Back when people's main options for skincare were either super expensive department store stuff (ah, those gifts with purchases) or the Noxema and Neutrogena-dominated drugstore shelves, skincare wasn't about glowing or skin health — it was mostly about not having acne or oily skin.
Now that we've reached the enlightened era of skincare and are no longer dew-phobic, one skincare brand I've been a fan of for ages (and that's been around for the past 35 years) is Paula's Choice. I know, the name may not necessarily speak to anything skincare related, but the founder Paula Begoun started her eponymous line when her own struggles with acne and eczema led her to research all the ingredients in her products that weren't doing her skin any favors...so she made her own. A classic founder fairytale.
I started using a couple PC products when I was seriously getting into skincare and had read on various Internet forums about their effectiveness. Reader, they did not lie. Since then, I've branched out to many brands that crowd my medicine cabinet but when asked, there are a few choice Paula's Choice products (hehe) that I always recommend to folks looking to start their own "serious" skincare routine.
1. The Instant Glow: Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
I was so obsessed with this product after just one use because it really does give you that instant gratification of waking up with smoother, glassier skin. The ingredients are few, mostly championing the salicylic acid in a liquid form that really covers a lot of ground as it penetrates your pores.
I would use this as a toner, twice a day after cleansing (the how-to says you can used it twice a day), which proved to be a bit overkill for me because while it did give me taut and impossibly smooth skin, it also dehydrated the heck out of me. Whoops. Then I cut back to only using it at night and then every other night, while incorporating a hyaluronic acid serum in tandem to put moisture back into my skin, then I found a good balance.
But if you have pesky milia or pigmentation marks you want to fade, this is amazing. at $29 for 4 oz, it's not a bank-breaker, but the good news is that this often sells on other platforms with discount and deals so you can shop around.
2. The Pore Polisher: Niacinamide 10-20% Products
Niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) is like one of those all-around skincare hero ingredients. It helps with brightening skin tone, evening out skin texture, and minimizes the appearance of pores. Paula's Choice offers two niacinamide options. There's the 10% Booster, which you can use on its own or add to other non-active serums. And there's the 20% Treatment, which has double the concentration. With a difference of $4 between the two ($44 vs. $48), it's really up to your preference of use. Boosters have a lighter formula and can be combined with your serum or moisturizer. The 20% Treatment is a more its own serum step in your routine. Either way, you get a hefty helping of niacinamide.
One thing to note: Niacinamide doesn't work well with certain vitamin Cs like l-ascorbic acid so it shouldn't be used in conjunction with that.
3. The Moisturizing Sunscreen with GLOW: Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30
Similar to our beloved Supergoop Glow Screen, this sunscreen has a sheer filter of glow that makes your skin look instantly dewy and hydrated. But it's also a really nice lightweight (but not wimpy) moisturizer with stuff like licorice root and antioxidants for an extra skincare kick — plus, it's an all-mineral SPF so if you can't do chemical sunscreens for any reason, this one shouldn't further irritate your skin, if you find that some sunscreens do.
I love the feel and the finish of this one, and I like that it's a really elegant mineral sunscreen, which helps with any pigmentation I'm tackling on any given day. (Mineral sunscreens physically block UV rays, while chemical sunscreens absorb them as well as its heat, which can affect pigmentation).
4. The Most Polite Cleanser: Resist Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser
Cleansing is important but it should never do any more harm than it does good. This non-lathering cleanser is one of those super gentle gel cleansers that leave your skin feeling fresh and bouncy rather than tight and stripped dry, which I applaud. Sometimes I think cleansers should just cleanse—not overstep into exfoliating or anything. It's cool, you don't have to do it all. You can just be a really good cleanser and be respected for that, you know?
I love this as a morning cleanser and a post-oil cleanse when I double-cleanse at night. It's especially rad if you have dry, sensitive, or sensitized skin (like after too much sun or after a particularly strong chemical peel).