I've had mild to moderate acne since I was a teenager, and tried every prescription medication--clindamyacin, benzyaclin, epiduo, doxycycline, etc--plus every drugstore or makeup counter solution I could find. Then I stopped using birth control pills, and my skin started having severe acne. As my skin is both dry and VERY sensitive, most everything I tried made my skin worse. I finally settled down with Neutrogena's proactiv-knockoff kit, since it didn't clear up my acne but neither was it inflammatory.
I ordered Paula's Choice Regular Strength Acne Trio in a trial size. I've always appreciated her thorough reviews of makeup ingredients lists, as it's helped me avoid some triggers for my sensitive skin. I wasn't very enthusiastic or hopeful, but after two weeks of daily use I realized half my face is blemish-free, and the other half has only a dozen zits in various stages of healing. I don't feel any pain or pressure or itching from incoming cysts, so perhaps--with regular use--I've finally conquered my acne.
The cleansing solution is gentle but effective (sometimes I have to clean twice to remove stubborn makeup), the salicylic acid toner doesn't sting or dry me out (unlike every other toner I tried--Clinique's was the worst, btw), and the 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream applies smoothly, dries quickly and can be worn underneath makeup. I didn't dry out or get flaky; in fact, I think my skin is smoother than when I was heavily experimenting with exfoliants.
I'll indulge in the full-sized kit (which, at $45, is a little pricey but should last a couple of months) and see how it goes. Hopefully the salicylic acid in the toner will help fade my many, many acne scars.
This review is for the "CLEAR Regular Strength Acne System."
I honestly didn't think higher quality products could make this much of a difference... but I was so wrong! I'll spare most of my history with acne and all of the OTC and Rx products I've tried over the years. Suffice to say, I've been suffering with mild to moderate acne for over 18 years and these are the best products I've tried to date. I'm currently 29 and deal with mild acne on my cheeks that comes and goes, some rosacea rash-like "acne" on my forehead and I tend to develop a few cysts on my chin before my period. I also have large pores on and around my nose.
Prior to using this system, I cleansed with C&C Foaming Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin, spot treated with Acne.org's BP and used Acne.org's moisturizer. The C&C cleanser is simple but after using Paula's cleanser, I now notice the low quality and how the SLS ingredient may cause irritation issues. I also think the Acne.org BP may lose potency after a while due to its large size, which I've found to be unnecessary. While C&C and Acne.org products used to be my HGs, they weren't working for me very well and I came to accept that I needed to find something else.
Paula's CLEAR cleanser can be used twice per day or even just once (sometimes after a shower, I will only use the BHA on a cotton pad and BP). I can see how it could leave skin a little tight but it's usually not an issue if followed by the BHA liquid. The BHA is absolutely vital to this system so don't think of it as just a "toner." It feels like very good quality and actually adds moisture to my skin; it's also fading my post-acne marks, which is something a TON of products claim to do but very FEW live up to. The BP is also very good quality and is working well; my only complaint is that it's a tad liquidy, in that the first bit can seep out of the tube on its own without squeezing. It dries completely clear, however, which is great if you want to follow with moisturizer, makeup or both.
Take a minute to read this blurb about triclosan (http://www.paulaschoice.com/cosmetic-ingredient-dictionary/definition/triclosan); I personally don't believe there's any reason to be concerned about triclosan in this cleanser.
The packaging and claims can seem a bit gimmicky at first (i.e., "This will give you the clear skin you've ALWAYS wanted!") but once I got passed it and gave these products a try, I really don't think I'll stray from using them. After two weeks, my skin is already clearer, brighter, smoother and overall much better than before. The BHA has even helped the rosacea acne on my forehead to be less rashy and irritated, proving its both effective and gentle.
If this is helpful to anyone, I decided against purchasing the trial system, even though it is less expensive because if you aren't satisfied with the products, you can send return them for a full refund, even if they're empty.
Any questions, please feel free to PM me.
This worked great for about a week and a half.. then I broke out like crazy and the toner dried my skin out. It appeared tight and stripped of all its natural oils. The cleanser contains Triclosan an antibacterial agent, which is generally NOT recommended by dermatogists for the treatment of acne. Nor is any toner for that matter. Overuse of Triclosan may cause the development of new bacteria strains that are resistant to antibiotics and may pose health problems. There are also reports that triclosan can react with the chlorine found in tap water to form a carcinogen known as chloroform gas. The excessive use of triclosan has also been connected to the incidence of allergies. Triclosan is most successful in eliminating acne when it is combined with other skin care products containing ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Triclosan acts as a protective agent that encourages the longevity and effectiveness of other treatments for acne. When used solely to combat skin disorders, triclosan is not as strong as some other solutions that are designed for the same purpose.
I'll let you be the judge :|
If you really want to get rid of your acne. I found the only thing that works for me is peels. Salicylic acid peels are the best for oily skin types and acne prone skin. I rotate Glycolic and Salicylic peels and have had great results!
Onto my second set of this system, the first lasted me ~2-3months. See my other reviews for my opinions on the individual components. I used a combination of this and the instructions from the acne.org regimen and found my skin cleared up within about 1.5 months. I had mild to moderate, persistant acne over my face, which had worsened a lot after coming off Diane (Brenda) 35 birth control pills. Now I'm just getting occasional pimples, maybe 1 a week? It's a lot less than before.
My skin (normally oily) also dried out a bit and has become more sensitive and reddened since using this. Open pores that collect dirt/look like blackheads have diminished slightly but not entirely. I would recommend a good moisturiser to keep from drying out your skin from the benzoyl peroxide if you use this (Cetaphil is the best I've found so far). It took a while for my skin to adjust to the benzoyl peroxide, it's a bit harsh at first. Once I worked up to using it twice a day my skin really started to look a lot clearer.
The first I ordered on sale from Paula's choice Australia. The second time I ordered from America. Both were expensive. Not sure if I will continue with the system - if I can find a cheaper option I will, but overall price is my only real complaint. High quality system and would recommend it if you're willing to pay the money for it.
*IN DEPTH REVIEW BELOW, SCROLL DOWN FOR TL;DR*
Paula, where have you been all my life? This system has transformed my once acne-ridden skin and made it soft, supple and spot-free. Where do I start?
I began my journey with acne (although it wasn't a mutual decision to pair up) in the 5th grade. I've had varying success with other acne systems (Proactiv - No, AcneFree - kind of, Oxy Clinical - yes), topicals, stand-alone products, but nothing I've loved. I have realized that my skin really does need a combination of Benzoyl Peroxide and BHA (Salicylic Acid) to see results (which is what CLEAR has). My skin was relatively clear for the years I was on birth control (~8 years), but I finally had to go off of them because my anxiety got too bad due to the hormones.
And then the acne came back. With a vengeance. I should note these were not, and I have never had an issue with cystic acne - my skin has always had pimples but they were generally above the surface, whiteheads/blackheads and clogged pores. But they were everywhere, especially my cheeks, jawline/neck and around my mouth (can you say HORMONES?). My mom kept telling me about Paula's Choice, and reluctantly I agreed to try it. I didn't have anything to lose, so I bought the original 3-step system.
I'm not lying when I say that my skin was nearly flawless in a week. In about six days I went from 15-20 active breakouts to probably one or two. I was floored. I have never used a product or a system that worked so fast, and so well. The cleanser does not strip your skin - you feel hydrated after applying (though I do remove my makeup with Baby Oil first, as the cleanser isn't too terribly effective at removing makeup). The BHA/Salicylic Acid toner imparts NO BURN, and just feels like water going onto your face. The 2% Benzoyl Peroxide lotion is also incredibly effective, although I still use my 10% Clean and Clear BP spot treatment on big spots I feel under the surface, though the prevalence of those has severely diminished since using.
When I first got the kit I was using morning and night - I think this was an important factor in clearing my skin quickly. These products did not dry out my skin in the slightest, though I moisturize with Cerave Lotion after applying the BP. Since my skin has cleared, I now only need to use the system in the evening to stay clear. When its that time of the month, I usually go back to morning and night for four or five days, and I'm in the clear. Literally.
I seem to run out of the toner the fastest, and can usually go through two bottles before I'm done with the cleanser and BP treatment. If you can get an extra bottle on sale, go for it. When I ran out the first time I replaced the toner with the alcohol free Stridex pads, and the system seemed to work fine. I love the system together, but if you wanted to go with just two products I'd recommend the BHA and the BP. You could skip the cleanser, though I love how non-stripping it is. But if you already have a favorite one that effectively removes makeup and leaves your skin soft, you may want to stick with that. I have heard great things about her other BHA products, but I have not tried them so I can't compare.
Since starting on the CLEAR system I've had little-to-no breakouts, consistently clear, soft skin and a huge reduction in blackheads and clogged pores. My pores look a little smaller and my skin overall looks tighter. I do use an AHA cream (not by PC) after applying the BHA toner (sometimes after the BP, I haven't noticed a difference doing either) about 3x a week, which I use for exfoliation. Although the BHA is an exfoliant, I do find I need a little bit more oomph if I want that glowing skin.
I dislike that this system is so expensive, but I will continue to purchase because it works better than anything I've ever tried and you can't really put a price on confidence. I'm on my 3rd CLEAR system right now. I'm not surprised at the price anymore, after realizing that this system really does work. Subscribe to the PC email newsletter and you'll get coupon codes often for her products - she occasionally does 20% off of CLEAR, or 20% off sitewide, etc. Since the system is ~$50, free shipping is usually included.
**NOTE ON THE EXTRA-STRENGTH SYSTEM:
I recently ordered the Extra-Strength system and have found that it's a little too harsh for my skin (and that's after years of using 10% BP and other strong acne products). When I use the XS system I can't moisturize w/ my Cerave Lotion because it stings after I apply it, so I use Rosehip Seed Oil. If I use the system by itself it is VERY drying. I do not experience this kind of dryness when I use the Regular System by itself. From personal experience I really only recommend the Extra Strength system if you have severe acne or cystic acne and very oily skin - it may work better for you. Regardless of what you purchase, PC has amazing customer service and will take care of you if you're dissatisfied.
TL;DR: It works. Buy it.
EDIT 12.13.2012: I have bumped this system to 5 Lippies! It is seriously amazing at keeping my skin in check and not drying it out at all. My skin feels smoother and softer, and it's all thanks to this! Original review below.
Price: 4 ($47.85 CAN + taxes + shipping)
Buy again: yes (See explanation below)
I have had acne for over 10 years, and for a while Benzoyl Peroxide was the only thing to help with the deep cystic acne I would get due to hormones. I was on the pill for a few years which helped tremendously, but I recently got off the pill and my acne came back! I'd tried ProActiv in the past, and while it did work, I didn't like the cleanser or toner, and found the products in general very expensive. I decided to try out this kit after reading good reviews.
I really like this 3-step system. I got the 2-week Trial kit in Regular Strength and used it for a few days and I could tell the difference immediately. All 3 products, when used together, are supposed to help fade leftover red marks as well.
The cleanser is great, it removes makeup (I don't wear heavy makeup, just mineral makeup) and deep cleans without drying my skin out at all.
The Toner is FANTASTIC - it really does feel like water; no stinging or burning sensations, no alcohol smell... and it smooths the skin out and reduces pores and blackheads like nobody's business.
The 2.5% BP lotion is great too. It's a lightweight, smooth (not grainy at all) gel that absorbs quickly, and isn't drying (I use 5% BP most of the time, so I'm used to it). It doesn't leave any residue marks. I usually apply a moisturizer on top though, just to make sure my skin doesn't dry out. I also wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or 55.
I have noticed that my breakouts have lessened, and the hyperpigmentation left behind IS fading faster than usual. So, yes, these products live up to their claims, as long as you are consistent with them. I said I would buy again, because I really do like them, and I WOULD repurchase, if not for the price. The price of the products in a kit is a fair price. However, to get them shipped to Canada, I would have to pay $11.50 USD in shipping, PLUS Canadian taxes... so this kit ends up being as expensive as ProActiv, and not nearly as convenient, as I can only buy this online. It makes me sad because I really do like these products.
If you live in the States or you don't mind paying an excess of $20 in other fees, I highly recommend this kit if you're struggling with acne. For the rest of us, however, I am going to keep looking for a decent drugstore (or more accessible) toner and Acne.Org 2.5% BP gel ($16.52/8 Oz). They may not be as good as Paula's Choice, but they are cheaper and effective.
EDIT October 15, 2012: PaulasChoice.com is offering free shipping until November 6, 2012, so I decided to buy 2 kits to stock up for a while! I really do love the results that I can get with this product, so it's worth it to get it! Plus, I love all the free samples!
I use the extra-strength kit and it has really improved my skin. I've used it in the past but strayed to try out other products. Big mistake. It's taken two months for my skin to recover. I mostly use it once a day in the evening. If my skin is dry I will add Clinque Moisture gel on top. I also find that I need to use a makeup remover as the cleanser will not remove makeup thoroughly (Clinque Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm before and Bioderma Sensibo H2O afterwords to be on the safe side). I will continue to repurchase this kit.
I have tried every solution on market place (acne.org program, Proactive, peels, pills, you name it!) and this has honestly made the biggest difference. My skin seems to be glowing and if I do get an occasional hormonal pimple, it is quite small and ususally gone within 24 hours. I use this and also the 2% BHA lotion and will never look back.
I have sensitive, acne-prone, combination skin. I liked the face wash, although it didn't do much to clear up my acne. I only used the toner at night because it was overly drying to use in the morning too, and eventually I threw it out because my skin was not improving at all. The benzoyl peroxide treatment was the worst - it gave me majorly dry, irritated, itchy skin when used as directed.
Overall, these products are too harsh for sensitive skin. I won't buy this line again; I like Paula's Choice Skin Balancing products much better.
Surprisingly this line did not work for me. Normally I LOVE Paula's Choice products, but not this line. Perhaps it's the cleanser that I have an issue with. I don't wear any foundation, and for some reason when I used the toner, the cotton ball was left looking like I have a bunch of dirt on my face still. I just don't feel like the cleanser cleaned enough. I did like the toner and acne treatment, but they were nothing special. For a lot cheaper I use Neutrogena Acne Defense Lotion (BHA), and Oxy Clinical Treatment (5% BP).
EDIT: I found out that it was a medication I was taking that's making me break out. ARGH! I stopped taking that med and my skin cleared up. So this system is good! I still get "dirt" on the cotton ball though. Either way, it's working now so I give it 5 lippies!