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We’re positive you’ve seen (or at the very least heard of) Paula’s Choice and The Ordinary before. But which should you choose for your skin?

Feel free to skip ahead to the category you're most interested in (where we'll help you find the best products for you and your skin), but we recommend sticking around and reading the Overview section first to get a proper feel for what these brands are all about.

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> Salicylic acid serum

> Niacinamide serum

> Azelaic acid serum

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About the brands

Paula’s Choice

Smart, safe beauty; this is the philosophy behind Paula’s Choice. The ingredients need to be good for the skin with no exceptions and the products are to be backed by science. The company has been on the beauty scene since 1995 when Paula Begoun - the company founder - launched the skincare line in Seattle, USA.

Paula’s Choice skincare products are verified by extensive research. Each product is formulated with active ingredients that have proven results. In addition, all products are tested to ensure they are non-irritating and fragrance-free. It is no wonder that the skincare brand has a cult following with award-winning skincare miracles such as the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant featured in this article.

If you are worried about the ingredients in your skincare range, which may be harmful to your health or the environment, Paula’s Choice products are free from a number of ingredients including but not limited to abrasive particles, alcohol, essential oils, nanoparticles, fragrant plant extracts, talc, synthetic dyes, and synthetic fragrance.

The Ordinary

The Ordinary is highly regarded as a no-fuss, simple, skincare line that is affordable and most importantly, effective. The brand is owned by an umbrella company called DECIEM; The Abnormal Beauty Company. The Ordinary has been certified vegan by PETA and cruelty-free by The Leaping Bunny. The Ordinary have only been around since 2006, but don’t let that turn you away. The sometimes overtly-scientific names can be confusing for those new to The Ordinary, but this is one of the brand's notable efforts to be straightforward with the ingredients in each product.

High-quality products at affordable prices is exactly what The Ordinary are out to achieve, their Salicylic Acid 2% Solution being exemplary in this regard. With most of the product line costing $30.00 or less, the brand has put the active ingredients over luxurious packaging, and the minimal look has done very well for DECIEM.

Paula’s Choice vs The Ordinary BHA

BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid. BHAs are commonly found in skincare products that are designed for acne, clogged pore, dead skin, and dullness. BHAs like salicylic acid works to exfoliate the dead skin cells, unclog stubborn pores, and even out the skin's complexion

Salicylic Acid is a key ingredient in both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice exfoliating range. It is one of the most common BHAs and is derived from willow bark. Willow bark extract has the ability to sooth irritated skin. It is a highly effective ingredient in skin care products because it can clear pores, reduce redness and has antibacterial properties.

With consistent use of BHAs, the results should reflect a more even skin tone, improved texture, smaller pores, and a clearer complexion. BHAs are fantastic for acne-prone skin because the product can go deep into hair follicles to remove excess oil. If you have oily to combination skin, BHAs are a key ingredient to bring into your skincare routine.

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant by Paula's Choice, fast absorbing liquid removes built-up dead skin cells and fights blackheads.

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant by Paula's Choice

SHOP Check price on amazon.com

Our rating: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$

Fast absorbing liquid removes built-up dead skin cells and fights blackheads.

What makes it special? The Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is the brand's number one best-selling product and is hailed as one of the best chemical exfoliants on the market. The formula contains a concentration of 2% salicylic acid (the most common BHA) that once applied to the skin, does not need to be washed off with water. As a result, there are no harsh abrasives, no scrubbing, and your skin is left feeling incredibly soft.

Which skin types? Combination skin, Oily skin.

Find the best price on Amazon

Salicylic Acid 2% Solution by The Ordinary, an exfoliator for blemish-prone skin.

Salicylic Acid 2% Solution by The Ordinary

SHOP Check price on amazon.com

Our rating: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$

An exfoliator for blemish-prone skin.

What makes it special? The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution targets similar skincare concerns as the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant by Paulas Choice. Both exfoliating solutions are formulated to treat congestion, blemishes, uneven skin tone, and acne-prone skin. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution is one of the brand's most loved products containing minimal ingredients that work to reveal a clear complexion.

Which skin types? For all skin types, including those prone to congestion and blemishes.

Find the best price on Amazon

Paula’s Choice vs The Ordinary Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a form of Vitamin B3. This powerhouse of an ingredient works in so many ways to help protect the skin from environmental stressors. Niacinamide can be added to your skincare routine if you are looking to improve hydration and even out the skin's complexion. Furthermore, research has shown that Niacinamide can aid in the production of collagen. One main skin concern that B3 is popular for is pigmentation and dark spots. It can reduce dark spots by slowing the production of melanin, a pigment responsible for sun damage.

Clinical Niacinamide 20% by Paula's Choice, a highly concentrated niacinamide treatment that minimizes the appearance of pores.

Clinical Niacinamide 20% by Paula’s Choice

SHOP Check price on amazon.com

Our rating: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$

A highly concentrated niacinamide treatment that minimizes the appearance of pores.

What makes it special? As with many Paula’s Choice products, you can expect a highly concentrated formula. This one in particular features clinical niacinamide (20%), vitamin C, and acetyl glucosamine. It is double the strength of the 10% Niacinamide Booster. In addition, it works to target tough and stubborn skin issues such as blocked pores and bumpy skin texture.

If you are looking for a step up from the 10%, the 20% is part of the advanced skincare line, meaning it has been designed for more advanced skincare concerns. Along with niacinamide, it contains meadowsweet, purslane, and camellia japonica which work against stubborn pores while reducing excess oil. While the 10% option is a liquid product, the 20% option is a gel.

Which skin types? For all skin types.

Find the best price on Amazon

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% by The Ordinary, high-strength vitamin and mineral blemish formula.

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% by The Ordinary

SHOP Check price on amazon.com

Our rating: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$

High-strength vitamin and mineral blemish formula.

What makes it special? This formula contains niacinamide (vitamin B3) supported with zinc salt to target blemishes and congestion. Zinc salt or Zinc PCA controls acne and decreases sebum production. The Ordinary has created a mineral-based solution suitable for acne, acne-prone, and oily skin types. Both vitamin B3 and zinc occur naturally in the body and can help to decongest the skin and reduce oil production. Suppose you are searching for a simple way to introduce the benefits of niacinamide to your skincare routine. In that case, you can apply this serum to your face both morning and evening. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is vegan, nut-free, alcohol-free, gluten-free, and silicone-free.

Which skin types? For all skin types.

Find the best price on Amazon

Paula’s Choice vs The Ordinary Azelaic Acid

If you have never heard of Azelaic Acid, we don’t blame you, but that doesnt mean it is not already in use in a variety of skincare products. Azelaic Acid is most often used in the treatment of skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. It may also work to reduce dark spots and treat pigmentation concerns such as brown spots that form as a result of blemishes. Azelaic Acid is derived from grains such as wheat, rye and barley and has natural antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties.

10% Azelaic Acid Booster by Paula's Choice, fades brown spots, reduces blemish marks, calms skin.

10% Azelaic Acid Booster by Paula’s Choice

SHOP Check price on amazon.com

Our rating: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$

Fades brown spots, reduces blemish marks, calms skin.

What makes it special? The 10% Azelaic Acid Booster is a formula that works to treat a range of complex skin conditions including rosacea-prone skin, dull skin tone, brown spots, and breakouts. This is why Paula’s Choice has named it a ‘real multi-tasker.’ For those who are sensitive to other active ingredients for acne, such as benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid is an alternative to treat common skin concerns. The 10% solution helps to reduce redness and irritation and fights acne-causing bacteria. In addition to azelaic acid, the formula contains salicylic acid, licorice extract, bisabolol, and adenosine which soothe the skin.

Which skin types? For all skin types.

Find the best price on Amazon

Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% by The Ordinary, a multifunctional brightening formula.

Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% by The Ordinary

SHOP Check price on amazon.com

Our rating: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$

A multifunctional brightening formula.

What makes it special? A multifunctioning brightening formula, The Ordinary has created an Azelaic Acid Suspension with a 10% concentration. It is an alcohol-free, gluten-free, oil-free cream/gel that can be applied both morning and night to achieve a brighter complexion. The Ordinary have added silicones and tocopherol to the ingredient list, which may be too heavy and comedogenic for those with acne-prone skin. For this reason, The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is suitable for brightening and skin texture and not for acne-prone, oily skin.

Which skin types? For all skin types.

Find the best price on Amazon

Paula’s Choice vs The Ordinary Conclusion

In summary, both brands try to reduce the number of ingredients used in each product. Both brands are also notably cruelty-free. For those looking for a certified vegan option, The Ordinary is PETA certified. The Ordinary is the more affordable option relative to Paula’s Choice in terms of price.

In addition, there are variations in the strength of the active ingredients, so be sure to check which product is best suited for your skin type.

There is no doubt that these popular skincare ingredients, Salicyclic Acid, Niacinamide, and Azelaic Acid, have incredible skin health benefits. They feature in several of Paula’s Choice and The Ordinary’s formulas. In addition, they are instrumental in targeting stubborn and difficult skin concerns such as blemishes, dark spots, and uneven skin tone.

Paula’s Choice Best-Sellers

For brightening:
Try the C15 Super Booster


For anti-aging:
Try the Retinol Treatment


For acne:
Try the CLEAR Range

The Ordinary Best-Sellers

For skin texture:
Try the Peeling Solution


For hydration:
Try Hyaluronic Acid


For tired eyes:
Try the Caffeine Solution

This post was written by guest author, Cherie Julie, and edited by Calum Torrington.

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