BHA: COSRX vs Paula’s Choice (Which One Is Better?)

So, right off the bat, I am going to go ahead and say I like both products.

However, having used both BHAs, several factors helped determine which one of these is slightly better than the other, so this is what I will be talking about in this article.

I’ve heard many people say the COSRX BHA liquid is supposed to be a cheaper dupe of Paula’s Choice BHA, and while I can see where this is coming from, it is surely not the case.

So, out of curiosity and the increased availability of BHA alternatives, I decided to give these products a whirl and see what’s up.

Below, read my honest review of the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid vs. the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant.

BHA COSRX vs Paula’s Choice

NB: I can show you how to never have acne again. If you have acne and want it gone, read this message.

What Does BHA Do To The Skin?

BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid and the main ingredient in this group is salicylic acid.

It is an oil-soluble component that cuts through the surface oil and penetrates deeper into the pores to dissolve oil, dead skin cells, and accumulated white blood cells.

To be effective, BHA must have a pH between 3 and 4, which tells us it is slightly acidic.

Therefore, BHA exfoliants are more suitable for oily skin types as well as skin prone to acne breakouts.

On the other hand, BHA is also known for not always being that suitable for dry skin types as it has the tendency to further dry the skin out.

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid Review

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid review

COSRX is a Korean skincare brand that has acquired a cult following from all over the world.

One of their most popular product is the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid which is supposed to rid your skin of blackheadsacne, dead skin cells, soothe inflammation, give you a brighter and glowier complexion, etc.


It always pleases me when I see a product that is simple, straight to the point, and has the ingredient list to prove it.

The BHA Blackhead Power Liquid contains only 11 ingredients, and all of them look pretty amazing.

Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Butylene Glycol, Betaine, Niacinamide, Betaine Salicylate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Xantham Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol.

Let’s explain some of them

Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water

Salix Alba Bark Water is a plant extract that contains salicin, a substance that, when taken orally, is converted by the digestive process to salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid.)

However, when used in cosmetics, salicin has to be converted into salicylic acid with the help of enzymes, and it remains stable only under acidic conditions.

Most importantly, this ingredient has soothing benefits for the skin, which may help with inflammatory conditions like acne.


Niacinamide is an antioxidant and a barrier-repairing component that offers a plethora of skin benefits.

For oily skin, niacinamide visibly improves the appearance of pores and also balances out oil production. For aging skin, it can improve uneven skin tone, dullness, and fine lines.

Additionally, for dry and sensitive skin, niacinamide can help improve a weakened or damaged skin barrier by promoting the formation of ceramides, which are lipids naturally found in our skin barrier with the main function of preventing moisture loss.

Betaine Salicylate

This is an alternative ingredient to salicylic acid, primarily used in countries where the usage of salicylic acid is prohibited (such as Korea.)

It’s a promising alternative ingredient; however, it requires double the amount of salicylic acid in order to offer similar results.

For example, if standard skincare products contain 2% salicylic acid, you want to use 4% betaine salicylate to get a similar effect.

Sodium Hyaluronate

This is the salt form of the skin-replenishing ingredient hyaluronic acid. It is considered more effective for the skin than pure hyaluronic acid due to its greater compatibility.


The BHA Blackhead Power Liquid has an essence-type consistency; however, it is more on the liquid side than those typical and slightly thicker Korean essences (take COSRX’s Snail Mucin Essence, for example).

The texture makes this product easy to glide when used on damp skin, and a little bit of product goes a long way. One to two pumps are enough for me to cover my entire face and more.

My recommendation is to apply it directly on the face instead of applying it on a cotton pad first as this saves you from wasting more of the product.


The BHA Power Liquid doesn’t contain artificial fragrance and doesn’t have a scent.


What I’ve noticed about this product is that you have to use it for a long time in order to see the results it claims.

After using this since the end of November while writing this review in April, I have noticed the results it claims to give.

Still, it takes a long time for those annoying, embedded blackheads to dissolve and disappear.

But it’s not all grey and this product does give some quick results in the sense of making your skin look brighter and smoother after as little as several uses.

In case you are wondering, no, the acne won’t disappear overnight; however, you will wake up with a brighter and glowier complexion and soothed redness.

As for the pores, yes, it certainly makes them appear smaller, and this is what pleased me the most about it. Also, it doesn’t leave a greasy residue once applied to the skin, which is fantastic news for those with oily skin.

Additionally, I’ve noticed that everything over two pumps is a lot for the skin, especially for those that tend to show sensitivity, so be mindful of that and don’t use more than one full pump.

You could certainly do well with a little less.

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid application

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid Pros:

  • Good price ($24 for 100ml, but you can find it as low as $18 on some sites.)
  • Pump bottle.
  • Absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a greasy residue.
  • Gives instant brightening and skin-soothing results.
  • Offers good hydration due to the hyaluronic acid.
  • Minimizes large pores.
  • A small amount (only 1 pump) is needed for the entire face.

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid Cons:

  • Takes long and consistent use to get rid of deeply embedded blackheads
  • May be irritating for those with sensitive skin

Where to Buy?

You can buy the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid on the following sites:

Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant Review

Paula's Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant Review

Paula’s Choice 2% Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliant is an exfoliating solution marketed as a daily facial treatment that promises to treat acne, blackheads, and enlarged pores, as well as provide an even skin tone and contribute to a smoother complexion.

I’ve seen a lot of people online saying this is a toner; however, I beg to differ.

Exfoliating solutions such as this one are something you typically use after a toner, but it wouldn’t be a sin if you skipped the toning part, in my opinion.


Water, Methylpropanediol (hydrator/penetration enhancer), Butylene Glycol (slip agents/penetration enhancers), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (anti-irritant/antioxidant), Polysorbate-20 (solubilizing agent), Sodium Hydroxide (pH balancer), Tetrasodium EDTA (chelating agent)

I just love it when there is a short and straight-to-the-point ingredient list!

So, besides water and other super-hydrating ingredients such as Methylpropanediol and Butylene Glycol, the two main superstar ingredients in this product are:

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is used as the gold standard in skincare products intended for oily and acne-prone skin.

It is an oil-soluble ingredient, which means it can cut through the surface oil to get inside the pores and remove the buildup of sebum, bacteria, dead skin cells, and accumulated white blood cells.

Furthermore, it is a gentle, anti-inflammatory ingredient that is easily tolerated by the skin, and it takes very little time to get used to.

Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract

Camellia Oleifera has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as skin-soothing properties that show a significant promise for improving the appearance of damaged skin, according to research.

Furthermore, according to this study from June 2013, green tea extract has been shown to have a prolonged moisturizing effect, reduce skin roughness, as well as the ability to improve lines and wrinkles.


The consistency of this product is slightly oily and overall rich.

It feels like pure decadence when applied on the skin as it coats it with a layer of hydration due to the big drop of Methylpropanediol, which is an excellent moisture magnet but a little heavier than hyaluronic acid, for example.

As soon as I applied it the first time, I immediately got a little worried that it wouldn’t work very well for me because my skin is already super-oily; therefore, I feared this rich texture would create that unnecessary layer of grease.

But that wasn’t the case; however, there is a trick – a little goes a long way. 

We sometimes get carried away with skin care products, and we think that the more we apply – the more benefits we will receive; however, this is not a good way to go about any skincare product, and the BHA Liquid Exfoliant isn’t an exception.

The skin can only absorb as much; therefore, the less you apply – the better it will absorb.


Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliant has no added fragrance to it, however, it comes with a slight scent. It’s not horrible, but there is a slight medicinal smell to it.


I am a little bit biased when it comes to comparing the two BHAs, simply because Paula’s Choice product gave me faster results.

I had a breakout on my forehead that consisted of a few smaller pimples and one slightly bigger, angry cyst towards my left temple, so I decided it was the perfect time to put it to a test and see how this product would handle them.

While the breakout didn’t get fully cleared the next morning, in the place of the cyst was left a small pimple, while the small pimples on my forehead from the previous night were gone.

As for the pores, this didn’t make a massive difference right off the bat like the COSRX one due to its oily consistency; however, my pores also appeared significantly smaller in the morning.

And the glow it gave me was probably my favorite thing about this product and why I cannot recommend it enough!

Paula's Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant application

Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant Pros:

  • Gentle and non-irritating.
  • Soothes the skin.
  • Makes small pimples disappear overnight.
  • Significantly minimizes huge and painful cysts.
  • Offers excellent hydration.
  • Minimizes large pores.
  • A tiny amount is needed for the entire face.
  • Comes in a travel-size.

Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant Cons:

  • Although it is a little pricey, this product is definitely worth the money.
  • No pump on the bottle, which makes it a bit awkward to use.
  • It has a slight medicinal scent.

Where to Buy?

You can purchase Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant on the following sites:

Is the COSRX BHA a Dupe for Paula’s Choice BHA?

The COSRX BHA is not a dupe for Paula’s Choice BHA, as the two products have a few distinct differences that distinguish them from each other.

One of the main differences is the different consistency and work at different speeds.

Additionally, the COSRX BHA is considered gentler than the Paula’s Choice BHA, which is another key difference that separates the two products.

In my opinion, both the COSRX BHA and Paula’s Choice BHA are effective; therefore, it’s up to you to decide which one you want to try based on your skin needs, budget, lifestyle, and results you want to achieve.

Related Questions:

Is BHA & Salicylic Acid The Same?
Yes! BHA stands for Beta hydroxy acid and the only BHA ingredient is salicylic acid. It is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant, which means it can cut through the surface oil and penetrate deeper into the pores to clear out sebum, dead skin cells, and accumulated white blood cells.

Is It Safe To Use BHA Every day?
No, I don’t recommend using BHA every day as this may contribute to over-exfoliation, peeling, irritation, and increased sun sensitivity. Exfoliation should be reserved for 2-3 times a week.
How to Use BHA Exfoliants for Maximum Effect?
For maximum effect, start using BHA exfoliants 1-2 times a week, observing your skin’s response before slowly increasing usage.

Always apply to cleansed and toned skin, using a small amount on a cotton pad or directly into your hand.

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12 thoughts on “BHA: COSRX vs Paula’s Choice (Which One Is Better?)”

  1. Hi there! Thank you for sharing all that information with as. I’d like to ask how often should we use that toner? Also, after using BHA toner, can I put on my face a AHA or BHA serum? OR the BHA and AHA AHA peeling solution from the ordinary?

    • Hi Theo and thanks for reaching out with this excellent question!

      As I already suggested in some of my past articles, you cannot go wrong with exfoliating your skin 2-3 times a week. I get so many questions if daily exfoliation is good for the skin but our skin really doesn’t need that much exfoliation and this can easily lead to potential irritation due to over-exfoliation.

      Additionally, once you apply the BHA toner, I do not recommend that you top it up with any other form of exfoliation, especially not the Peeling Solution by The Ordinary as this is a strong treatment that should be done not more than once a week with no exfoliation done in the previous 4-5 days and probably 4-5 days after that.

      It’s best to play it safe with strong treatments like this one, so try combining it with something more nourishing instead.

      • What about an aha and retinol? I wanted to use one of the above two 2-3 times a week and the Sunday Riley Good Genes/Luna duo at night.

  2. Hi, i’m 17 and i’m suffering with some comedonal acnes on my face. Can uoi recommend for me between this paula’s and cosrx one?

  3. Hi Simone, I’m glad I found your article as I’m debating which one to get right now. This is sooo useful, thank you so much!

    You said that it’s better to use Cosrx BHA directly to the face, what about Paula’s Choice? Should I use cotton pad to apply it? Thank you 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for this! I was tossing between the two and this website was exactly what I needed and really helped make my decision.


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