AHA vs BHA: How to Choose the Right Exfoliant for Your Skin

AHA, BHA or PHA – Which acid is right for you?

AHA vs BHA: How to Choose the Right Exfoliant for Your Skin

You have probably heard that exfoliants are good for your skin and you may recognise the following acronyms; AHA, BHA and PHA. But what do they really mean and what do these acids (yes, they are all acids) do for your skin? And most importantly of all, which one is best for you?

The one thing these acid types all have in common is that they are designed to exfoliate the skin, which means they help loosen up the top layer of dead skin cells – these cells are ready to fall off on their own but can be gently removed in order to make way for new, younger skin cells. This results in the skin taking on a more even surface and a healthier appearance – we refer to this as radiance or glow. Let us take a more in-depth look into these different kinds of acids!


AHA, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids are a group of acids that are naturally found in fruit, milk, sugarcane etc. AHA exfoliates on different degrees, where glycolic acid is the most powerful. It helps to stimulate our skins’ cell regeneration process, which is perfect for mature skin because the cell renewal process is slower than in more youthful skin.

This exfoliating effect helps to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, as well as work on pigmentation deep within the skin. It also works well on dry skin – choose a lactic acid as it will help to lock moisture into your skin.

Mandelic acid is also a part of this group, and with its anti inflammatory properties it makes it great for more sensitive skin or people suffering with acne. 

  • Exfoliates the skin and increases cell renewal
  • Treats pigmentation, sun damage and evens out the skin tone
  • Locks in moisture and gives radiance
  • Reduces fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin and scars
  • Excellent for dry or mature skin


BHA, or Beta Hydroxy Acids are a group of acids, and within skin care we predominantly use salicylic acid. This acid (which can be found in aspirin!) naturally occurs in the white willow tree (salix alba) and contains anti inflammatory properties.

It is also fat soluble which makes it great for oily skin with blocked pores, or inflamed acne. Salicylic acid works its way deep into the pores and dissolves sebum, which in turn improves the condition of the pores.

Mature skin with fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage can also benefit well from BHA. 

  • Exfoliates the skin and increases cell renewal
  • Dissolves oil in the pores
  • Effective treatment against acne and blackheads
  • Anti-inflammatory properties and soothes redness


PHA, or Poly Hydroxy Acids are a group of acids that work their magic slowly, which is great for sensitive skin that is prone to irritation and redness which can come from using AHA.

PHA has a larger molecular structure than AHA, which means it penetrates the skin more slowly and therefore doesn’t exfoliate as powerfully as acids with a smaller molecular structure.  These mild acids are perfect for all types of sensitive and/or dry skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea.

Mature skin can also benefit from the antioxidant properties which protect the skin's’ collagen from breaking down. Examples of PHA in the skin care world is gluconolactone och lactobionic acid. 

  • Exfoliates the skin and increases cell renewal
  • Locks in plenty of moisture
  • Works an antioxidant
  • Ideal for sensitive skin and rosacea


Generally it is possible to combine acids, but you should always check with a skin care therapist to make sure that you get the right combination for your skin type, and that the products you buy do not clash with each other due to the pH values, or that the mixture would be too strong for your skin. Normally you can mix products from the same brand without issue but it is well worth double checking to make sure you get the best possible outcome for your skin.


It is always smart to use a high SPF as the final step in your morning skin care routine to help protect against early signs of ageing and sun damage, but it is vital when using acids! The exfoliating effect they have on your skin can make it more sensitive to the sun. You should also be careful with acids when you know you will be exposed to the sun for extended periods, so it is wise to use them in the evenings or completely avoid them during your holidays in the sun. But most importantly – don’t forget your sunscreen!

Source: https://skincity.com/en/skin-guide/tips-advice/aha-bha-or-pha-which-acid-is-right-for-you

What does it mean when skin care products have AHA and BHA in them?

AHA vs BHA: How to Choose the Right Exfoliant for Your Skin

You may have been seeing AHA and BHA products everywhere in skin care lately, as many K-beauty brands and Sephora fave Drunk Elephant have incorporated these superpowered, complexion-improving ingredients in their products. If you are stumped on what the heck AHA and BHA ingredients actually do for your skin, we caught up with Drunk Elephant’s Director of Education Nathan Rivas to help set the record straight.

Although AHA and BHA ingredients usually go hand-in-hand, Rivas says that AHA acids or alpha hydroxy acids are usually lactic, citric, and glycolic acids, which are derived from vegan and non-vegan sources.

These sorts of acids function as leave-on exfoliants, which work to gradually dissolve the bonds holding dead skin cells together.

Additionally, he says, these acids are very helpful in improving skin texture and tone, and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

If you are interested in adding AHA into your beauty routine, Rivas recommends using AHA products at 8% and 15%. However, he warns that glycolic acid (the most common AHA) at 10% is already strong enough, so you’ll want to be cautious with how much you actually apply to your face. Rivas also notes that un BHA ingredients, alpha hydroxy acids aren’t as effective at unclogging your pores.

Rivas says these acids gradually exfoliate the skin, while also working to penetrate and exfoliate deep into your pores, too. Because these acids tend to go a little deeper than AHAs, BHA acids help your products (think serums and creams) absorb better.

Derived from chemical salicin, (an ingredient often found in aspirin) this acid has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-redness benefits. Salicin, he says, is another form of BHA, but it does not have the same exfoliation properties as salicylic acid when applied topically.To use beta hydroxy acids properly, Rivas cautions not to go overboard with salicylic acid.

Rivas also warns of the misconceptions surrounding both alpha and hydroxy acids, as he says anyone can use these products if they are free of irritants and are formulated at the right pH level. He recommends using hydroxy acids formulated at a pH lower than 4.

0, as higher concentrations can be extremely irritating to the skin. However, when using both AHA and BHA products, you’ll want to make sure to avoid certain irritants.

Too much alcohol and essential oils can cause the skin to have a harder time tolerating both hydroxy acids.

“A pH of 3.5 to 4.0 is an ideal range for exfoliation to occur without provoking sensitivity,” he adds.

But at the end of the day, Rivas says both hydroxy acids are more than beneficial. When used on a daily basis, they help manage breakouts, fix uneven tone, and promote new cell turnover.

“Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) are two sides of the same coin,” he suggests. “Both gradually exfoliate by dissolving dead skin cells on your surface layers—so both are great for improving tone and texture—BHA just goes a little further to do the same from inside the pore.”

Now that you know how to AHA and BHA a pro, here are 15 products that will reveal brighter and firmer-feeling skin.

This oil-free cream is filled with AHA acids, which help improve skin texture, tone, and appearance over time.

This intensive serum uses 12 percent AHA/BHA serum to keep your complexion smooth and ultra-radiant.

This exfoliating liquid uses AHA/BHA acids to keep your skin acne-free.

If you love mask treatments, this AHA/BHA facial works to perfect uneven skin tone and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.

For just $3, you can totally enjoy this sheet mask which uses AHA and BHA acids to remove dead skin cells effectively.

Natural beauty lovers will love this overnight peel which uses fruit acids and five percent AHAs to diminish age spots and blemishes a pro.

Those struggling with redness will love this lotion exfoliant, which uses two percent BHA gel to reveal smoother and healthier-looking skin.

This exfoliating AHA/BHA cleanser also uses jojoba beads to gently polish away any dry and dead skin cells.

This set comes with 60 AHA/BHA-infused application pads which help brighten and firm the skin.

Refine and refresh your complexion with this heavy-duty moisturizer which uses a special triple blend of alpha hydroxy acids.

This rejuvenating AHA-based formula helps soften and brighten dull skin.

A  multi-vitamin and alpha hydroxy acid blend keeps your face smooth and shielded from harmful sun damage.

This exfoliating mask will help keep breakouts under control.

Licorice root extract and salicylic acid work together to reveal a luminous and acne free-complexion.

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Source: https://hellogiggles.com/beauty/skin/what-is-aha-and-bha-skin-care-drunk-elephant/

10 effective skincare products that use exfoliating acids to reduce acne and make your skin clearer, softer, and more even

AHA vs BHA: How to Choose the Right Exfoliant for Your Skin

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Drunk Elephant

Exfoliation is an essential part of a good skincare routine. It helps to slough off dead skin and facilitate new cell turnover, keep pores clean (and skin clear), and promote blood flow and collagen production. It also makes your skin look younger, healthier, and helps produce the much-desired glow.

One type of exfoliation that’s gaining traction is acids — specifically AHA and BHA — thanks in part to mainstream brands such as Drunk Elephant, Dr. Dennis Gross, and Peter Thomas Roth. Drunk Elephant has cult-favorites the T.

L.C. Sukari Babyfacial and T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, Dr. Dennis Gross has Alpha Beta Daily Peels, and Peter Thomas Roth has AHA/BHA Clearing Gel.  These acids can combat acne, erase dark spots, and blur fine lines.

So what are AHAs and BHAs, what do they do, and who should be using them?

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) represents acids derived from a natural substance sugar cane, milk, almonds, or grapes. They work by breaking down the glue holding your skin cells together, urging along the skin’s natural shedding process.

BHAs penetrate deeper into the skin, but the effects of AHAs are primarily felt on the skin’s surface. If you have surface-level skin concerns red marks from past acne, this constant sloughing off of dead, dull skin cells is helpful for hyperpigmentation.


AHA is also good for dry skin. It’s made up of molecules that love water, and it helps improve the skin’s moisture content.

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) is best for acne-prone skin and those with deeper skin concerns since BHA penetrates further into the skin. While AHAs love water, BHAs love oil.

They can bypass the oil that clogs pores and dissolve the mix of sebum and dead skin that leads to acne, as well as stabilize the lining of the pore (which contributes to acne). BHAs clear up blackheads, whiteheads, and have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

This umbrella term includes the popular anti-acne ingredient of Salicylic Acid. BHAs also exfoliate the top layer but are best bought for their deep penetrative qualities.

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel before and after pictures which combines AHA and BHA. Sephora

Can’t decide between addressing hyperpigmentation and dry skin or your acne? Use both AHAs and BHAs. It’s the acidic one-two punch of treating dark spots, sun damage, and fine lines as well as acne and deep, clogged pores. Shop products that contain both ingredients, or alternate between your AHA product and your BHA product nightly or weekly.

It’s important to use sunscreen after exfoliating since your skin will be photosensitive, and to pay attention to how your skin is reacting. It’s always a good idea to run products by your dermatologist, and that's especially true if you have sensitive skin and want to double check which strength of each acid is best for you.

Below are 11 products that use AHAs, BHAs, or a combination of the two and where you can find them:

Drunk Elephant

Drunk Elephant's T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial is essentially a professional at-home facial that you can do in 20 minutes. It was a runaway success, earning plenty of buzz online and a glowing “Best of Beauty” award from Allure in 2017.

The T.L.C contains high concentrations of AHA (25%) and BHA (2%), plus Drunk Elephant's “dream team blend” of glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acids. Altogether, it gently but efficiently resurfaces the skin to reveal much more even and smooth skin underneath.

Powerful antioxidants matcha, apple fruit, and milk thistle calm and hydrate, and non-fragrant plant oils replenish moisture and nourish the new layer of skin cells.

 Chickpea flour brightens and balances the skin without over-drying, and pumpkin ferment bumps up enzymatic action.

Niacinamide, also known as Vitamin B3 or niacin, is a “cell-communicating” ingredient that's included to brighten and tone skin for a healthier look and feel. 

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Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/aha-bha-skin-care-exfoliating-acids-2018

AHA vs BHA: What’s the difference?

AHA vs BHA: How to Choose the Right Exfoliant for Your Skin

Exfoliating your skin regularly is a must do for a healthy, dewy glow. The lihood is when you first started, the only options you thought available were the kind you need to get scrubbing with – muslin cloths, face scrubs, konjac sponges, exfoliating brushes.

Then you were warmly welcomed into the world of chemical exfoliants. AHAs vs BHAs.

The kind of exfoliants that don’t ask you to buff, scrub or gently move in circular motions. The kind which exfoliates gradually instead of all in one hit. The kind which takes less than 10 seconds to apply and continues to work for hours after.

But which do you use?

What Is BHA?

AHAs are best for some skin types. BHAs are best for other skin types.

When you see the word BHA on a face wash, toner or moisturiser, you’re seeing the abbreviation for beta-hydroxy acid. BHAs are 1 type of chemical exfoliant with the most common type of BHA being salicylic acid.

Almost all BHA exfoliants in the skincare world are salicylic acid. Meaning, most of the time, BHA, beta-hydroxy acid and salicylic acid mean the exact same thing.

So when should you use a BHA? Which skin types work best with BHA exfoliants? How do you know which to choose: AHA vs BHA?

What’s the Difference Between BHA and AHA?

BHA and AHA exfoliants have very similar benefits for different skin types. Use the wrong one for your skin type and it won’t be doing much. Use the right one for your skin type and you’ll see a fresh, clear, even, smooth skin tone in no time.

While you now know BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid, what you might not know is that AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid.

The 2 have very similar names because they’re very similar skincare ingredients.

If you want to get super savvy about the science, know this, alpha and beta are exactly a postcode, they tell scientists where a certain part of the molecule lives. In space 1 aka alpha or in space 2 aka beta.

Why does it matter? Because different postcodes aka locations of hydroxy acids dissolve differently in different liquids.

This is the key to your decision of AHA vs BHA.

AHAs dissolve best in water and BHAs dissolve best in oil.

Meaning… and I bet you’re here already: AHAs are best for normal to dry skin types and BHAs are best for combination and oily skin types.

Glycolic Acid vs Salicylic Acid

When choosing a liquid exfoliant the products you’re looking at may not be labelled up as simply as AHA and BHA. Instead, you might see a salicylic acid mask or a glycolic acid face wash.

These 2 types of chemical exfoliant are the most common types used.

And all you need to know is this;

  • Glycolic acid is an AHA and is, therefore, best for dry to normal skin types
  • Salicylic acid is a BHA and is therefore best for combination or oily skin types

AHA vs BHA bottom line: If you have a dry to normal skin type, choose glycolic acid. If you have a combination or oily skin type, choose salicylic acid.

AHA or BHA for Acne?

Exfoliating regularly is a great way to help fight away acne, spots and pimples. When you develop a spot, dead skin has become trapped in your pores. Usually, your skin exfoliates itself almost fully every 30 days, but as you get older this slows.

Using a liquid exfoliant can happily speed up your skin’s natural exfoliation rate helping stop dead skin from becoming trapped in your pores. When spot causing bacteria have no food, they have to pack up and go hibernate.

In the choice of AHA or BHA for acne, the answer is simple. Do you have it already? Spots happen in your pores and your pores are where sebum aka oil is created. This sticky mixture of dead skin and oil is the reason why oily and combination skin types are prone to spots, acne and pimples.

…and the reason why BHA or beta-hydroxy acid exfoliants or salicylic acid exfoliants aka the kind which dissolve in oil are the best at helping treat your spots or acne.

Can I Use AHA and BHA Together?

…Can I use BHA and AHA at the same time? Can I combine AHA and BHA?

Now my fellow skin savvy, some skincare products combine AHAs and BHAs. 

In case you were wondering this is a high, high strength product. 2% is the maximum safe amount of salicylic acid allowed in the EU and 30% is the maximum salon safe dose of glycolic acid advised in the EU.

Using AHAs and BHAs together, in general, is not advised because you’re using too many ingredients which have a similar effect and when you do this, skin can get itself in a pickle.

 Imagine waxing your legs once, only to do it again 10 seconds later. Imagine eating dinner to then have to eat the same sized portion for dessert.

Imagine doing a body attack class to go do a body pump class after.

It’s going to hurt… and doing the same to your skin will hurt too, not as pain, but as inflammation, redness and irritation. Which is ageing – not good.

Word to the skincare wise: In general, it is not advised to use AHA and BHA products together and if using pre-prepared AHA and BHA products it should be occasionally and with caution.

Article source: https://www.honestyforyourskin.co.uk/aha-vs-bha/

Source: https://jinmee.co.uk/blogs/news/aha-vs-bha-what-s-the-difference