Paula's Choice

Few people in the cosmetics industry will tell you that fancied “Crème de La Mer” is in fact Vaseline repackaged in a chichi jar. Vivacious beauty expert Paula Begoun – “The Cosmetics Cop” of the USA – is the rare exception.  Faced with your choice of skincare product, she sits you down, looks at you closely, and turns to the side of the box where the ingredients are listed. She then reads the list out loud and underlines each anti-irritant with her thumbnail. At first you are taken aback because never have you heard so much enmity attached to a string of one-to-two syllable words. After she settles down, she turns to you with an incredulous look on her expression. Wisely, you nod along; decidedly the “miracle cream” in question is not so magical after all.

Ms. Begoun gravitated towards cosmetic journalism after she realized that the fourth ingredient on the label of her skincare product was acetone – a potent solvent used in nail polish removers. This shocking revelation propelled her on a path of scientific inquiry, namely to read the latest published research from respectable scientific journals, and to then compare what the scientists said to what the skincare and makeup companies claimed.

A generous lady and astute businesswoman, Ms. Begoun decided to share her success story with consumers. Her best selling guide Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me – currently in its ninth edition – is similar in size to a telephone directory yet entertains like Vogue’s September issue. Through many TV appearances viz., Dr. Oz, Oprah, and The View, she garnered a loyal fan base that worships her as the Sovereign of the Vanity Isles, on a par with Anna Wintour, Queen of Fashion.

Ms. Begoun’s recommendation or rejection of a product under review is based upon three major criteria – economy, efficacy, and container. For instance, if the chemicals involved have substantial citations backing up the effectiveness of their anti-ageing, acne battling, or brown spot fading properties, then this potion is filed under the “Excellent” folder. Whereas if the claims read fictional, the price is tag unjustifiable, and the constituents are merely gimmicks, then said abomination receives a “Poor” rating. Ms. Begoun is also an outspoken propagandist for “no-jar” packaging and “fragrance-free” beauty aids. Jars expose the contents to the atmosphere and thus decrease the potency of the product with each unscrewing of the lid. Fragrances such as perfumes or alcohols in lotions are potential irritants.

Although Ms. Begoun was long a beloved figure for her many TV disciples it was only after years of requests that she finally succumbed to the pressure to produce her own line of skincare products. With the aid of seasoned formulators and master chemists, she presented her first edition regime in 1995; the brand, Paula’s Choice, was born.

Her products proved revolutionary. Gone were the recherché claims, the clouds of perfume, the swarms of anti-irritants, and the unpardonable price points. In place was a gamut of inexpensive yet state-of-the-art ingredients with references to support the claims. Reasons for the addition of a particular component to the concoction and explanations as to the benefits of the component were included.

Ms. Begoun’s company has grown exponentially ever since. It now sells cleansers, toners, exfoliators, serums, targeted treatments, moisturizers, sunscreens, and makeup that suits every skin type conceivable. The brand promises to solve most basic dermatological problems. Despite that, Ms. Begoun will be the first to agree that “my products can’t replace lasers, Botox, or a facelift”.

Paula’s Choice is strictly an online brand with an impeccable customer service team. A note of advice: If you pester just enough, the enthusiastic Customer Care Manager, Deborah Kilgore, will answer all your queries personally. And if you ask the right questions, the patient Research and Content Director, Bryan Barron – “mini-Paula” – will resolve all your concerns with logical explanations.

What makes the staff – and thus the Paula’s Choice brand – of this Seattle-based enterprise even more unique is that it is the only cosmetic company to recommend products outside its own collection – “Beautypedia” and “Product Development” are separate commercial entities.

In this aesthetics-conscious industry laced with cancerous jargon, tainted with skin-deep solutions, and covered with artificial façades, Paula’s Choice stands out as a messenger of truth, a harbinger of realistic expectations, and an outpost of scientific integrity. Ms. Begoun’s associates are not marketers – typically the partners in crime to the vanity enhancement charlatans – but researchers and their published records. Skincare is not ufology; claims needn’t be fabricated. For a doubter like Paula Begoun, there are no stupid questions, only silly answers.