Salicylic acid, or BHA, can be an amazing ingredient for those of us fighting breakouts. Unlike AHAs, it has the unique ability to penetrate lipids. This means that it can actually enter the pores and disinfect and break down dead skin cells within. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect that is ideal for both rosacea sufferers and for treating particularly inflamed, red spots. You can find salicylic acid treatments in cream or gel formulas, but I quite like it in a liquid formula. It’s fast and effective and it doesn’t feel like another heavy layer of something to sit under your makeup. I’ve recently tried a couple of BHA toners and found one to be impressive and another to be far from it. I’ll explain why.

Clinique Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion
I bought this toner on a whim one day in Sephora. I was lured in by the size of the bottle and I figured “Clinique makes skincare for sensitive skin, right?” Hoho child no. I’ll admit, I saw that there was alcohol in the ingredients list, I just didn’t think there could be that much. It made my eyes sting when I applied it. It also contains witch hazel, which I find to be a fairly drying ingredient. After using this for a few days my skin was feeling stripped and sensitive. So I went back on the hunt for another BHA toner.

Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution
After scouring the interwebs for a while, I came to the conclusion that it is damn hard to find a BHA toner that doesn’t contain alcohol. I did however find a solution in the end and her name is Paula’s Choice. I ordered the Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution and a small size of the very popular Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. What impressed me about these toners is their simple ingredients list. They’re not packed full of unnecessary, potentially aggravating ingredients such as alcohol or witch hazel. They just have what it takes to get the job done, plus a few soothing ingredients. When I use these toners on my skin they feel like… nothing… and I mean that in the best of ways after using a toner that burns. I also love that the Paula’s Choice website breaks down each of their products for users to understand and explains the purpose of each ingredient.

So if you’re looking for a toner to treat breakouts, I would definitely recommend looking into Paula’s choice. As a final tip, it’s best to give yourself 20 minutes after applying your toner before you go in with your moisturizer. It allows your toner more time to settle in and work its magic before diluting it.

  • Love the sound of both of these, exfoliating really makes such a difference to your skin!

    Maddy, xo // UNSTITCHEDD

  • I've used the Clinique acne gel and it dried out my skin without doing anything beneficial. I'm interested in trying out some of the Paula's Choice products. I've always heard great things about them!

    blush and simplicity

  • I really like the sound of the Paula's choice toner! Exfoliating toners definitely help improve your skin!

    Jodie // La Lune Song

  • That's a shame that the Clinique didn't work for you – I haven't used that particular product, but usually swear by their skincare range. Luckily you found a good substitute!

    Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

  • That's a shame about Clinique! I've heard SO many great things about Paula's choice though! xx

    Angela // The Sunday Chapter

  • My skin did not get on well with the Paula's Choice one at all! I was drawn in by the same things you were but it made my skin so bumpy!
    Allison from

  • I need to get myself a new toner so this was a good post for me! 🙂 x

    A Little Treat | Beauty & Lifestyle Blog

  • I've heard that about the Clinique one before form a friend who's got quite a lot of issues with her skin..I will suggest she gives Paula's Choice a go and hopefully that will help her with her acne… Great post, like always !

  • Really?! Wow. I wonder what could have made in bumpy. Does your skin react well to salicylic acid in general?

  • I really like brands that aren't about trends or frills. They just get the job done with the right ingredients.

  • Yeah, I love their gel moisturizer and I'm crazy about their cleansing balm. Actually I even really like their foundations. It's just their toners that I think are a let down.

  • Amen sista! I want to try a stronger version next time though. I'm itching to go for round 2 with Paula's Choice.

  • I tried a sample of the acne gel too and it had that same alcohol smell. It wasn't as strong smelling as the toner, but it didn't really make me want to go out and get more. Though some people seem to really love that stuff.

  • I discovered how true that is when I started using retinol. It makes you peel like leper at first, but it really does smooth out your skin.

  • Awesome. It's definitely easier to find a good AHA toner without alcohol. May the force be with you… or something cooler sounding than that.

  • Interesting, I'll have to take a look into that Paula's Choice toner! I'm using the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads at the moment for a chemical exfoliator, and they work quite well for me. They don't have Salicylic acid though, and suffering from breakouts every now and then (my chin is a mess at the moment, meh) it sounds like an interesting addition to my routine.

  • I love salicylic acid! I use a witch hazel toner at the moment, and I find it works really well for me even though I have sensitive skin. The Paula's Choice one sounds perfect for sensitive skin though! I didn't know about waiting 20 mins after toner, maybe I should do that 🙂

    Sheri | Behind The Frames