Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser Review

Can a cleanser fight pollution? Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser promises to neutralise the damaging effects of pollution on your skin thanks to a superfood antioxidant complex. Does it deliver? Mmmm… As big of a fan I am of antioxidants in my skincare routine, my cleanser is the one place where I can do without them. I actually prefer it when my cleanser doesn’t have it. What?! I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. Here’s all you need to know about this cleanser and the power of antioxidants in the fight against pollution in a cleanser:

Key Ingredients In Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser: What Makes It Work?
Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To Cream Cleanser hits that perfect spot between effective and gentle. Thank its gentle surfactants (ingredients that help oils mix with water, so they can easily be rinsed away) for it:

Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate
Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine
Sodium Lauroamphoacetate
Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Decyl Glucoside
Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate
Lauric Acid
Sorbitan Laurate
Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate

Why so many when the average cleanser contains 3/4? Every surfactant in here is so gentle, you need a generous bunch to up the cleansing power enough to remove every last trace of dirt, pollution, and makeup.
Related: Should You Avoid Sulfates In Skincare Products?
Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To Cream Cleanser has its fair share of antioxidants to fight pollution. It works like this: pollution generates free radicals, the nasty molecules that give you wrinkles, dark spots, and all kinds of skin woes. Antioxidants, like green tea and liquorice, neutralise free radicals before they can wreak their damage on your skin.
IF they’re left on your skin. In a cleanser, they end up down the drain and do nothing to fight pollution. Bummer! That’s why I don’t like them in a cleanser. Cleansers with antioxidants cost MORE money (antioxidants drive the price up), yet they really don’t stay on your skin enough to do anything. I’d rather go with a cheaper option that does the cleansing job already and invest what I saved in a retinol or Vitamin C serum.
Said this, if you can spend a bit more for a cleanser, this one does a good job indeed (I need to be fair, ladies).
Related: Common Antioxidants In Skincare Products: Which Ones Are Best For You?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

The Rest Of The Formula & Ingredients

NOTE: The colours indicate the effectiveness of an ingredient. It is ILLEGAL to put toxic and harmful ingredients in skincare products.

Green: It’s effective, proven to work, and helps the product do the best possible job for your skin.
Yellow: There’s not much proof it works (at least, yet).
Red: What is this doing here?!

Aqua: The main solvent in the cleanser, it helps dissolve other ingredients.
Glycerin: It draws water from the environment into your skin, increasing skin’s moisture level. The more moisture your skin has, the softer and suppler it becomes.
Sorbeth-230 Tetraoleate: It helps the oily and watery parts of a product blend together seamlessly, thus enhancing the texture and feel of the formula.
Pentylene Glycol: It attacts and binds moisture from the air into your skin, helping it to stay hydrated for longer.
Sodium Chloride: It stabilises the formula and enhances the texture of the serum.
Lactic Acid: You probably know it as an exfoliant, but that’s not what it does here. Lactic acid also acts as a humectant, i.e. it attracts and binds water from the air into the skin, helping it to stay hydrated for longer.
Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids: Derived from oats, it has soothing properties that calm down irritations.
Disodium EDTA: Water contains trace elements that can spoil the formula. This is a chelating agent that attaches to those trace elements and neutralises them, keeping the cleanser working well for longer.
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice: Made 99% of water, it increases skin’s moisture level for added hydration. It also has soothing properties.
Linoleic Acid: A fatty acid and natural component of the skin’s protective barrier, it makes skin softer and smoother during the cleansing process.
Phospholipids: Part of your natural’s skin protective barrier, it keeps skin softer and smoother.
Glycine: An amino acid that hydrates skin and speeds up the healing process.
Alanine: Another amino acid that deeply hydrates skin.
Serine: An amino acid that helps skin retain moisture, so it looks softer and smoother.
Valine: It improves your skin’s natural moisturising factor and helps soothe skin.
Isoleucine: It binds moisture to the skin, keeping it hydrated for longer.
Proline: It helps skin maintain moisture and look younger.
Threonine: An amino acid that hydrates skin, giving it a softer look and feel.
Cocoyl Proline: A mixture of coconut fatty acids and the amino acid proline, it hydrates skin.
Sodium Citrate: It adjusts the pH of skincare products.
Sodium PCA: It attracts and binds moisture to your skin, helping it to stay hydrated for longer.
Sodium Lactate: It hydrates skin and helps adjust the cleanser’s pH to boot.
Arginine: Another amino acids with hydrating properties.
Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols: An emollient that lubricates skin and gives it a soft feel. It also has antioxidant properties.
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride: Derived from coconut oil and glycerine, it makes skin softer and smoother.
PCA: A humectant derived from amino acids that makes skin softer and smoother.
Histidine: An amino acid polypeptide with antioxidant and soothing properties.
Phenylalanine: Another hydrating amino acid.
Lactoperoxidase: An enzyme derived from milk, it has antimicrobial properties that help restore skin’s surface microbiome, so that it looks healthier and more hydrated.
Glucose Oxidase: An emollient that makes skin softer and smoother.
Aspartic Acid: Another amino acid that strengthens your skin’s protective barrier and increases hydration in your skin.
Phenoxyethanol: A preservative that inhibits the growth of nasties in your skincare products, helping them stay safe and effective for longer.
Ethylhexylglycerin: A preservative with hydrating properties.

When you pour it out of the bottle, the cleanser looks like a clear gel, It turns into a semi-creamy lather as it mixes with water. It spreads on the skin easily and doesn’t leave any film behind once it’s rinsed off.
It’s fragrance-free. I dig that. Fragrance may make your cleanser smell amazing, but it’s the most irritating ingredient used in skincare. Any product that leaves it out gets a thumbs up from me.
How To Use It
Like all cleansers, it’s the first step of your skincare routine, both in the morning and at night. If you’re double cleansing (you don’t need to, by the way), use this as a second step.
The cleanser comes in a sleek coral bottle with a big opening. I do like the colour. It’s so rare to see such a bright bottle and it looks great on your vanity. And it’s practical, you can use it without wasting product.

Performance & Personal Opinion
I’m obsessed with Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To Cream Cleanser. It’s true the gel texture never fully turns into a cream, but it’s gentle enough even slightly dry and sensitive skin can use it. It does a great job at removing EVERYTHING from my skin:
Makeup, including long-lasting foundation? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Dirt and grime? Check. Pollutants? Check. The best part? It doesn’t leave my skin a tight and flaky mess afterwards. After every cleanse, my skin is both soft and clean.
By the way, when I say the cleanser removes pollutants from my skin, I mean that it removes the polluting substances that deposit on your skin as you go about your day every day, especially if you live in a big city like I do. But, it does NOT neutralise the free radicals that these pollutants cause. That’s a job for antioxidants and the ones in here end up down the drain, remember?

How Does Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser Compare To Other Paula’s Choice Cleansers?
Paula’s Choice makes a gazillion cleansers, all for a different skin type and concern. How do you know which one is right for you? Here’s a quick overview to help you make the best choice for your unique needs:

Paula’s Choice Calm Ultra-Gentle Cleanser ($19.00): A no-frills foaming cleanser for sensitive skin that’s either oily or combination. It does the cleansing job without drying out skin. Available at Paula’s Choice, Sephora, and SpaceNK.
Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser ($19.00): A foaming cleanser with salicylic acid, an exfoliant that gets inside your pores and unclogs them from within. Like antioxidants, it works better when left on the skin for several hours. I only recommend it if your skin is very sensitive and can’t tolerate leave-on salicylic acid exfoliants. Available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, and Sephora.
Paula’s Choice Earth Sourced Perfectly Natural Cleansing Gel ($19.00): A gentle foaming cleanser with a sprinkle of natural extracts (that don’t do anything). But it does the cleansing job well. Available at Paula’s Choice.
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Cleansing Balm ($29.00): An oil-based cleanser that melts away makeup and impurities while strengthening the skin’s protective barrier. Available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, and Sephora.
Paula’s Choice PC4Men Face Wash ($19.00): A no-frills, gentle foaming cleanser. It’s not that different from the other foaming cleansers on this formula (shockingly, men’s skin doesn’t need a special cleanser). Available at Paula’s Choice.
Paula’s Choice Perfect Cleansing Oil ($29.00): An oil cleanser that melts away even the stubborns of waterproof makeup and doesn’t leave a greasy residue behind. Available at Paula’s Choice.
Paula’s Choice Resist Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser ($23.00): A gentle cream cleanser that removes dirt and impurities without drying out skin. It has antioxidants, but they just end up down the drain. Available at Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, Sephora, and SpaceNK.
Paula’s Choice Resist Perfectly Balanced Foaming Cleanser ($23.00): A gentle foaming cleanser for sensitive skin that’s on the oily side. It removes dirt and excess oil without disrupting the skin’s protective barrier. Available at Paula’s Choice and Sephora.
Paula’s Choice Skin-Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($19.00): A cream-to-foam formula for sensitive and combination skin types. It removes impurities while leaving skin soft at the same time. Available at Paula’s Choice.
Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Softening Cream Cleanser ($19.00): A foaming cleanser gentle enough for dry skin. It cleanses skin and doesn’t dry it out. Available at Paula’s Choice.

What I Like About Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser

Lightweight, easy to spread texture
Doesn’t leave an oily residue behind
Doesn’t dry out or irritate skin
Cleanses skin and removes every trace of makeup and impurities

What I DON’T Like About Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser

Can’t fight pollution
Contains antioxidants, but they just end up down the drain

Who Should Use This?
It’s suitable for all skin types, but I especially like it for combination skin. It’s gentle enough not to irritate dry skin, but it’s no so emollient to make oily skin breakout.
Does Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-To-Cream Cleanser Live Up To Its Claims?


This gentle gel-to-cream cleanser removes dirt, oil and makeup, and rinses away skin-damaging pollutants that can cause premature signs of aging. 

Superfood complex leaves skin looking fresh and radiant.
It just ends up down the drain, doing nothing for your skin.

Unique texture transforms from soothing gel to skin-softening cream.
It never turns fully into a cream, but it does get creamier than a gel.

Price & Availability
$19.00/£25.00 at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, Sephora, and SpaceNK
The Verdict: Should You Buy It?
If you’re curious to try it, and your skin isn’t terribly dry, you’ll like this. Especially if you have combination skin and are struggling to find a cleanser that removes enough impurities without drying out your skin.
Dupes & Alternatives

CeraVe Hydrating Cream To Foam Cleanser ($17.99): A gentle cream to foam cleanser that removes every trace of makeup and impurities while strengthening the skin’s protective barrier. Available at Boots and Ulta.

Aqua, Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate (cleansing agent), Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine (cleansing agent), Sodium Lauroamphoacetate (cleansing agent), Cocamidopropyl Betaine (cleansing/lather agent), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), Sorbeth-230 Tetraoleate (texture enhancer/emulsifier), Decyl Glucoside (cleansing agent), Pentylene Glycol (hydration), Sodium Chloride (stabilizer/texture enhancer), Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate (cleansing agent), Lauric Acid (cleansing agent), Lactic Acid (hydration), Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids (skin-soothing), Sorbitan Laurate (cleansing agent/emulsifier), Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate (cleansing agent), Disodium EDTA (chelating agent), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (hydration), Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (antioxidant), Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract (skin-soothing), Linoleic Acid (skin-restoring), Phospholipids (skin-restoring), Glycine (amino acid/hydration), Alanine (amino acid/hydration), Serine (amino acid/hydration), Valine (amino acid/hydration), Isoleucine (amino acid/hydration), Proline (amino acid/hydration), Threonine (amino acid/hydration), Cocoyl Proline (hydration), Sodium Citrate (pH adjuster), Sodium PCA (skin-replenishing), Sodium Lactate (hydration), Arginine (amino acid/hydration), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols (antioxidant/hydration), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (skin-replenishing), PCA (amino acid/hydration), Histidine (amino acid/hydration), Phenylalanine (amino acid/hydration), Lactoperoxidase (hydration), Glucose Oxidase (hydration), Aspartic Acid (amino acid/hydration), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Ethylhexylglycerin (preservative).

About Gio
Hi, I’m Gio. I’m a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is skin coach and writer on a mission to help you achieve your best skin day ever – every day. I bust skincare myths and debunk marketing jargon to help you figure out what’s worth the splurge and what’s best left on the shelf – using science, not hype. I also offer skincare consultations to help you create the best skincare routine for your unique needs.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart