Acid acid acid! Beta Hydroxy Acid, BHA, is an exfoliant that works wonders for clogged pores and acne prone skin. As an oil soluble acid, BHAs make their way into the pore lining and break apart excess oils and dead skin. Cleaned out pores are important beacuse they look smaller and reduce the chance of acne flair ups! Two popular BHA solutions, one Western and one Korean, are the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Blackhead Liquid and the CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, respectively. I compared the two over the span of a few months to see how they fared against each other.
Full disclosure, I was provided with the CosRX Blackhead Power Liquid from SokoGlam.com. I received no money for writing this, there are no affiliate links in this post, and what is written here is my honest opinion of the product. The Paula’s Choice 2% BHA I’ve been buying with my own money for ages.
While under the same family of acids, these two products have their differences in formulation. Paula’s Choice uses salicylic acid as their BHA and CosRX uses betaine silicate. Both have short ingredient list, including ingredients to help sooth the possible irritating side effects of BHAs. Regardless, these are both used after you cleanse and tone, but before your treatment steps. I have gotten into the habit of honoring “wait times” with actives, meaning I let the BHA sit on my skin for 15-20 minutes so that it can do its thing undisturbed before I move on to my next step.
Lets jump into the comparisons! I’ve been a user of Paula’s BHA for a few years now, but I’ve switched to the CosRX for a month to test out its pore popping powers.
CosRX Blacked Power Liquid
CosRX rose to fame with the online Asian beauty community for being effective, cheap, and one of the first Korean brands to incorporate acids to fight acne. Korea has rather strict regulations on salicylic acid, making it hard for a Korean company to formulate a stand alone acid exfoliant. CosRX worked around this by using a different BHA, betaine salicylate. It’ll be fun to compare the effectiveness between salicylic acid and betaine salicylate, kind of like a battle of the sisters.
CosRX’s Blackhead Liquid is packaged in the typical frosted plastic bottles that one comes to expect from CosRX. It minimalistic and you get a pump for mess free dispensing. You get 100ml of product (which is only 18ml shy of Paula’s Choice) for around $17-$22, depending on where you buy it from (Amazon, Sokoglam, Memebox)
The liquid itself spreads easily, having a water-like consistency. I’ll squirt two pumps into my palm, rub them together and slather everything on my face. Some people like to use cotton balls, but I feel like I end up wasting an extra pump of product because it gets absorbed by the cotton ball. I feel the same way about applying my toners, cotton balls are little product stealers.
BHA’s don’t tend to smell very nice. They don’t include fragrance, because who needs their acids to smell like berries? The addition of fragrance would probably make an already irritating product potential disastrous. I’ve heard people describe the smell of this product as “burnt tires” but I think it’s just slightly funky, but then again I don’t have the best nose. Either way, the smell dissipates and does not linger for more than a minute.
What else is different about this product? It has a higher pH than other acids, sitting at around a 4, which does two things: makes the acid less potent because it’s not as acidic… cause, acid… which in turn means it’ll be more gentle on the skin.
The ingredient list includes the use of niacinamide, willow bark water, and sodium hyaluronate. These ingredients help to calm irritation and provide hydration, which is perfect because BHA can be… Irritating and drying. Tack on an extra point for a beginner friendly product.
I felt like I saw less results overall from this product. My acne breakouts weren’t as tamed, and my pores around my t-zone were still rather congested. Oddly enough, the tough grime in my nose pores looked more cleaned up than usual. While it scores a plus on my nose, it doesn’t help to bring up its overall “meh” impression. Also, I noticed that my skin became flushed MUCH easier during the phase of using this?? Not sure how, but after testing my theory and cycling through for two week, it became apparent that my skin was rather bashful when it came to this acid.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid is a favorite among many people within both the Asian and Western beauty communities. I don’t use any other Paula’s Choice products, and I’m incredibly turned off by their bully tactic marketing, but I do enjoy using this product in particular.
You get a bottle that contains 118ml for $29 on Paula’s website, although they have sales quite often that can save you a few dollars. There is also a smaller travel size available if you don’t want to commit to a whole bottle.
The ingredient list is simple here, green tea leaf extract and salicylic acid being the main ingredients doing work on your skin. Salicylic acid is common in the United States, but like I mentioned earlier, not so much in Korea. Even the Korean version of this product is formulated with betaine silicate. But of course, since I live in the States I’ll be speaking on behalf of the salicylic acid version.
One of the first things people notice about this solution is the smell…. It’s definitely more potent than CosRX’s Blackhead Liquid. Fortunately, the smell dissipates quickly once applied to the skin. The texture is that of water, and easily spreads around the face. Because the bottle has a stopper design, I usually put two “splashes” into the palm of my hand before rubbing them together and swipe it on my face.
Now, I’ve been using this BHA for close to two years but I remember seeing results in a matter of two weeks. First, I noticed that my skin was brighter, making me look more lively and fresh. A few weeks later my skin was looking more smooth thanks to the clearing up of my existing acne and preventing new acne from forming. My skin was living its best, blemish free, life. The combination of reducing the bumps on my face and brightening overall tone left me with a complexion that I didn’t think I could have without the help of concealer or photoshop.
This product is a little more harsh on my skin than its CosRX counterpart. The green tea extract helps with soothing the skin, but don’t count on it to completely counteract the natural tendencies of BHAs to be drying. I do find that it’s easier to over exfoliate with this product, and I need to make sure I keep up with my moisturizing on days I use this. While it affords me clear skin, it’s not too friendly towards the dry patches on my face. People who are more oily all around might actually like this effect, so to each their own.
So how did they compare? Although there are small differences in formulation, they are in the same family business of busting grit and snatching pores. I definitely think each product can serve a different demographic, but I personally prefer Paula’s Choice BHA Power Liquid.
Paula’s Choice BHA maintained it’s position on top. While it is more expensive, I find myself burning through BHA’s at an incredibly slow pace thanks to my lack of cotton ball use and the fact that I only use my BHA’s 2-3 times a week. Paula’s BHA keeps my skin from breaking out, keeps it smooth, and gives me a nice little radiance. If I had to pick an essentials item, this would be it.
That being said, CosRX’s combination of skin protecting ingredients and a gentle BHA delivery system might be great for beginners who have never used an acid! Not so much for an avid user like myself, though. If you want to dip your toes into the water, this might be a good start at a low price.
Some tips for BHA users!
- Ease into BHAs! Overuse of BHA on skin that is sensitive or new to acid exfoliation can lead to over-exfoliating. Skin becomes tight, dry, shiny, and doesn’t have the ability to retain moisture as well. It’s not pretty, so start out slow by only using BHAs 1-2 times a week before making the decision to become more frequent.
- Skin can go through a purging stage when beginning BHA’s, so don’t freak out too much if you see a few breakouts once you begin your BHA’s routine
- BHA’s tend to be a little drying, so don’t forego moisturizers. Also, don’t use a mud mask on the same day. It’s redundant and over drying.
- BHA’s do not increase sensitivity to the sun, BUT you should always use SPF 😀