Blackheads (and their sinister cousin, whiteheads) have plagued me for years; they simply cannot let me go. Across my T-zone, I have pretty large pores going on that cannot resist getting filled with gunk. After years of skin torture in the form of Biore pore strips and ultra strong peel-off masks, I was left with blackheads and a load of irritation. I have tried anything and everything in my quest to send blackheads to that place that Gandalf fell, including a memorable incident with a pore vacuum, which I can heartily say I do not recommend. While it turns out expecting instant results was getting me nowhere (who knew?), I have stumbled upon a cult favorite product I would happily douse my face in for the rest of my life.
read this if you're in your saving era this summer
I routinely spend time google researching blackhead remedies while binging The Great British Baking Show (don’t you?), and unfailingly, the Paula’s Choice BHA exfoliant would appear in comments and on message boards surrounded by words like magic, life-changing, and undeniable. It’s a chemical exfoliator, which means it doesn’t require those skin-shredding granules I used to slather over my face in middle school.
“I recommend ‘chemical’ exfoliation over physical, meaning using an acid or enzyme to exfoliate instead of physical particles as in a scrub,” said Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, dermatologist and owner of Dr. Loretta Skincare. “With physical exfoliation, you’re removing only surface dead cells. With a chemical exfoliant like AHA/glycolic, BHA/salicylic, or an enzyme, you’re removing cells both in pores as well as on skin’s surface.”
I caved and bought the 2% BHA Exfoliant so I could test the magic for myself about eight months ago. The formula takes a moment to get used to—initially, I was really skeptical since it feels quite oily on the skin. I was expecting more of a light zingy feeling, and instead, it has more of an oil-based slick quality. I apply it with a cotton round and concentrate it on the areas where my blackheads like to congregate—mainly my nose, upper lip (sexy!), and chin.
Despite my doubts, I’ve actually gotten used to how the formula feels, and after around eight months of use, it’s made my hallowed list of auto-buy repurchases. My favorite part is how gentle it feels with no burning, itching, or stinging like other exfoliators—both chemical and physical—that I’ve tried. All Paula’s Choice products are fragrance-free as well, which is a welcome respite from recent overly-scented launches (Fenty Skin, I’m looking at you).
I’ve worked up to using it every night, and I’ve found that of all my lotions and potions, BHA (aka salicylic acid) works best for my skin in terms of refining texture and reducing pore blockage (my nemesis). I’m going to be real: I still have some blackheads. I think they may have decided to be with me forever, and who could blame them? But overall, the pores on my nose are less noticeable and enlarged and the skin on my cheeks and forehead feels buttery smooth, which wasn’t my intention in using this product but is a delightful side effect. Here’s a photo I would use to announce the Exfoliant and I are engaged:
In general when I’m having skin woes, I go back to the drawing board with my tried-and-true products I know work and don’t irritate my skin. The 2% BHA Exfoliant always makes the list, along with a gentle cleanser and hyaluronic acid serum. And of course, sunscreen.
- If you’re dealing with blackheads, try this. Definitely try it before reaching for a quick-fix solution like a pore vacuum (your skin and I am begging you).
- Be prepared to use this for a few months at least. Commit to it! I’m notorious for rotating my skincare too fast and thinking that nothing is working when really I needed to give it more time.
- Always use sunscreen when you’re using this product. You know what, just always use sunscreen full stop.
- On my skin, this is pretty gentle, but I still recommend doing a patch test and working up to using every night, especially if your skin is sensitive.
- According to Paula’s Choice, exfoliants are step three after your cleanser and toner and before your serum and moisturizer. I usually skip toner, but otherwise, follow that order.
More Paula’s Choice faves from the team
2% BHA Body Lotion
This lotion has been a life-saver for the keratosis pilaris on my upper arms.
10% Niacinamide Booster
I frequently use this serum booster post-BHA exfoliant to fade old acne scars.