Meet the Harry Potter bank:
Harry serves as a repository for the household change. I spent a decade straight in college earning a B.A., then an M.Phil., and finally a Ph.D., meaning that 1) I supposedly have the ability to philosophize (uhh) and 2) I’ve been broke pretty much all of my adult life until about two minutes ago.
Harry here, in times of between-semester crisis due to teaching paychecks being uneven or someone in Financial Aid forgetting to pay out my fellowship on time, magically swooped in to save the day. If lucky, Harry would wingardium leviosa up sixty bucks or so to keep the household running. Harry is the unexpected windfall, the money in the banana stand.
Although the fanserviced household is a bit more secure now that both doctorates are finished and we’re both miraculously employed full-time (oh, yes, I not only made the brilliant choice of getting a Ph.D. in the Humanities at precisely the moment everything went to even deeper shit, I also married someone who got a Ph.D. in the Humanities. A food historian. This is the time to repeat, yet again, the maxim that degrees don’t indicate intelligence.). Harry still collects our coins.
I sometimes think: what would my small Harry cash-in cover if I could no longer afford my whole skincare routine?
Given my skin’s inability to straighten up and fly right due to hormones, I’d have to say acids. My skin happens to like the very affordable Maximum Strength Stridex (red tub) for the BHA step. On the other hand, I’ve not found an AHA that can so firmly yet gently set my skin straight as Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA.
That’s right: if I was down to rolling pennies to buy skincare my pick would be a fluffing Paula’s Choice product, grooooooan. I mean, this is a Korean beauty blog and that’s a U.S.-made product and Paula’s Choice has stepped out as an anti-kbeauty partisan. But ball don’t lie, this stuff is essential for my skin.
Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA Review
The endlessly frustrating problem that so many of us with acne have is that we’re taking fantastic care of our skin, beating back new breakouts, and yet bumps caused by below-the-surface clogs remain. I think of my clog bumps as the #yolo tattoo I didn’t get in my younger days–likely, some of those clogs formed before EXO even debuted and have been camping out rent-free for the past few years without ever moving along, no matter how dedicated I am to my marvelous kbeauty routine.
In case you haven’t been following fan-b, my skin is 32 years of age and immensely troubled by acne. My acne is caused by hormones, so it fluctuates according to what’s going on internally. With the exception of rosemary (I’m straight up allergic to it) and stearic, myristic, and lauric acids (they make my skin scream) my skin can handle pretty much anything and I rarely break out from products.
Prior to starting to use the Paula’s Choice 10% AHA I’ve used every CosRx acid, Pocketderm-now-called-Curology, Mizon 8% AHA, and Stridex Maximum Strength BHA pads. Everything incrementally purged and improved my extremely troubled skin, but nothing offered a massive and noticeable leap forward until I ventured into stronger acids, starting with the PC 10% AHA.
The claims this product makes
From the product page on the Paula’s Choice website:
This exclusive, extraordinary resurfacing treatment is an exfoliant formulated to reveal youthfully radiant skin overnight. It couples age-fighting antioxidants with 10% glycolic acid—ingredients proven to stimulate healthy collagen production and reduce wrinkles. A unique liquid delivery system, along with innovative soothing anti-inflammatory ingredients, guarantees impressive results that are visible from the first application. In less than two weeks your skin will experience improved texture, color, tone, and a noticeable reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. With ongoing use, skin becomes firmer and is better able to further resist the signs of aging.
So Paula is promising fewer visible wrinkles, more collagen, and a more even skin tone. Where does my acne fit into this?
I find that the power and necessity of AHAs for skin battling acne has been drastically undersold. I thought for ages that AHAs were ok, but what I really needed were BHAs like salicylic acid that can cut through oil and unclog pores, so I put off investing in a good, strong AHA. The results I’ve had from this product indicate that that’s really not the right approach for my skin. The PC 10% AHA acts as an “acne scaler” by removing the topmost layer of skin to force clogs and blemishes to the surface faster. That means clearer pores, smoother skin, and an expanding no-blemish zone.
Here’s the ingredient list:
Water (Aqua), Methylpropanediol (slip agent/penetration enhancer), Glycolic Acid (alpha hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Butylene Glycol (slip agent), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (antioxidant), Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice (water-binding agent), Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (vitamin C/antioxidant), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (anti-irritants), Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract (anti-irritants), Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract (antioxidant), Arctium Lappa (Burdock) Root Extract (anti-irritants), Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract (anti-irritants), Borago Officinalis (Borage) Extract (antioxidants), Boerhavia Diffusa Root Extract (antioxidants), Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract (anti-irritant), Lamium Album (White Nettle) Flower Extract (antioxidant), Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract (anti-irritants), Salix Nigra (Willow) Bark Extract (anti-irritants), Ulmus Fulva (Slippery Elm) Bark Extract (anti-irritants), Glycerin (skin-identical ingredient), Allantoin (anti-irritant), Propylene Glycol (solvent), Tetrasodium EDTA (chelating agent), Phenoxyethanol (preservative).
What’s interesting to me is that the second ingredient is Methylpropanediol, a penetration enhancer. This means that the glycolic acid is going to have a friend bringing it deeper into your skin than it would if applied without the Methylpropanediol.
The extracts and things are nice and all, but what’s most important to me is that everything is formulated and balanced in a way that results in me waking up the morning after using this with smooth, hydrated skin. My results tell the tale: for my skin, this formulation WORKS.
Why I like this better than CosRx’s AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid
Korean skincare company CosRx makes a much more affordable AHA (7%, glycolic). That seems to fit the theme of this blog (Korean beauty, not super pricey) better, so why pick the Paula’s Choice AHA?
- Better smell. Honestly, the whitehead power liquid smell is revolting to me.
- Better smell.
- Better smell. Seriously, that stuff smells like trash.
- Less purging of deep clogs.
- It seemed to dry my skin more while giving less back to it in terms of flake removal and moisture donation, but honestly the smell.
What Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA does for my skin
More skin stability and the creation of acne-free zones
Regular use of this product has resulted in some areas of my face not really having acne anymore, which wasn’t the case with other products. My forehead is clear from blemishes and the areas on my cheeks where I no longer have blemishes are expanding. It’s sort of beating back the boundaries of acne and clearing new land for mostly clear, bright skin.
Clearing of dead, dry skin
While using the Stridex Maximum Strength pads and Curology prescription my face gets very dry and flaky in areas where I’m fighting blemishes. This actually removes dead skin and leaves my skin more moisturized after using it.
Purging of closed comedones
This is the big one for me–a massive, game-changing discovery. While browsing the Skincare Addiction and Asian Beauty subreddits I started to see AHAs (I’d always thought of them as acids for dry skin) mentioned as acne-fighters because they take off the top layer of skin and force clogged bumps below the surface of one’s skin (without a visible whitehead) to come to the surface and be cleared.
These bumps resist coming to a white (pus) head, but this stuff works to force even my big, stubborn ones to come to the surface, display their white pus-y core, and be purged–ideally with both the pus and clog consisting of skin debris and oil being set free from deep within my skin by the exfoliation.
Ultimately, the clog that caused the comedo needs to be brought out of one’s skin in order to avoid repeating the blemish cycle over and over again. This is why professional extractions can be so helpful for troubled skin. It’s also why I’ve stopped using drying spot treatments containing things like alcohol–it’s actually unproductive, for my skin at least, to dry the blemish and trap the clog within a collapsed house of dry skin (which can further contribute to clogs). I find it more useful to encourage skin to turn over more rapidly and focus on moisture, which gives my clogs a better chance of escaping their imprisonment and leaving my skin forever.
Here’s a typical diagram of a closed comedo:
Well, sure, I guess, but let me show you what seems to happen when a nice dose of AHA enters my world and a comedo feels ready to make its whitehead debut.
This means that instead of bumps that stick around without doing anything at all for ages, I’ve suddenly got bumps with one or several white heads. This is actually great–get the nasty out of my skin! The important thing when confronted with these uncharacteristic (for my skin at least) hills with heads is to keep playing MY game–not change anything, but just keep doing what I’m doing: 10% AHA application, no squeezing, no physical exfoliation from scrubs or brushes. The only thing I’ll change is that I’ll slap on a CosRx pimple patch if the blemish has a white head and I think it’s 90% of the way to breaking open (the patch often softens the skin and encourages it to open) or already open and needing some patch-powered pus vacuuming. Once the blemish is open and the pus is out, I’ll do one more direct hit of PC 10% AHA to that spot only and then stop applying acid to that specific area so regularly and just hit it when I do my next whole-face acid application.
Prevention of new comedones
Since this acid moves dead skin along that means that my skin has fewer chances for dead skin to mate with my over-produced oil and form new clogs, which means fewer blemishes.
What this product doesn’t do for my skin
This really doesn’t do a ton for moving my nose’s sebaceous filaments, often called blackheads (but they’re not) along in the direction of death. What I’m talking about are the enlarged pores, often where there’s more oil production such as around one’s nose. I’m not really seeing this do tons in terms of making those pores less noticeable or smaller. What this does do for those pores is somehow encourage any clogged bits to come to a whitehead, suggesting that I may just have the shittiest skin on the planet since, from what I understand, those nose pores don’t even usually do that.
How I use it
I mainly use this as an all-over treatment to break up old and discourage new acne, but I also find that this is a great spot treatment that I can use rather than an alcohol-based drying product to encourage the quicker resolution of blemishes.
At least once per week during my evening skincare routine I apply this all over my skin, wait 30 minutes, and then apply other skincare layers over it. I especially like to follow a strong acid with a nice sheet mask and cream or sleeping pack.
When I say that I “apply it” I mean that I shake some of the formula from the bottle into the palm of my hand, dip the fingers from my other hand into the acid, and “paint” it on my face, attempting to keep the coverage even. I really prefer using my fingers to apply things like foundation and acids because I find that they offer greater control, but other people prefer to use a cotton applicator. I sometimes use one Selena cotton sheet–they’re particularly useful when I’m using a very strong acid and want to apply a lot of product very quickly. I tested the amount of liquid stolen and not returned by a single-ply Selena sheet and it seemed to be between 0.5 to 1.0 ml, depending on how seriously I wrung the sheet. It’s not a lot of product to lose if it makes your acid routine more do-able.
“Multi-masking,” wearing several different types of masks on one’s face in different places all at the same time, became something of a mainstream beauty trend this summer. I do something similar with acid: if I have an emerging blemish that I’d otherwise treat with an alcohol-laden spot treatment I just shake some 10% AHA into my hand and use a finger to apply the acid only to the places where I feel a breakout coming on. If I feel really creative I’ll use different acids on different skin problems. Multi-aciding with this 10% AHA helps to speed along the exfoliation process, bring the comedo to a white head, and keep the zit from getting dry and entrenched in my skin–I want to help the bad stuff move along ASAP. When I feel a cyst starting to take shape deep within my skin (it will feel hard, warm or hot, and a bit painful) I’ll treat it “multi-acid”-style as many as two times per day, morning and night with this product. I’ve found that it makes a MASSIVE difference in how big blemishes get, how long they stick around, and how completely they heal afterward. It commonly re-routes a blemish that would otherwise linger for days or weeks and end up forming some sort of pressure-filled blemish version of Mt. St. Helens that eventually doesn’t so much form a white head, but a pus-y magma chamber that erupts (or doesn’t fully), leaving skin devastation in its wake and a clog still embedded in my skin.
As much as this is useful as an all-over treatment, I find it even more valuable as a spot treatment.
Where this fits in my routine
I stole this graphic from my own visual guide to how to order one’s skincare products. By the way–this chart is just a guide to how to order your skincare–you absolutely do not need all 20 million products depicted in that diagram! ahaha
This AHA is a chemical exfoliant, so it goes after cleansing. For a detailed explanation of why this is the case, check out Skincare Discovery: Putting your products in order, including pH dependent acids by Cat at Snow White and the Asian Pear.
If you’ve washed your face within the last 30 minutes or so
- Use cleanser -> wipe on pH-lowering toner and let it dry (2 minutes) -> apply Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA (leave on for 30 minutes; I don’t apply other acids or prescription face medication when using this because it’s serious stuff)
pH-lowering toners will help bring your skin into the optimal exfoliation zone so that the 10% AHA will be able to do its thing most effectively. Examples of pH-lowering toners (toners with pH levels of 5.5 and lower) include Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Soombi Blooming Flowers Toner and Pixi Glow Tonic.
If you’ve washed your face more than 30 minutes ago
- Use cleanser -> apply Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA (leave on for 30 minutes; I don’t apply other acids or prescription face medication when using this because it’s serious stuff)
The 30+ minutes since cleansing should be enough time for your skin to return to its natural acidic pH level, which will be a great playing field for the 10% AHA.
Here’s what the full evening routine would look like if I didn’t wait after cleansing to get my acid on:
This smells like something you shouldn’t put on your skin. Each time I smell it I think “NO! That’s going to hurt!” It smells like nail polish, as other reviewers have mentioned, but nail polish that has been rendered non-toxic and ineffective. That said, it doesn’t smell like burned plastic or fermented trash, which is a step up from the CosRx AHA.
This feels very liquidy when first applied, but if I apply too much my skin feels slightly oily; this a common thing with Paula’s Choice products. The color is that of weak tea or diluted piss. Not exactly the most luxurious part of my routine ha.
When applied this causes a mild tingling sensation in skin that’s robust and healthy and the feeling of a million teeny tiny, cute bees stinging my hand if my skin’s condition is dry, cracked, and otherwise poor.
This product obviously needs to deliver a lot in terms of results to be worth even applying and tolerating.
Proofshots of my skin
I realized while writing this post how weak my before & after game is, heh, sorry. To take these photos I stuck my head in my lightbox and snapped away. The lightbox is an attempt to take roughly similar photos across time although I realize now that I should probably figure out my angles and set them so I have more comparable photos. These photos are not filtered or retouched in any way.
The photos really show two different things depending on the zone of my face we’re talking about: improvement and purging.
In terms of improvement, in places where my skin didn’t have deeply embedded clogs (such as the apples of my cheeks), but it did have rough texture, discoloration, and enlarged pores, the AHA helped to resurface, even the color, and unclog.
In areas where I had deeply embedded clogs such as my jawline and mid-cheeks, the acid went to work on purging those clogs, which is why the after doesn’t show clear skin–there’s a lot of excavation that needs to happen before all the clogs are out.
Although the purging can be discouraging since it’s a constant reminder of how much work I still need to do, I’m encouraged by the broadening zone that’s clear, bright, and actually quite nice even without makeup. The AHA has clearly brightened my face to the extent that I no longer match my own neck ahahaha sob. But the mismatching is fine to me if it means that my skin is getting better fast.
Proofshots with my microscope attachment
The point of these highly unscientific shots of my hand skin (taken with my iPhone and microscope attachment) is to show what happens when extremely dry, damaged skin has one acid treatment. On one hand (har har), I’m sorry to say that it’s not a lot–one encounter with this product won’t completely resurface your skin. It will incrementally improve it.
On the other, less dry hand, these photos will hopefully reassure people who are nervous about the effect of this acid and its power–it’s not going to dissolve all of your skin in one go. For such an effective product it’s actually quite gentle.
One thing I noticed while using the acid on my cracked, dry hand is that it really does sting a lot on skin that’s dry and compromised. It’s not unbearable, but the discomfort was certainly higher than when I applied it to my face (although this may also be related to how we feel pain on different parts of our bodies).
These photos seem to suggest that you’ll need a few weeks of this to really see results and that regular skincare is essential for healthy, glowing skin. No surprises here, honestly, but I love looking at photos like this, so I included them. ahaha
Philosophy of Acids 101
Let’s point that pointless PhD to work and formulate a theory of acid use.
- Introduce one new acid at a time. This is basic skincare practice, but it’s especially important when dealing with acids because it’s easy to overexfoliate your skin and really screw up your exfoliation plans. I try to give my skin at least 6 weeks to adjust to a new acid, study it’s effectiveness, and hammer down a use routine that doesn’t kill my skin.
- Expect purging. When introducing a major exfoliator to troubled skin with a lot of clogs and bumps that otherwise aren’t moving you’re probably going to purge and it might get ugly. What I’m talking about is waking up and realizing that in place of a forever-entrenched bump on your jawline you now have a pink bump that has–at last!–sprouted one or more small white heads overnight. How do you know what’s a purge and what’s a breakout? It really requires you to know your problem zones–purges should mainly happen in areas where you have the most blemishes and signs of clogged pores. Purging isn’t pretty, but it means that you’re really getting what you came for–the excavation required to remake good skin.
- If it hurts, back off. Sure, the acid will feel tingly and you might flake a bit for a few days after applying this, but if your skin is pink, tender, and feeling a bit burned it’s time to put the acids down and focus on letting it heal.
- I’m starting to suspect that people with extremely troubled skin like mine may do best with strong acids fewer times per week (with more acid-free down time to allow for recovery from the strong jolt). For ages I tried to use daily acids in small percentages to bring my skin to jesus, but it was only when I started doing mega weekly peels that I saw the big time results, purging of piled-up stuff in my troubled zones, fewer new breakouts, and continually unclogging pores.
AHAs work by chemically sloughing off top layers of your skin. That means that your skin is photosensitive after using them–and not just immediately after applying them, but much longer. Therefore, wear sunscreen when using AHAs.
It’s totally possible that overusing acids and prescription skin medication will result in overexfoliation if you’re not careful. Introduce new acids slowly. If your skin seems irritated, dry, and pink or red a few days after using an acid, back off and let it heal before continuing with your acid routine.
Changes in pigmentation
AHAs actually even and brighten skin tone by exfoliating the top layer of skin–the amount depends on the type of AHA used. If you’re concerned about your skintone getting lighter, this particular AHA may not be for you. Mandelic acid, which has larger molecules that penetrate less deeply is recommended for deeper skin tones because it delivers the exfoliation without skin tone alteration.
Where to buy Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA
Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA [Paula’s Choice website | Nordstrom | Amazon]
I buy my Paula’s Choice products directly from their website. At the time of writing this costs $35 for a full-size bottle or $1 for a sample, but there are frequent sales and you can take $10 off your purchase by clicking on my referral link before you shop. Don’t be afraid of their shipping costs by the way–I recently ordered just a bottle of this and I found them to be exceptionally fair (under $3). You can also purchase from Amazon and Nordstrom; both offer free shipping.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Clicking those links before you shop means that fan-b receives a small commission, which helps to support the blog. Please see my full disclosure for more information.