BHA (black)Head to Head

Lame puns aside, here’s a comparison of BHAs.


Today we’ll be comparing COSRX’s BHA Blackhead Power Liquid and Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion.

I compare the lotion because it’s the one I have, although the liquid would probably be a better apples to apples comparison.

BHA is a difficult product to come by. It is salicylic acid, exfoliates chemically and helps to control oil production. It helps to get rid of things like blackheads, pimples, milia, and more. It’s a must have if you have oily skin or are prone to acne. There are very few BHA products on the market because somehow consumers are not educated enough to know about the benefits of BHA.

To be a good product, a BHA product has to:

  1. be of a low enough pH. It’s not an acid if it’s not below 4.
  2. be gentle on skin. BHA can be irritating and harsh (after using BHA for so long, my skin is slightlly itchy from the BHA I just applied) so a good BHA is as gentle to skin as possible.
  3. Contain enough salicylic acid, obviously. We’re talking about at least 0.5%

You should apply BHA onto clean skin with no products, and leave it on for 10 minutes or more before applying the rest of the routine.

So, the PC BHA. PC’s selling point is the good, science-based formulation of products. Assuming all the things she said about her product are true, it contains 2% BHA at a sufficiently low pH. It costs $28 USD for 100ml. (Referral link here, you get $10 off.) You also get some nice ingredients in there, such as squalene, green tea extract and glycerin, to counteract the dryness and irritation issue. It also has a smell, something rather chemical although I can’t describe. It doesn’t linger.

It’s a nice product with a lotion consistency. I don’t really like the lotion quality because it’s kind of sticky. May be better in somewhere less humid or for someone with dryer skin than me. It’s still drying though, and I usually have to put something over it. I’ve personally had good results with this product, although my sister is the one using it now. She’s seen a reduction in acne and blackheads. 2% is quite strong for daily use, I would say. If you’re worried, go for 1%.

Now, for the COSRX. It’s a Korean brand with very little frills. The packaging is functional but not fancy, and the price is very friendly. SO FRIENDLY. It’s $17.80 SGD on Qoo10 with free shipping, here [affiliate.] That’s actually cheaper than how much I got it for (around $23) That’s amazing for a Korean brand, because they’re usually all about the fancy packaging and cutesy shit.

The ingredients include glycolic acid (AHA?!) and niacinamide, for extra goodiness. It doesn’t contain salicylic acid, but 4% Betaine salicylate, which is another form of it.

Apparently, Korea does not allow the use of salicylic acid in cosmetics, which means they have to substitute something else ie betaine salicylate. Interestingly, the Paula’s Choice BHA 2% in Korea use 5% betain salicylate. Hence, we can deduce that the COSRX BHA’s BHA content is somewhere around 1.5+% According to someone who measured it, the pH of the COSRX is somewhere around 3.5, which makes it ideal for exfoliation.

The consistency is like slightly viscous water, maybe like a serum. It absorbs fast and does not leave residue. This also has a smell, but much less than the PC. I find this gentler than the PC, which is to be expected, having a slightly lower acid content. Otherwise functionally they’re similar. I’ve had as good results with this. I’m REALLY happy about the price and availability though, since PC products are hard to get in Singapore at a decent price.

Overall, I find that the COSRX offers a better deal, although it may be better for you to get PC if you’re living in the US. Of course, PC offers a bigger variety of options, from 1% BHA, to liquids, gels and lotions. 100ml is a LOT of product. I use it at least once daily usually and I’m only down to 2/3 after half a year.

If you have any kind of acne, I suggest you try BHA, even if it’s for spot exfoliation when you have pimples. It’s a life changer.

[I only use 1 pump of the COSRX each time for the whole face. I’ve seen people say they use 3 pumps – WTF?]


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