Paula's Choice CLEAR Anti-Acne 3-step System


15 reviews

80% would repurchase

Package Quality: 4.0

Price: $$$

Package Quality: 4.0

Price: $$$

Not tested on animals


on 9/20/2015 12:21:00 AM

Age: 30-35

Skin: Sensitive, Fair, Neutral

Hair: Brown, Straight, Fine

Eyes: Brown

Several months ago I started developing a fairly bad case of acne. I was a bit baffled as I am 35, have had dry skin my entire life, and rarely had acne as a teen. I have used Paulas products in the past and liked they are gentle and fragrance free. Drugstore acne treatments are too harsh for my skin. I initially purchased a two week trial kit of the regular strength system to make sure it wasn't going to being too drying. The kit worked wonderfully, and I ordered the full size. This was just a bit drying, but nothing bothersome that can't be fixed with some moisturizer. Typically if I used SA or BP I get flakey, parched skin, not so with this line. I have noticed a very large reduction in the number of new pimples and its cleared up a lot of the old ones. The tube of benzoyl peroxide is very generous considering the price, though I wish there were a bit more of the salicylic acid. I typically use the cleanser twice a day, and the SA every evening. I use the BP every other night or so on stubborn areas.

on 1/2/2015 5:26:00 PM

Age: 30-35

Skin: Acne-prone, Medium, Not Sure

Hair: Black, Other, Other

Eyes: Brown

I had a case of adult acne that I've been struggling with for the last year. I tried many products, only to be disappointed and in some cases some of the products made my skin worse. In doing research about which product to try next, I kept coming across recommendations for this system, so I bought a trial kit. The first week, I noticed a slight improvement in skin texture. By the second week, I was still getting acne, but there were parts of my face that were starting to clear, so I stuck it out. I ran out of the trial kit by this time, so I bought the full sized kit. By week 3 and 4, I was still getting very bad acne, but as I had previously said, some parts of my skin were really clear, other parts were purging (I believe). By this time, I was getting a new pimple almost every day. I had lost hope in the system by week 4, but I kept using it while I tried to research what to use next. Suddenly during week 5, I believe my pores had finally cleared. From this point on, my skin kept getting clearer and clearer. I have been using the system for 3 months now and I finally feel like my skin is under control and is clear. I still get an occasional pimple, about 2-3 per month, but they are always small and heal quickly. I am very thankful for others recommending the system, otherwise I would have never tried it as I had never even heard of this brand before. All the products are gentle and the benzoyl peroxide is nice and doesn't irritate my skin, although it made my skin a little dry at first. If you've had bad reactions to benzoyl peroxide, I would still try this brand. I had previously used another brand that left my skin burned and itchy, but Paula's choice's version didn't leave me with any adverse affects. This is a great system and I hope the formula never changes, I am so happy I finally found something that works for me.

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

on 12/14/2014 11:19:00 PM

Age: 19-24

Skin: Acne-prone, Fair, Not Sure

Hair: Brunette, Other, Other

Eyes: Brown

Out of alllllll the 3 Step Acne routines I have tried this has to be my favourite.
I first purchased the regular strength trial kit and used for only 5 days and I knew I wanted to purchase the full size set.

My least favourite product of the three would have to be the cleanser which really surprised me. After about a week of use I noticed that the skin on my eye lids and eye brows was red and peeling and Ive actually never had a reaction like that. I knew it was the cleanser as I do not use the BHA or BP treatments around my eyes. I have never even used the cleanser around my would just be residual running over from what was on my forehead during rinsing off the cleanser.

The BHA solution and BP treatment have started clearing my skin from day 1 and I havent experienced any dryness at all. Every other Acne 3 step system Ive used Ive become unbearably dry in 2 or 3 uses of the products so Im REALLY glad my skin hasnt had any adverse reactions to step 1 and 2.

I will definitely continue to purchase as long as it continues to keep my skin clear :)

on 10/26/2014 2:55:00 PM

Age: 19-24

Skin: Very Oily, Olive, Not Sure

Hair: Black, Other, Other

Eyes: Brown

I purchased this kit a while back. It did not work for me. Honestly, I still haven't found anything that works for me. I have super oily acne prone skin. I have tried ProActiv, went to dermatologist, birth control, microdemabrasion, anything you can think of. Anyway, I went to try PC. It did nothing for me, the cleanser was alright. The toner is useless and BP is not good for adult acne. I broke out even worse and thought it was purging. Now, I have the left over scars. :/ Will not buy it again.

on 7/27/2014 10:14:00 AM

Age: 44-55

Skin: Oily, Medium, Warm

Hair: Brown, Wavy, Coarse

Eyes: Brown

The regular Clear system, in conjunction with the Hydralight moisturizer, has been a lifesaver for my tween daughter, who's been experiencing some breakouts and a few blackheads.

The system's very simple. PC will send stickers you can put on the bottles stating if the product should be used in the morning or at nighttime.

She has fairly sensitive skin and so far hasn't had any negative results. She is sure to use the moisturizer after applying the toner and the BP treatment, so no dryness. I have also used the toner and enjoy it more than the BHA toner, which I found a little sticky.

We started with the small travel pack, then purchased the full sized. I find the prices fair and their customer service is pretty great. Plus there are always coupon codes for discounts.

on 3/21/2014 7:24:00 PM

Age: 25-29

Skin: Sensitive, Fair, Neutral

Hair: Blond, Straight, Fine

Eyes: Green

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.

2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

on 12/29/2013 8:52:00 PM

Age: 25-29

Skin: Combination, Fair, Cool

Hair: Blond, Straight, Medium

Eyes: Blue

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's BP and used'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 BP may lose potency after a while due to its large size, which I've found to be unnecessary. While C&C and 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 (; 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.

2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

on 6/21/2013 12:46:00 AM

Age: 19-24

Skin: Combination, Fair-Medium, Not Sure

Hair: Brunette, Other, Other

Eyes: Green

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!

5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

on 6/17/2013 4:18:00 AM

Age: 19-24

Skin: Combination, Fair, Warm

Hair: Brown, Straight, Medium

Eyes: Brown

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 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.

on 6/9/2013 3:08:00 PM

Age: 19-24

Skin: Combination, Fair-Medium, Warm

Hair: Brunette, Wavy, Medium

Eyes: Hazel


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.


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.

5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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