding the consumer end of this product. Perhaps its a typo. I’ve done it on citations, not a huge deal. Scanning through the rest of the volume (400+ pages of it) there’s nothing except a CoQ10 stability study. The formulation doesn’t contain CoQ10 though.
Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, November 2019, pages 1–14 <– not an effective way to cite research from this particular journal since they publish something new almost daily. So they’re all November 2019 pages 1-14. Again, I can’t find anything related to Vitamin C in the eye area or really anything that would even be formula related in this journal volume. Lots of cancer research though.
Paula’s biggest push was for skincare backed by science. The science that is cited isn’t backing the company’s claims. That’s a huge red flag for me. If I go to Scholar.Google.com and search ‘Vitamin C, Crows Feet’ there are a number of studies that pop up looking at signs of photoaging in the eye area. I know the science is there.
Like this paper: Korean Journal of Nutrition 2009; 42(6): 516-522. which looked at Vitamin C, E, and pynogenol on wrinkle reduction (all antioxidants) as an oral supplement. So take those vitamins!
Favorite Product from Paula’s Choice
The chemical exfoliants and the cleansers. The 2% BHA was my product in my teens and 20s. I can’t even tell you how many bottles of that stuff I have used. I still have a bottle of it (my mom still buys it for me). But I can also buy a water-based 2% solution for $5.90 from The Ordinary that will do the exact same thing.
I have yet to find a cleanser I don’t enjoy. But they aren’t makeup removers. You do need to do that separately.
There’s just more on the market right now that’s more available, as high a quality product, significantly cheaper, and in better packaging. Paula’s Choice is still good. The company has a following because of that; however, I see red flags here and there on the website since Paula sold it to make me question things enough to be curious about the current quality of those products.