Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment – In-Depth Review, Ingredient Analysis and a Chemist’s Verdict

Paula’s Choice is a brand that makes me happy as a chemist but also as a woman because most of their products ACTUALLY work. Paula includes ingredients that are supported by scientific peer-review research studies and avoids unnecessary ingredients such as fragrances etc that can cause skin irritation. In general, she sings a very similar song to me and I have a feeling me and Paula would be good friends!

In a previous post I shared one of my ride-or-dies, must-have product from Paula’s Choice: Paula’s Choice Resist Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50 – In Depth Review and Ingredient Analysis

And also one of their product failures: Paula’s Choice Skincare Resist Anti-Aging Serum Foundation – In-Depth Review and Ingredient Analysis

So far I have concluded, although it’s early days, that Paula’s Choice skincare is superior to their makeup, however, this is still up for debate as I haven’t tried that many of their makeup. Nevertheless, it’s very rare for a brand to do both good skincare and good makeup. There are many brands that cover the good makeup side but not many on the good skincare side!

Today I wanted to share one more of my ride or die products which is again a Paula’s Choice skincare product, the “Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment”. However, it’s not just about Paula’s Choice, retinol or vitamin A is an ingredient of interest to many and has been receiving a lot of attention by the cosmetic industry. Even though I still don’t have considerable wrinkles I thought it’s time to put retinol to a test.

For more info check out: Vitamin A in skin care – Is it worth it?

To get £7.50 off your first Paula’s choice order (minimum £25 order) click here.

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 4_20180718130427184

Here’s my chemist’s verdict:


Colour and Texture

This cream has a light yellow colour and a medium thickness consistency which makes it feel like a cream with a hint of a gel texture. This texture works for all skin types.

It feels hydrating and “thick” (in a good way) on the skin and get’s absorbed quickly without leaving any sticky residues behind.



This cream has a medium strength, scent of liquorice mixed with something else. It’s not your typical feminine, feel pretty cream smell but it’s not a bad one either. I personally like the scent because it is unique and you immediately know which product you are using.

The smell comes naturally from some of the ingredients (like for example the liquorice extract) and not due to a cocktail of undisclosed fragrance molecules. This product does not contain fragrance which is very important and a big positive.

  1. A cream doesn’t need to smell especially nice or feminine etc. Smell doesn’t add a skincare benefit.
  2. When beauty companies put fragrance molecules in their products they often hide them under the general name “fragrance” which could refer up to 3000 molecules. I personally prefer to know how much and what is in the products I’m using!
  3. Many fragrance molecules are irritants, sensitisers or allergens to the skin and irritation can happen even if you don’t see it. Your skin doesn’t always need to go red for it to be damaged on a molecular level.

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 13_20180718125635850


A full size, 30mL bottle retails for £53 on the brand’s website.

This might sound like a lot of money but in my opinion it is an acceptable price for good skincare. There are high-end brands out there which offer “speciality” products like this one with less good ingredients or results and for much more money.

Could it be cheaper? Probably, but it has good ingredients and packaging, it works and is effective. Good skincare can be expensive.

To get £7.50 off your first Paula’s choice order (minimum £25 order) click here.



As I’ve said in other posts and is something that Paula says a lot too “Product packaging matters”. Not the outer cardboard packaging but the actual product packaging.

A lot of skincare creams, especially from high-end brands, tend to come in, admittedly beautiful but chemistry-wise bad, jars. For years women have associated skincare and creams with jar packaging but in fact bottle packaging is superior for the formulation. A lot of good ingredients for skincare tend to be air-sensitive, meaning they oxidise in air overtime and loose their effectiveness. This might be one of the reasons why some creams work initially and then don’t!

Other than keeping the ingredients from air, a jar is also not hygienic. It takes somewhere between 1-3 months (depending on size and your usage) to finish up a jar of cream and so you can imagine how many times you dipped your fingers in it! Even if you washed your hands every time prior to using your cream, our skin has natural bacteria which can be transferred into the cream and therefore, make the formulation or some of the ingredients less effective. Not to mention that if the formulation of the product is water based, they can also grow and your cream could potentially give you a break out!

So anyhow, long story short – good effective skin care should be in bottles and this one does just that. It has a pump at the top that is very easy to press and the only negative really is that you can’t see how much you have left. However, if this works as good for you as it did for me, you will always have a backup anyways.


This product comes with an outer packaging too which has the standard Paula’s Choice branding and colour scheme. Overall, thought that the bottle at least looks reasonably nice and I love the deep blue colour.


Practicality of use – user experience

This product is very easy to use, especially because of the pump at the top. It takes minimal force to press it and you can also control how much cream you want to come out by how far down you press.

The cream is very easy to spread and gets absorbed quickly by the skin. The cream really works and the results were very quick for me (I noticed the morning after the first use). However, we all have different skin and biology so give it some time. Skincare takes 1-3 months to have an effect, so use a product consistently for that period before you judge. Something tells me though you will see results quickly with this one.

As I said above, the only drawback is not being able to see how much product you have left.


Skin compatibility

According to the brand’s website this product is compatible with all skin types but especially good for breakouts, anti-ageing, brown spots and enlarged pore concerns.

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 11_20180718124837113


Here’s what the brand says about this product:

A powerful retinol treatment to fight the signs of ageing.

This lightweight lotion combines pure retinol with potent antioxidants to immediately enhance hydration, diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and promote a more even-toned complexion. Licorice, oat extract and other soothing ingredients to help calm redness.

Key Features

Improves skin tone and texture
Fades brown spots
Softens fine lines and wrinkles
How to use

Apply a pea-sized amount after cleansing and toning, and then follow with your serum and/or nighttime moisturiser. Avoid the lips, direct contact with the eye, and corners of the eyes. You may apply up to the orbital bone of the eye area. When first using the Clinical 1% Retinol, start with no more than 3 evenings per week, then gradually increase frequency to every other night and, finally, every evening as tolerated.

Do not use an AHA or BHA exfoliant until you’ve seen how your skin responds to 1% retinol”

And my favourite line from Paula’s Choice: “There isn’t a single product that can do it all

Meaning that as good as one product is, it is only one product, and your skin will need a few different ones to get everything it needs, like for example a moisturiser after using this one!

This product lasts for 12M.

Paula’s Choice does not test on animals.

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 9_20180718130138252



I first applied this cream during the night, on clean skin, about 1 hour before I went to bed. I let the cream absorb in and then put my night moisturiser over. In case there is a synergistic effect I use the Estée Lauder NightWear Plus Anti-Oxidant Night Detox Creme. Check out: A chemist’s favourite beauty products – the Bonds of Beauty 2017 awards!

I saw results the next morning, so after 1 use which is insane. I don’t have wrinkles yet and I thought that my skin doesn’t look particularly old, but I noticed that my skin looked much younger, a little less dull and a little tighter.

I continued using this two times for the first week to establish compatibility with my skin (retinol aka vitamin A can cause irritation to some) and since I didn’t have any irritation I moved to every other night the week after and ever since. I use the Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II Serum in the nights between. Check out: Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II Serum – In Depth Review and Ingredient Analysis

The biggest effect for me that stayed constant was the overall look of younger skin and in turn the skin just looks healthier.

Remember though, skincare is not makeup. It’s not about the big changes and looks etc. Skincare is something that you have to keep consistent and works on a molecular level. If the ingredients and formulation are good, the product will help your skin even if you don’t see it. It might be hard to appreciate before you have wrinkles but you will thank yourself in the future. Skincare is not just for older skin – in fact skincare works better as a prevention method than elimination. You cannot stop or erase ageing but you can slow it down.

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 8_20180718125958446


This product contains a whopping 53 ingredients of which many are skincare must haves and most are generally good. Out of the 53 ingredients, 41 of them can actually offer you some level of skincare benefit (of course some more than others) and only 2 of them have a negative associated with them. Additionally, only 8 ingredients are potential irritants, sensitisers or allergens. This product has amazingly stats!

In a nut shell, this product is a cocktail of skincare goodies that your skin will absolutely adore.

Admittedly, the word “clinical” on the product might sound a little scary but there is nothing drug-like in this product and it is safe to use on healthy skin. The only potential problem you could have is irritation, especially from retinol (aka vitamin A), or the other 7 potential irritants, but bear in mind that there isn’t really a cosmetic product out there with a 0% chance of irritation, so this is pretty standard.

It’s not 100% clear what the word clinical is referring to, perhaps the relatively high concentration of retinol, 1%, found in this product as opposed to the usually lower concentrations in other products. Or most likely due to the fact that this product has been clinically proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Let’s have a look at the ingredients individually. To keep this post shorter, I am only listing the ingredients that have a skincare effect in the positives and negatives and ignoring the compounds that only play a formulation role. A full list of ingredients can be found further down.


Ingredient positives:

  1. Aqua – Water based formulation.
  2. Dimethicone – Creates a barrier and can therefore protect the skin. Also acts as a skin conditioner. It leaves a silky feeling and can even fill in lines temporarily.
  3. Glycerin – Found naturally in the skin so can be seen as a skin replenishing ingredient. A skin conditioner that helps improve and smooth the appearance of skin. A good moisturiser that is almost always present in moisturising products.
  4. Butylene Glycol – Skin conditioner that can also prevent moisture loss from the skin. Sometimes also used as fragrance.
  5. Isononyl Isononanoate – Skin conditioner which leaves a silky feeling on the skin.
  6. Castor Isostearate Succinate – Skin conditioner.
  7. Glyceryl Stearate – A lubricant giving smooth and soft skin appearance.
    Easily penetrates skin, slows water from escaping by forming barrier, anti-oxidant.
  8. C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate – A skin conditioner and anti-microbial preserving agent.
  9. Dimethicone Crosspolymer – Can sooth and soften the skin.
  10. PEG-33 – A humectant (=locks water in).
  11. Polysorbate 20 – Can lubricate and sooth the skin.
  12. Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate – A stable form of vitamin C. Can increase collagen production keeping the skin healthy and younger looking, reduce melanin production giving a brighter skin appearance and can even repair the effects of UV-exposure. This specific form of Vitamin C even has the ability to stimulate production of moisturising compounds in the skin. A hero compound. Check out: Vitamins C & E – Do they work in skin care?
  13. PEG-100 Stearate – A moisturiser.
  14. Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate – Skin conditioner.
  15. Polymethylsilsesquioxane – Creates a lubricating, smooth, silky feel and increases the skin’s ability to repel water. Anti-caking agent.
  16. Retinol – Also known as vitamin A. A skin restorer, anti-oxidant and skin conditioner. This powerful ingredient is often found in anti-ageing products due to it’s ability to improve the signs of ageing (wrinkles, brown spots etc). This ingredient is air-sensitive and might become ineffective if found in jar packaging. Check out: Vitamin A in skin care – Is it worth it?
  17. Ceramide NG – A skin conditioner and replenisher.
  18. Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 – Stimulates collagen production, conditions and helps restore skin. Can reduce wrinkle length and depth as well as skin roughness.
  19. Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 – Supresses inflammation which in turn allows the skin to heal faster. Increases skin’s production of hyaluronic acid and can stimulate the synthesis of collagen, all leading to anti-ageing properties and functions. It can reduce the appearance of uneven skin tones, reduce skin roughness, fine lines, thin skin and wrinkles. A high-end compound and a definite hero.
  20. Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12 – A skin restoring ingredient that could potentially make the skin look and act younger.
  21. Sodium Hyaluronate – A hero compound, known as the “fountain of youth” molecule. Plays a major role in anti-ageing processes and is found in embryos in high concentrations. Can hold onto water 1000 times of its weight meaning that it is an amazing moisturiser by locking moisture in. Helps wounds and burns heal and it’s linked to increased collagen generation Also used as a temporary cosmetic filler. Check out: Hyaluronic acid – the fountain of youth?
  22. Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate – A skin conditioner and humectant. Can help dry/flaking skin and reduce irritation and inflammation. Some clinical tests show it to be an effective ingredient against atopic dermatitis. Some studies suggest it could also be a brightening agent.
  23. Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract – Skin conditioner, anti-oxidant, humectant, helps control oil production and can calm and soothe acne-prone skin. Some claim it can also whiten and moisturise.
  24. Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract – A skin conditioner, anti-oxidant and skin soother.
  25. Arctium Lappa (Burdock) Root Extract – An anti-oxidant and skin soother. Some studies suggest that it is an anti-flammatory agent that could also potentially boost collagen synthesis.
  26. Salix Alba (Willow) Root Extract – A skin conditioner, astringent, soother and tonic.
  27. Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols – Skin conditioner.
  28. Lecithin – A lipid that improves skin equilibrium.
  29. Allantoin – Skin conditioner.
  30. Tocopheryl Acetate – A more stable form of vitamin E. A hero anti-oxidant molecule. A skin conditioner that also enhances the ability of sunscreens. Can help with inflammation. Check out: Vitamins C & E – Do they work in skin care?
  31. Hydrolyzed Soy Protein – Skin conditioner, humectant, soother and anti-oxidant.
  32. Acetyl Dipeptide-1 Cetyl Ester – Skin conditioner and soother.
  33. Tribehenin – Skin conditioner and softener.
  34. Caprylyl Glycol – A skin conditioner and anti-microbial preservative.
  35. Ethylhexylglycerin – A weak preservative and skin conditioner that is often used in ointments for eczema.
  36. Pentylene Glycol – A skin conditioner and preservative.
  37. PEG-75 Shea Butter Glycerides – A skin conditioner and replenisher.
  38. PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer – Skin conditioner.
  39. PEG-8 Dimethicone – Skin conditioner.
  40. PEG-14 – A humectant.
  41. Sclerotium Gum – A skin conditioner.


Ingredient negatives:

  1. Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 – Might cause skin discoloration to some.
  2. Lecithin – Generally considered safe but some suspect this to be a carcinogen. However, there is no proof.


Ingredients that can cause irritation to some:

This is actually really case specific, as different people have different sensitivities and allergies. Just because a compound has been reported by some to cause sensitivity, it doesn’t mean you will have an issue. “Sensitizer” compounds being present is not a negative in my opinion, as this is the case with pretty much everything out there and funnily enough I’ve seen products that are targeted specifically for sensitive skin, containing some compounds that have been reported by some, or are known to be, sensitizers.

If you have sensitive skin or you are prone to skin sensitisation and unwanted reactions, try a little bit of this at the back of your hand first and consult a medical doctor if you are concerned.

Check out: What is sensitive skin? What are the causes and what can we do?

The following compounds present in this cream have been either proven or claimed by some to be sensitizers, irritants, allergens etc: Butylene Glycol, PEG-100 Stearate, Retinol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Hydroxide, Pentylene Glycol, Benzoic Acid, Phenoxyethanol.


Full list of ingredients: 

Aqua, Dimethicone (skin-softening), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Isononyl Isononanoate (emollient), Castor Isostearate Succinate (skin-softening), Glyceryl Stearate (texture enhancer), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate (emollient), Dimethicone Crosspolymer (texture enhancer), PEG-33 (stabilizer), Polysorbate 20 (texture enhancer), Behenyl Alcohol (texture enhancer), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (vitamin C/antioxidant), PEG-100 Stearate (texture enhancer), Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate (stabilizer), Polymethylsilsesquioxane (texture enhancer), Retinol (skin-restoring), Ceramide NG (skin-replenishing), Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 (skin-restoring), Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (skin-restoring), Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12 (skin-restoring), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin-replenishing), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (antioxidant plant extracts/skin-soothing), Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), Arctium Lappa (Burdock) Root Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), Salix Alba (Willow) Root Extract (antioxidant/skin-soothing), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols (antioxidant/skin-softening), Lecithin (skin-restoring), Allantoin (skin-soothing), Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E/antioxidant), Hydrolized Soy Protein (antioxidant/skin-softening), Sorbitan Laurate (texture enhancer), Acetyl Dipeptide-1 Cetyl Ester (skin-soothing), Disodium EDTA (stabilizer), Hydroxyethylcellulose (texture enhancer), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Tribehenin (emollient), Caprylyl Glycol (skin-softening), Ethylhexylglycerin (skin-softening), Pentylene Glycol (hydrating), PEG-75 Shea Butter Glycerides (emollient), PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer (stabilizer), PEG-10 Phytosterol (fatty acid-based emollient), PEG-8 Dimethicone (skin-softening), PEG-14 (texture enhancer), Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (texture enhancer), Arachidyl Glycoside (texture enhancer), Sclerotium Gum (texture enhancer), Arachidyl Alcohol (texture enhancer), Benzoic Acid (preservative), Carbomer (gel-based texture enhancer), Phenoxyethanol (preservative).

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 3_20180718130349718


This cream is one of my ride-or-dies, must-have products. If you can even afford only one Paula’s Choice product then try this one.

I’ve noticed a difference in my skin from first usage which is extremely rare and almost scientifically crazy and I have been loving it ever since. It gives my skin a younger look, even though I don’t have wrinkles yet (so it might work even better for older skin), and it makes it look healthy and less dull.

I highly recommend this product.

To get £7.50 off your first Paula’s choice order (minimum £25 order) click here.

Paulas Choice Clinical 1 Retinol Treatment 5_20180718130523230

Beauty is a very personal thing, we all have different skin, requirements and biological build which can influence things. What worked for me might not work for you and vice versa. Have you ever tried these products? Did they work for you? Let me know your experiences below!

I am not affiliated with any company or brand. These are my views and experiences.


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2 responses to Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment – In-Depth Review, Ingredient Analysis and a Chemist’s Verdict

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