Learning Series: What are AHA and BHA?

It is a well-known fact that exfoliation can make a world of difference in your skin’s appearance. Skin looks healthier, it is improving skin texture and brightens the complexion.

Our skin is not able to exfoliate itself properly. The outer layer of skin consists of dead cells and shedding on a daily basis is normal. As we age, the shedding method on the surface of the skin will become inefficient, inflicting a buildup. Dry skin, oily skin, sun damage and disorders like acne can impact the smoothness of the skin. It can cause the appearance of fine lines, discoloration, it can become rough or scaly or lead to blemishes or blackheads. We can exfoliate our skin in 2 ways: by physical and chemical exfoliation.

Physical exfoliation of the skin can be done by using scrubs, konjac sponges or face/body brushes.

Chemical exfoliation considers using low percentages of gentle acids (like AHA and BHA) that come in the form of cleansers, toners, serums and moisturizers.

What are AHAs and BHAs?

You came across of AHA and BHA term in skincare products, but had no idea what it was? When you buy skin care products, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in them and I want to help you try to understand them better so you can recognize if they are they good for you and if your skin needs them.

First off, AHA stands for Alpha hydroxide acid and BHA stands for Beta hydroxide acid. Even tho acid sounds a bit terrifying, they are gentle and non-abrasive chemical exfoliants.

AHA are hydrophilic, which means that they are attracted to the water. It works on the outer surface of the skin and removes the dead cells making an even toned and radiant complexion. It helps with the sun damaged spots, acne scarring or hyperpigmentation. AHA cannot penetrate to disengage pores, that is why they usually aren’t the primary choice when it comes to fighting acne. There are several types of AHA’s and most common are:

  • glycolic acid (derived from sugars)
  • lactic acid (derived from milk and sugars)
  • malic acid (derived from apples)
  • tartaric acid (derived from grapes)
  • mandelic acid (derived from bitter almonds).

Using of AHA can cause side effects like mild irritation, redness and sun sensitivity. Therefore, sunscreen is a must. You can avoid skin irritation with alpha-hydroxy acids by starting with a product with low concentrations of AHA so you can give your skin a chance to get used to the product.

BHA refers to salicylic acid which is derived from plants. They are lipophilic, which means that it is able to dissolve in oil and fats, which allows salicylic acid to penetrate skin layers that have lipid membranes and bind to sebum.

BHAs are ideal for acne-prone skin and for treating blackheads or white bumps because it penetrates to disengage your pores. It additionally helps normalize the pores, and is even suitable for those prone to milia.

BHA has natural skin-calming properties, which make it preferred for redness-prone skin and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Pregnant or nursing women should not use products containing salicylic acid as the people who are allergic to salicylates (found in aspirin).


AHAs are preferred for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin due to their ability to enhance natural moisturizing factors within the skin. But if you have oily skin that is clog prone with blackheads or whiteheads, take a look at products containing BHA.

Do you use any of the products with AHAs or BHAs? What are your thoughts?

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