Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid vs. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant


It’s been a while lovelies, but I’M BAAAAAACK! Shit got cray for a few weeks – I increased my hours at one of my jobs, got a puppy, then my computer crashed, and I just got it back yesterday. Anyway, I upgraded my computer so now it’s super fast and amazing…silver linings!

Today, I want to talk about how much chemical exfoliation has changed my life. I’m going to start with BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids), and then move on to AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) in my next post, then talk about how I incorporate them into my nighttime routine.

Until about 10 or so weeks ago, I’d never used chemical exfoliants. They aren’t typically used in a Korean skincare routine, and most Korean skincare companies don’t make any BHA or AHA products, so it was something that wasn’t even on my radar. One of my besties in HCMC got her hands on Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliating Liquid and the holy grail Biologique Recherché P50 Lotion for me and GIRL. My skin hasn’t looked so good pretty much…ever. Both products are pretty pricey and difficult to get in Vietnam (well Paula’s Choice is in Vietnam now but still expensive), but thank god that some Korean companies have started making BHA and AHA products, so I decided to do comparison reviews. On today’s agenda is the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid vs the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Exfoliating Liquid.

First things first, what are BHAs? What do they do? How do they help? BHAs or Beta Hydroxy Acids work by “degunking” your pores. Since BHAs are oil soluble, they penetrate through the oil that’s clogging your pores and exfoliate all of the dead skin cells that have built up inside. This is why BHAs are recommended for those with oily skin. BHAs also have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, help reshape your pores, and allow your other skincare products better penetrate your skin. Salicylic acid is the most common type of BHA, but there’s also Betaine salicylate, which is what COSRX (and most Korean products) uses in its products. If you have oily or acne prone skin, suffer from blackheads and white bumps, adding a BHA to your routine will be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Adding BHA products to my routine has drastically improved my skin’s texture and appearance. I no longer have acne, and my post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation has faded significantly. Here are some comparison photo for reference:

Before and After – roughly 11 weeks apart
Acne is all cleared up, but lots of Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation – approx. 6 weeks ago
Makeup/filter free – about 4 weeks ago
Photo taken about one week ago – scars are fading!

GET YOUR LIFE GIRL. I don’t have to use as much concealer anymore, my skin feels like a baby butt, and I legit look like I have been sleeping 9 hours a night and drinking kale smoothies all day but that’s like the opposite of my life right now.

So let’s start with the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, or what is widely regarded as the holy grail BHA product by many a skincare lover.

paulaschoicecloseupFrom the Paula’s Choice website:

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant rapidly exfoliates both the skin’s surface and inside the pore, reshaping the pore lining, unclogging pores and improving skin cell turnover rate. The result is a dramatic improvement in the skin’s appearance, feel, and function which leads to healthier skin. There is a great deal of research indicating that BHA (beta hydroxy acid) increases collagen production and drastically smooths the surface of skin. Additionally, BHA has antibacterial properties that attack blemish-causing bacteria. The lightweight, non-occlusive formula allows for a faster and deeper exfoliation rate than our gel or lotion BHA products, so it’s an ideal choice for stubborn clogged pores or blackheads.

It’s packaged in a hard plastic bottle, containing 4oz/118ml of product. I’ve had my bottle for about 12 weeks now and it’s just now on it’s last legs, so it lasts a decent amount of time. The BHA of choice in the Paula’s Choice exfoliant is salicylic acid, so if you are allergic to aspirin, this is not the product for you.


The texture of the 2% liquid exfoliant is very watery. I apply it using a cotton pad, because I find that applying it with my hands leaves them peeling and gross. Ain’t nobody got time for that.


You can use the 2% liquid day and night, but I prefer to only use it at night, roughly 2 to 3 times a week, depending on what my skin is doing. I wash my face, apply a toner, then apply my BHA. I let my BHA sit on my skin for about 20 minutes before continuing with the rest of my routine. Why? Well, if you apply your moisturizer right after you apply your chemical exfoliant of choice, it raises the pH of the exfoliant, which renders the active ingredients useless. Also, waiting that long allows the acids to neutralize, and do their magic on your skin. During the 20 minutes, I answer e-mails, scroll through Tumblr, or do something productive like wash my dishes. This is partly why I use it only at night, because I don’t have time in the morning for a long skincare routine.

Without a doubt, the Paula’s Choice liquid exfoliant has improved my skin tremendously. All of the claims on the bottle have definitely happened to me, and I’m very happy with my results. But my major gripe is that it leaves my skin SO GREASY. Like I rubbed a pizza all over my face greasy. According to the website, the greasy feeling can be attributed to using too much of the product (maybe??), and if you live in a humid, moist climate (MOST DEFINITELY). Either way, it’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling and one that I was willing to put up with until I started using the COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid, my new ultimate favorite.


COSRX is a brand that’s been around for a while, but is just now starting to gain some attention with Korean skincare fanatics because they are one of the few (if only??) Korean brands that make well formulated chemical exfoliant products. Fifty Shades of Snail just did a really great interview with the marketing assistant from COSRX that you definitely want to check out to learn more about the brand.

The blackhead power liquid is packaged in a clear, plastic bottle with a pump top, containing 100ml of product. It’s not as runny/watery as the Paula’s Choice product, just only slightly thicker than water. I also apply this product using a cotton pad, but out of habit. I don’t know if it will cause your hands to peel or not. Another thing to note is that it smells pretty fucking awful, like really chemical-y/sort of like paint. Thankfully, the scent doesn’t linger.


The active BHA in the COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid is betaine salicylate (4%). Betaine salicylate is similar to salicylic acid, and is derived from sugar beets. Apparently there are strict laws about salicylic acid used in over the counter products in Korea, so most BHAs that are made and sold there are actually formulated with betaine salicylate. What’s super interesting to note is that even the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliating Liquid sold in Korea is formulated with 5% betaine salicylate and not salicylic acid, as you can see here. I’d be VERY curious to see how both Paula’s Choice products compare, as the few English reviews I’ve found have said the betaine salicylate product is better. Betaine salicylate is apparently gentler than salicylic acid, and also provides time released exfoliation. 

To use, I wash my face, apply toner, then apply the Blackhead Power Liquid and again, wait for 20 minutes, then move on to the rest of my skincare.

I’ve been using the COSRX liquid for about 5 weeks, and in my opinion, it’s better than the Paula’s Choice 2% liquid in many ways. It doesn’t leave my skin greasy, which is a huge selling point for me. It’s not really drying either, which is pretty nice. I’ve done side by side comparisons of both liquids, and my skin feels much softer and smoother in the mornings on the side where I’ve used the COSRX liquid. I also think it’s done a better job at evening my skin tone and lightening my PIH than the Paula’s Choice liquid. Since using BHAs in general, my acne has completely cleared, and I haven’t had a single breakout (not even a hormonal one!) in at least 8 weeks.

Once you start using BHAs, the change is pretty drastic in the beginning then it sort of peters out. I was expecting that for sure, but I feel that with the COSRX liquid I am constantly seeing improvements with my skin, where as I feel the Paula’s Choice product definitely cleared up my acne and smoothed my skin, but stopped being as effective with long term usage. I feel like if I keep using the COSRX regularly, within the next 4 to 6 weeks all of my PIH will be 99.9% gone.

Also, COSRX is cheaper than Paula’s Choice, and even if it wasn’t, I’d still buy it over the Paula’s Choice product. Basically, both products have cleared up my skin and helped me finally overcome my skin issues, but I have to award the grand prize to the COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid because it is just simply more effective for me.

Some other notes:
+ If it’s your first time using a BHA product, start off slowly. Only use once to twice a week initially, then slowly build up your tolerance. There may be some slight purging. I purged for about 2 weeks when I first introduced acids into my skincare routine, but I also was a crazy person and didn’t build up. Learn from my mistakes.

+ BHAs do not increase sun sensitivity, but everyone everywhere should always be using a sunscreen anyway. I’m currently using the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF. It’s cheap and awesome and I love it!

You can purchase the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant from the official website here. It retails for $26 dollars.

The COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid is available at Wishtrend for $18 dollars (A STEAL!).

Have you tried any BHA products? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

**this post contains affiliate links**

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