Neutrogena’s AHA/BHA Pore Refining range review

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How to cite: Wong M. Neutrogena’s AHA/BHA Pore Refining range review. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. February 16, 2014. Accessed March 2, 2024.

Pores are essential for releasing natural skin oils (sebum), but they’re also responsible for most of the things that go wrong with your skin – pimples, blackheads, ingrown hairs. Enlarged pores are on the milder end of the “things that can go wrong with your skin” scale, and probably one of the things that are most difficult to treat (and whether it’s even worth bothering with is a whole issue in itself).

You can’t reduce number of pores in your skin, but there are a few things you can do to minimise their appearance. When pores are clogged with dirt, oil and dead skin cells, they become stretched out, and more noticeable. Chemical exfoliants such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids can help unstick skin cells, even inside of pores, and reduce the chances of clogged pores.

However, in Australia, it’s really difficult to find budget-friendly leave-on drugstore products containing AHAs or BHAs. That’s why I was so excited to hear that Neutrogena would be releasing their Pore Refining range in March. The range includes the Daily Cleanser, Exfoliating Cleanser and Toner.

All three products contain both alpha and beta hydroxy acids – specifically, glycolic acid as the AHA, and salicylic acid as the BHA.

The Daily Cleanser ($14.99 for 198 mL) is your standard foaming cleanser. The surfactant (foaming chemical) is sodium laureth sulfate, which I usually find to be a bit drying, but not with this product – I think the high glycerin content helps with that. Salicylic acid is quite far down on the ingredients list, and glycolic acid is even further. If you’re looking for a chemical exfoliant to incorporate into your routine, I wouldn’t recommend this as your main source, but it’s a decent cleanser otherwise, and comes in a convenient clear pump bottle.

The Exfoliating Cleanser ($14.99 for 198 mL) is a creamy cleanser with polyethylene scrubbing beads. I really like the gentle cleansing base, but again, salicylic and glycolic acid are quite far down the ingredients list.

The Toner ($14.99 for 250 mL) was the product I was looking forward to trying out the most. It’s a leave-on product, which is the only type of AHA or BHA product that I think is actually effective – AHAs are very water soluble and easily washed away if they’re in a cleanser, BHAs are less water soluble, but the washing action is likely to rinse most of it away too.

There’s also a much higher percentage of glycolic acid (AHA) in this product, compared to the other two. I can’t remember what percentage of glycolic acid there was in the product (I asked a Neutrogena rep, but unfortunately forgot), but the salicylic acid is present at a concentration of 1%, which is an effective amount.

However, there is a LOT of alcohol in this product. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled such strong fumes in a product – I felt like I was getting drunk just applying this toner (and I used to pour litres of solvent on a daily basis in lab!). I’m not 100% against alcohol in face products, for the reasons explained in Futurederm’s post here, but at such a high concentration I thought there would be some danage for sure. Surprisingly though, even after 3 weeks of daily use on my oily T-zone, it didn’t noticeably dry out my skin or cause irritation at all. I think the high humectant content (glycolic acid, sodium PCA, sodium lactate, aloe vera are all crammed into the top of the ingredients list) helps prevent dehydration, much like glycerin does when added to acetone nail polish remover. If you have dry or sensitive skin though, I would proceed with caution.

Out of curiosity, I tested the pHs of three of the leave-on hydroxy acid chemical exfoliants I own. AHAs generally work best at pH 3-4, while BHA is best around pH 3. Neostrata’s Gel Plus (15% glycolic acid) has a pH of 3-4, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid and Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner both sit at around pH 3.

While I’m glad that there’s finally going to be an affordable leave-on chemical exfoliant widely available in Australian stores, unfortunately it’s not very suitable for dry or sensitive skin, and those are the ones that really need chemical, rather than harsher physical, exfoliants. On the plus side, it does seem quite good for oily skin, which is the type that tends to require deep pore cleansing. For those of you who are sensitive to alcohol in skincare but would still like to try leave-on AHAs or BHAs, I would recommend looking at Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir (~10% glycolic acid, but a bit pricey), Paula’s Choice products, or Stridex’s Alcohol-Free 2% Salicylic Acid Pads (very affordable, – you can use my code NUD131 for 10% off your first iHerb order, or you can get it at Amazon, Walgreens or

Neutrogena’s Pore Refining range retails for $14.99 each, and will be available in stores from March 1. It’s also available at Amazon, Target, Walgreens, Priceline and Chemist Warehouse.

This product was provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially, thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.

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14 thoughts on “Neutrogena’s AHA/BHA Pore Refining range review”

  1. I agree that it is impressive the Neutrogena have released an affordable option but it’s a shame that it’s not suitable for the skin type that need it most. I hate alcohol in face products so although I’m interested I probably won’t give it a go. Great honest review 🙂 x

    Sarah | More Than Adored

    • Thanks Sarah! I’m surprised no one has gotten on the dry-skin-friendly AHA train yet. I get the feeling that once it catches on, all the skincare brands will be clamouring to get into the market, just like with rose hip oil!

  2. It is awesome that AHA/BHA will be a little more accessible here, but bit of a shame it isn’t that suitable.
    I’ve been looking into Paula’s Choice actually. As much as I freaking adore my Dermalogica Daily Resurfacer it is just so damn expensive, so I’ve been hunting for alternatives.

    • Paula’s Choice generally gets good reviews – for some crazy reason though, the 2% BHA Liquid makes my face really itchy for about 5 minutes but with no other signs of irritation. I’m going to try out the Stridex next to see if it makes a difference, but first I have to find more things on iHerb to buy 😛

  3. I did notice that there really weren’t many chemical exfoliating products at a cheaper price, it’s a shame though that these aren’t super effective. I have the Garnier Dark Spot night serum which contains Glycolic acid and I really like it. For now, I’m using the Clarins Gentle Exfoliating toner but would love to find a cheaper alternative.

    Tasha // shiwashiful.

    • I think Paula’s Choice is the best bet for us Aussies at the moment – I’m not sure how the new distribution system is going to work, hopefully the prices are a bit less inflated than they used to be!

    • I really don’t subscribe to the “natural is less irritating” idea – it’s harder to control what exactly is in a natural ingredient and how much there is (it often varies quite a lot by where it’s from and what time of the year it’s harvested), plus the fact that it’s natural means it’s more likely to decompose into something else or become a home to lots of bacteria. A lot of natural ingredients are also less effective, which means they’re required in greater concentrations, which is more likely to lead to irritation (e.g. natural alternatives to parabens, essential oils vs fragrances, though fragrances are their own messy issue). I actually wrote a bit of a rant a while ago when I first started blogging: Chemical vs Natural

  4. Do you have the Stridex pads? I’ve been wondering about the pH of those. I’ve heard good things, but if they don’t have the optimal pH, I’ll probably just stick with the more expensive Paula’s Choice stuff.

  5. Ha! I must be desensitised to alcohol as I bought this because compared to the others in the store the toner had a really pleasant non-alocholy smell! Thanks for the infor on the pH and %, I had no idea what they were as they aren’t on the bottle.


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