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%.

Read more

The pHs of some AHA products

I have a little collection of AHA products now, and since I also have a bunch of pH strips lying around at home, I thought it’d be a good idea to test all the pHs out, since they’re pretty important when it comes to choosing an AHA, and companies rarely state what they are. If you can’t remember, this post …

Read more

Travel Beauty Hacks (with obligatory travel photos)

My boyfriend loves the outdoors, and while I try to get along with nature, it tries its darnedest to destroy me with pollen and massive welts from mosquitoes. Last time he dragged me camping in Australia (the North Coast, a beautiful place where there’s beach and bush), I had a limited amount I could take with me but there was …

Read more

My Skincare Regimen (in excessive detail)

A few people have asked me about my regular skincare routine, which I described briefly in my interview with Beautiful With Brains – here it is in more detail. I generally use the same steps, but I often substitute in different products. It gets pretty complex, but I hope it makes sense! I’ve included a summary chart at the bottom, …

Read more

What’s in my handbag? Travel edition

I’m hoping it’s not just me and I’m not outing myself as an irredeemable weirdo – I LOVE looking at what beauty products other people use. I love going through other girls’ handbag stashes, and when I’m in someone’s bathroom I can’t resist taking a peek at what products they’ve got in there. (I can feel everyone revoking their dinner …

Read more

Spring Skincare Regimen 1: Cleansers and Serums

I’m guessing this is the case for most beauty junkies, but I tend to think of my skincare routine as simple, but when I actually have to tell someone what’s involved, it turns out to be much more complex than I anticipated! Summer has recently hit Sydney (Sydney doesn’t really have in-between seasons – it was a high of 18 …

Read more

Current Favourites

I haven’t done a favourites post in ages (since New Years in fact!), so I thought I’d share some of my recent finds and classic beauty/shiny favourites: The Grove Perfumery Half Baked – Made by the same people who do Glasshouse, this line is sadly discontinued. Half Baked comes in a cute punk-themed glass with an air-tight lid and smells …

Read more

My winter moisturiser essentials

My skin is usually oily and doesn’t need much moisturiser, but winter wreaks havoc on my skin! This is what I’ve been using this year to keep it happy: Daytime moisturiser: Kosmea Replenishing Moisture Cream*, $44.95 AUD for 50 mL Moisturising and smoothing but doesn’t leave the skin shiny or greasy – perfect under BB cream. Leave-on exfoliator: Paula’s Choice …

Read more