Author, Paula’s Choice Skincare founder and ‘Cosmetics Cop’ Paula Begoun lifts the lid on the ingredients that work (and the ones that don’t), the surprising things that might be ageing you and the foundations of her beauty empire

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Known as ‘The Cosmetics Cop,’ Paula Begoun’s critical eye, ability to separate fad from fact and insider intel on ingredients lists has made her a go-to authority on all things beauty.

Lifting the lid on skincare one active at a time, Paula’s all about helping women make informed choices about what they buy. Motivated by her own struggles with acne  and eczema  in her teens and twenties, she’s seen first-hand how powerful finding the right skincare can be. “I tried numerous skincare products and medical treatments. Yet my skin didn’t get better,” she says. “Then at the age of 25 (and I’ll never forget this moment), I read the ingredient label on a skincare product I was using and the fourth ingredient was acetone. That’s nail polish remover! No wonder my skin wasn’t getting better. From that moment on I read all of the research I could find on skincare and eventually I was able to put together a skincare routine that completely transformed my skin.”

Driven by a passion to prevent others having to go through the same problems she did, Paula then started making TV appearances and writing books to share what she’d learned regarding which skincare products worked and which ones didn’t. She’s since written 20 books in total, launched her widely acclaimed beauty brand, Paula’s Choice Skincare , and also founded product review and recommendation hub, Beautypedia.

A dream interviewee of ours, we caught up with Paula to talk all things beauty; from the new ingredients that work to the ones that don’t, to gain an insight into her own personal skincare regime, what she wishes was around 20 years ago and the key moments of her incredible career.

GTG: What would you say has made the biggest difference to your skin?

PB: My Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid  made the most amazing difference from the beginning, and to this day I’m still surprised at how smooth my skin is. The most impactful thing though is I don’t tan (not even on holiday) - I wear sunscreen 365 days a year, and I layer sunscreens when the days are longer in the summer or when I travel to sunny climates. I also never use products with fragrance of any kind in them.

GTG: Why do you avoid fragrance?

PB: Fragrance, whether it’s natural or synthetic, irritates and inflames skin. This damages the skin’s surface, promotes ageing, causes collagen to breakdown and hurts the skin’s ability to fight environmental damage. Anything that irritates the skin is a BIG no-no.

MORE GLOSS: Sense and Sensitivity - the best fragrance-free products

GTG: Which new ingredients are you most excited about?

PB: New peptides. These are just wildly significant for skin as they are performance-specific. Each one is designed to communicate a different skincare task such as improving skin colour, hydration, firming skin or making new fibroblasts. Unbelievable, and they’re compatible with all of the other brilliant anti-ageing ingredients currently in use so the consumer gets even greater benefit.

GTG: Which ingredients aren’t worth the hype in your opinion?

PB: I doubt probiotics will do much beyond calming and hydration. There are hundreds of types of bacteria on a person’s face, and each person has a different assortment…we don’t have the same microbiome. All the probiotic strains are important, so putting one or two or even five of them on your skin is unlikely to do much. However, prebiotics that help your skin create its own balance is a far more significant concept. Sheet masks aren’t worth the hype, either. Most are messy to use and you can get the same ingredients - often in much better formulas - from leave-on products like serums or boosters.

Skincare has come so far in two decades, it’s like the difference between a typewriter and a computer

GTG: What do you wish was around 20 years ago?

PB: Knowledge about UVA damage from the sun (the sun’s the silent destroyer because you can’t feel the damage) and antioxidants for topical defense, as well as other current technological advances from retinol, ceramides and niacinamide. Skincare has come so far in two decades, it’s like the difference between a typewriter and a computer.

MORE GLOSS: Retinol and retinoids - the skin experts' guide

GTG: Which skincare concerns will one product alone never fix?

PB: All of them. Skin is very complicated and what goes wrong is very complex from disease to ageing to dryness to cumulative sun damage. You could no sooner eat one food and be healthy than you can use one skincare product and get the results you’re hoping for.

GTG: When the damage is done, is there anything you can do to reverse it?

PB: It’s never too late to stop causing more damage and to improve skin with gentle leave-on exfoliants (BHA or AHA), products loaded with skin-restoring ingredients like peptides, antioxidants and retinol, and to always keep skin hydrated with products suitable for your skin type.

MORE GLOSS: Do you know your true skin type?

GTG: Can skincare ever outperform cosmetic procedures?

PB: This isn’t an either/or; cosmetic procedures are about dramatic changes to address what skincare can’t do, but without brilliant skincare you can’t maintain and prevent further damage. Each has different advantages and if you want to look younger, longer, you will need both.

GTG: In terms of natural and organic beauty, which ingredients do you think perform?

PB: They perform the same [as synthetic ones]. Once you pull a plant out of the ground, clean it, sterilise it and mix it in a product, your skin can’t tell whether it is organic or not. The key with natural ingredients, organic or not, is to only choose products that contain the non-fragrant ones, meaning no essential oils (these contain volatile compounds that irritate skin) and no fragrant plants like mint, citrus, or fragrant flowers. Ingredients like menthol, alcohol, lemon, lime, lavender and natural fragrance in general are all problematic.

MORE GLOSS: Teetotal skincare - a guide to reading your labels

GTG: Your biggest beauty disasters?

PB: The products that I used when I was young were terrible -  they always made my skin worse. That’s what made me start researching the industry and writing my books. I was frustrated and instinctively knew there had to be a better way and the research clearly showed there was. And then I couldn’t help myself - I had to share what I knew to be true with others so they didn’t suffer like I did.

I rarely (if ever) envy what another company has done

GTG: What inspired you to set up Beautypedia and Paula’s Choice Skincare?

PB: When the internet came along, it was a natural place to put reviews because we could update the information in real time. The brand was more accidental; my friends, family, and many of my readers complained that it was too difficult to take my book to cosmetic counters and I should just start my own brand so that they didn’t have to worry about what they were using, if it was overpriced, or if it was going to work. I was already working with some brilliant chemists and I certainly knew about skincare research and formularies, so I thought why not? The global success of Paula’s Choice Skincare just astounds me…I’m so proud and honoured by it.

GTG: Are there any mistakes that you’ve made during your career?

PB: In terms of products, I know we are at the head of the game. I rarely (if ever) envy what another company has done. But back when I first started 25 years ago, I really wished I was able make products as silky and smooth as other companies. When I finally figured out how, I was the most excited formulator on the planet.

GTG: Is there anything that you would do differently?

PB: I’m not sure there’s much I would do differently, even my mistakes have made me a better person, formulator, business owner and boss.

Follow Paula  @PaulasChoice_UK  and Ayesha  @Ayesha_Muttu .