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The Ordinary vs Paula’s Choice: Which Brand Should You Rely On?

Brand courtesy / Paula's Choice / The Ordinary
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A few brands have revolutionized the skincare world as The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice did. They both entered the stage with minimalistic and science-based formulas with tried-and-true actives that actually change the skin, not messing with it. Beauty insiders and dermatologists alike are big fans of these two, appreciating their innovative products built around one or two main active ingredients with prices that simply aren’t marked up. 

But fair prices and effective formulas aren’t the only things The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice have in common. In fact, they are two similar brands, both targeting a wide array of skincare concerns, with products tailored for every skin type, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, and non-irritating. With so many similarities, choosing between The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice can be overwhelming. Luckily, we are here to help you.

Product diversity

In the battle of The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice, product diversity is one of the most important decisive factors, as to be loyal to a brand, it must not only cover the whole steps in your beauty routine but should also have products targeting your concerns and skin type.

Well, both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice cover every step imaginable, having a 50+ product lineup, everything from cleansers and toners to moisturizers, treatments, masks, exfoliators, and sunscreens. Both brands make building a whole 6-step skincare routine easy and fun, providing products to prevent and correct pretty much anything. Acnewrinkles, pimples, dehydration, dullness, clogged pores, excess sebum, uneven tone, you name it, Paula’s Choice and The Ordinary have you covered.

Finally, both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice have products suitable for every skin type, so no matter what you’re dealing with, you can count on them. They also offer bundles and skincare sets with sample-size products, so you can try your faves without breaking the bank. The Daily Set from The Ordinary and Extra Strength Kit from Paula’s Choice make the perfect introduction to the potent and fast-acting formulas of the two, featuring full sizes of their best-sellers.

Paula’s Choice best-selling products

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  • Paula’s Choice Super-Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30

The Ordinary best-selling products

  • The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
  • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Formulas

In terms of formulas, you’ll find all goodies that you actually want in your skincare. Paula’s Choice and The Ordinary have products with a vast range of active ingredients to choose from, including retinolsalicylic acidniacinamidehyaluronic acidvitamin Cpeptides, and the list goes on. So how do you know which one is best for you?

While both brands specialize in single-ingredient-driven products, Paula’s Choice has more active ingredients in its formulas. On the other hand, The Ordinary mostly focuses on one or two active ingredients per product, so Paula’s Choice might be a better option for those who fav multi-tasking products. Nevertheless, both brands use high percentages of actives to deliver transformative benefits and skip fragrances and drying alcohol to make the products more tolerable for sensitive skin. However, unlike The Ordinary, Paula’s Choice uses parabens in some of its formulations.

To make the decision easier for you when comparing The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice, we’ve specifically looked through their most iconic products with similar formulas.

The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice Salicylic Acid

The BHA products made by The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice are among the best on the market, being sold like hotcakes — no wonder people get confused when they have to choose one.

So here’s the gist: both Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant and The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution are water-based leave-on products that use a high concentration of 2% salicylic acid to exfoliate skin’s surface, eliminate dead cells buildup, regulate sebum, and unclog pores. Yet, the difference is that Paula’s Choice product is also formulated with hydrating and soothing ingredients like green tea and ⁠methylpropanediol⁠ (humectant), so it might be more suitable for people with more problematic, dry skin. 

And no, Paula’s Choice isn’t much more expensive than The Ordinary, as the price per ounce is almost the same. So for us, Paula’s Choice wins the battle of the best BHA exfoliant. Shall we move to the next part?

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Salicylic Acid

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a great double-duty ingredient to have in your skincare routine as it targets both acne and dark spots. And guess what? The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice got your back with some of the best products infused with azelaic acid. But between The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice, which one do you need most?

While both feature 10% azelaic acid to smooth rough texture, fade brown spots, and lighten discoloration, The Ordinary’s product loads a slew of antioxidants from vitamin E and dimethicone to add more protection and shield against sun damage. On the other hand, Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster is powered by salicylic acid and licorice extract for more intense anti-acne and brightening effects, plus allantoin and bisabolol to relieve irritations. Other than that, both products are lightweight and absorb nicely, leaving skin velvety-soft.

Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

Paula's Choice Azelaic Acid

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid

The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice Niacinamide

Both brands address large pores, congested skin, and blemish marks with a super potent niacinamide treatment. The difference between The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice, though, is that Paula’s Choice product is twice more concentrated in niacinamide. Besides, The Ordinary also contains zinc to better target congestion and excess sebum, while Paula’s Choice includes glucosamine, licorice extract, EGCG, and vitamin C for more intense brightness. The verdict? Pick The Ordinary if you’re concerned about breakouts or Paula’s Choice if you’re dealing with discoloration, like sunspots and post-blemish marks.

Paula’s Choice Niacinamide 20%

Paula's Choice Niacinamide

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10%

The Ordinary Niacinamide

The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice Vitamin C

For a vitamin C serum, both brands have formidable products. The Paula’s Choice C15 Booster offers a generous strength of 15% stabilized vitamin C coupled with vitamin E and ferulic acid, excellent for shielding skin against free radical damage. On the flip side, The Ordinary product is made on a vitamin C base (23% pure ascorbic acid) followed by squalane and hyaluronic acid. Both products are fragrance-free, improve uneven skin tone and ward off the impact of environmental aggressors.

Yet, the differences: The Paula’s Choice C15 Booster is water-based, having a lightweight liquid formula that absorbs quickly and doesn’t feel greasy, unlike The Ordinary, which is vitamin C-based and has a creamy texture that some people may feel too heavy and greasy.

Paula’s Choice C15 Vitamin C Super Booster

Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster

The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23%

The Ordinary Vitamin C

The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice Retinol

To most of us, retinol serum is the most essential item in the whole skincare arsenal. Luckily, both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice provide fast-acting formulas infused with retinol.

First, there is Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment which, besides retinol, it loads plenty of nourishing and soothing ingredients coupled with vitamin C for the best-in-class results. Now, The Ordinary has something more unique, a serum infused with 2% granactive retinoid — a next-generation form of retinoid more stable than retinol while carrying the same benefits. Both products receive a great deal of attention, though The Ordinary seems more suitable for beginners. It also has a serum built around squalane formulated with 0.5% retinol, so you can build tolerance towards more concentrated formulas.

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2%

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid

The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid

When comparing The Ordinary vs. Paula’s Choice, we have to look at the hyaluronic acid product as that is a must-have in any routine. As you may have guessed, both brands have products rich in hyaluronic acid. Yet, compared to The Ordinary, Paula’s Choice’s booster also packs three types of ceramide, consolidating the protective barrier while adding a dose of hydration. In other words, if you’re dealing with damaged and thirsty skin, Paula’s Choice is your best bet.

Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster

Paula's Choice Hyaluronic Acid

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2%

The Ordinary Peeling Solution vs. Paula’s Choice Exfoliant Peel

The Ordinary Peeling Solution is one of the most iconic products, so it’s hard to compare it with anything. Yet, Paula’s Choice Exfoliant Peel leaves no room for mistakes getting closer to the goodness of The Ordinary Peeling Solution with a formula almost as concentrated and effective that delivers results just as Instagrammable. However, even though both products are great at resurfacing skin, sloughing off dead cells, and unclogging pores, it’s hard to beat the price of The Ordinary. So +1 for The Ordinary.

Paula’s Choice 25% AHA + 2% BHA Peel

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The Ordinary Peeling Solution

Price range

Both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice are drugstore brands that offer affordable products with prices that aren’t marked up. Though a lot of people assume The Ordinary is much cheaper than Paula’s Choice, the price per ounce is almost equal, depending on the product in question. However, considering Paula’s Choice has more complex formulas than The Ordinary, it’s expected to have higher price points.

Paula’s Choice

  • Most expensive product: Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturizer – $59
  • Cheapest product: Hydrating Gel-to-Cream Cleanser – $19
  • Average price: $30 – $40

The Ordinary

  • Most expensive product: Buffet + Copper Peptides 1% – $30.90
  • Cheapest product: Cold-Pressed Borage Seed Oil – $4.20
  • Average price: $7 – $8

Accessibility

Paula’s Choice and The Ordinary are two brands easily accessible all over the globe, being sold in more than 50 different online retailers. For instance, you can find them on AmazonSephoraUltaNordstrom, and Dermstore. Make sure you check the list of authorized online retailers to ensure the products you’re ordering are authentic.

Locally, both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice are available in drugstores in over 20 countries, so it shouldn’t be hard to find them, and often, both will be sold in the same stores.

Customer satisfaction rate

Both brands really care about their customers, so it’s hard not to love them back. This can be seen in the reviews received by both brands, having plenty of 5-star products and an endless list of positive feedback. Furthermore, both have impeccable customer service and give free consultations. 

Cruelty-free 

Both The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice have confirmed they’re cruelty-free and are committed to never testing on animals.

Which brand is right for your skin?

As for Paula’s Choice vs. The Ordinary, both have their pros and cons, and there’s no clear-cut way of deciding which one is better. If you’re on a budget, The Ordinary is clearly the answer, yet if you prefer complex, multi-tasking formulas, Paula’s Choice might be better. 

Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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