Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Review and Price Comparison


It’s hard to think of a more formidable figure in science-based skincare than Paula Begoun. She’s been breaking through beauty marketing bullshit for 30 years, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of her conclusions about skincare ingredients, it’s impossible to deny her positive influence. She launched her brand Paula’s Choice in 1995, featuring affordable and science-backed products, and it’s been a skincare nerd favourite ever since.

My personal favourite has been their 2% BHA Liquid exfoliant – it’s been one of my oily skincare essentials for a while, helping me clear blackheads and clogged pores. I recently road tested a few other Paula’s Choice products – my favourite of them has been, hands down, the Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment.


What does retinol do?

Retinol is one of those ingredients that seems to do it all. It’s a vitamin A derivative (collectively known as retinoids), and it’s the strongest one you can get without a prescription. Vitamin A’s skincare resume is pretty impressive – its talents include:

  • repairing sun damage
  • reducing wrinkles
  • decreasing oil production
  • reducing¬†acne-causing bacteria levels
  • increasing collagen production
  • lightening hyperpigmentation

Retinol will basically give at least one of your skin concerns a considerable ass-whooping, though sometimes it’s not enough, and you’ll have to step it up to the more powerful prescription retinoids like tretinoin, adapalene or tazarotene. However, like with most drugs, the more powerful it is, the more side effects you’ll get. For the retinoids, the side effects are dry skin, peeling, flaking and irritation.

Ingredients and packaging

Here’s the ingredients list for Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment:

Water, Dimethicone, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Isononyl Isononanoate, Castor Isostearate Succinate, Glyceryl Stearate, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, PEG-33, Polysorbate 20, Behenyl Alcohol, Retinol, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Ceramide 2, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12, Sodium Hyaluronate, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract, Arctium Lappa (Burdock) Root Extract, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols, Lecithin, Allantoin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Sorbitan Laurate, Acetyl Dipeptide-1 Cetyl Ester, Disodium EDTA, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Sodium Hydroxide, Tribehenin, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Pentylene Glycol, PEG-100 Stearate, PEG-75 Shea Butter Glycerides, PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer, PEG-10 Phytosterol, PEG-8 Dimethicone, PEG-14, Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Arachidyl Glucoside, Sclerotium Gum, Arachidyl Alcohol, Benzoic Acid, Carbomer, Phenoxyethanol.

It’s longer than I expected – there are a lot of moisturisers, anti-irritants and antioxidants in the formula. It’s packaged in an air-tight pump bottle, which is a great choice since retinol is air- and light-sensitive. The product comes out as a pale yellow, slightly alcohol-smelling lotion.

How it fared

I’ve been using Love Life Perfect Night Retinol Renewal Complex and Neostrata Enlighten Pigment Controller for about a year and they’ve been pretty good at making my skin smoother and brighter. I had no irritation with either of them, though they’re significantly less strong (Love Life’s product contains retinyl palmitate, which is weaker, and Neostrata’s product only contains 0.1% retinol). Since my skin is generally pretty resilient, I thought it would be a pretty easy transition…but wow. This product is hardcore, guys.

Two days after I first used Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment, the Much-Anticipated Peel began…and didn’t stop for 3 days. I had weird skin bits hanging off my face all the time, and even peeling gel couldn’t hold it back – the moment I got rid of the dead skin, it would just start shedding again. I gave up on make-up and carried a tube of moisturiser everywhere. It would’ve been enough to put me off, if it wasn’t for the thought of Future Good-Skin Michelle. 1% is one of the highest percentages you can get in a standard product – most of the other retinol products you’ll find have less than 0.5%.

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