AHA vs. BHA: What is the Difference?

Your Guide to Exfoliating Acids.

Exfoliating your skin is a crucial step in skincare. It removes dirt, excess sebum and opens clogged pores which mean fewer breakouts. In addition, exfoliating at regular intervals might boost collagen production.

Types of exfoliation

  • Physical exfoliation: It is a process of manually removing the dirt and dead skin cells present on the skin surface. It involves either using small grainy and textured particles like present in scrubs or using exfoliating brushes. It is an abrasive process and can cause micro-tears in the epidermis.
  • Chemical Exfoliation: Chemical exfoliants like AHAs (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids) and BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acids) are gentle and effective on the skin. It removes the dead skin cells by breaking the bonds that hold skin cells together. They come in many concentrations. Strong concentrations are often prescribed by dermatologists and small concentrations are available over the counter. It increases cell regeneration and prevent face from looking dull.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

  • These are derived from natural substances like sugarcane or apples etc.
  • These are gentle and suitable for all skin types. They even out the skin.
  • AHAs are water-soluble. They remove dead skin cells from the surface and can’t penetrate the pores for deeper cleaning.
  • Major AHAs used in skincare products are glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and malic acid.
  • Glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size so it penetrates the skin better than other AHAs.
  • Lactic acid has slightly larger molecular size and is less irritating on the skin. It is mild and moisturizes the skin while it exfoliates.
  • Mandelic acid has antibacterial properties and exfoliates skin without brightening.
  • Malic acid does not exfoliate like glycolic and lactic acids but is used in combination with other AHAs.

Beta Hydroxy Acids

  • It is best suited for oily and acne-prone skin.
  • These are oil soluble. It removes dirt and dead skin cells from the surface, penetrates deeper into the pores, and breaks down the sebum causing inflammation and breakouts. It unclogs pores.
  • The most popularly used BHA is salicylic acid.
  • It is anti-inflammatory. It is hydrating and moisturizing.

How to use AHAs and BHAs?

  • Use the AHA/BHA products that you can leave longer on your face like, lotions, serums, and masks as these acids take time to penetrate your skin.
  • Read the label and learn how to use them. As a beginner, you should start with a low concentrations and slowly build your way up to high concentrations. If higher concentrations irritate your skin, then stick to lower concentrations.
  • Use it once or twice a week. When your skin feels bumpy and oily to touch is the best time to use it. Everyone’s skin is different and shed dead skin cells at different rates. Listen to your skin.
  • Don’t apply multiple products containing chemical exfoliants at the same time.
  • Apply AHAs and BHAs only at bedtime and don’t step out in the sun after applying them.
  • You can also use a combination of AHAs and BHAs.
  • Use sunscreen.

The Difference between AHA and BHA Exfoliants | Dr Gaile Robredo-Vitas

Sara Monet

Sara is a pro-makeup artist who's been working with some of the biggest cosmetic brands. While makeup is Sara's passion, she also enjoys travelling the world to enrich her beauty career.