AHA and BHA for Skin: What’s the Difference?

AHA and BHA for Skin: What’s the Difference?

Do you know the difference between AHA and BHA?

If not, you're not alone. A lot of people don't know the difference, or which one is right for their skin type.

Learn which exfoliation can best suit your skin's needs, as well as what factors to consider when creating an exfoliation routine for soft, smooth skin.

Skincare benefits of AHAs and BHAs

AHA and BHA are both acids that can be used in skincare products. Both exfoliate the skin to improve its appearance. However, they work in different ways.

AHA works to break down the glue that holds dead skin cells together, while BHA goes deeper into the pores to remove dirt and oil.

What can AHA and BHA do for your skin?

  • Smooth fine lines and wrinkles 
  • Make the skin look and feel firmer
  • Hydrate the skin
  • Improve the look of dull, uneven skin tone
  • Reduce the look of visible pores 
  • Brighten hyperpigmentation 
  • Smooth rough, bumpy texture

You can find both AHAs and BHAs in a variety of

  • cleansers
  • toners
  • moisturisers
  • scrubs
  • peels
  • masks

What are AHAs?

AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid - they are water-soluble acids derived from cane or other sugary fruits, used to exfoliate the skin and loosen the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing dull skin to slough off as it did when we were younger.

Some names for AHAs are:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Citric acid
  • Mandelin acid
  • Tartaric acid

Although there are several different types of AHAs, the most frequently used is glycolic acid, which has the smallest molecular weight of all the alpha-hydroxy acids, which allows it to easily and effectively penetrate the skin.

Glycolic acid is found in several peels and daily skin care products. Popular options include:

Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toner from The Ordinary

CeraVe Blemish Control Gel

Lactic acid is another common AHA. Unlike other AHAs made from fruits, lactic acid is made from lactose in milk. It’s also known for its significant exfoliation and anti-ageing effects.

Like glycolic acid, lactic acid is found in a variety of products, such as:

Lactic Acid 10% + HA

Biossance Squalane and Lactic Acid Resurfacing Serum

How to use AHAs

AHAs all result in significant exfoliation. Although there are different types of acids, their effects and uses can differ slightly. 

Choose an AHA that has a maximum concentration of 10–15 percent.

Start using the new product gradually until you get used to it. By doing this, you will also be less likely to experience side effects such as irritation.

The exfoliating effects of any AHA will increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. Wear sunscreen every morning to prevent burns and hyperpigmentation.

What are BHAs?

BHAs are another category of exfoliating acids known as beta-hydroxy acids.

Just like AHAs, BHAs exfoliate the skin. But instead of working only on the top layer of skin, BHAs are absorbed deep within the pores to exfoliate there.

They break down and remove oil, dirt, and anything else clogging up our pores. They also help to loosen the bonds between dead skin cells, so these can be more easily removed. 

Salicylic acid is the most common BHA. Concentrations can range between 0.5 and 5 percent, depending on the product at hand. It’s well known

trusted source as an acne treatment, but it can also help calm down general redness and inflammation.

Popular options include:

 2% BHA Exfoliant from Paula’s Choice

Salicylic Acid Cleanser from The Inkey List

AHA/BHA/Retinoid Daily Clarifying Peel from Murad

How to use BHAs

BHAs are now a common skincare ingredient and you’ll find them in everything from cleansers to moisturisers, toners to serums and masks. How you use the ingredient will change depending on which product type you choose. 

BHAs come in different percentage strengths, so some products are safe for everyday use, like cleansers while other products should only be used once a week, like masks for example. Always follow the instructions on the product you’re using.

Which one should I use for acne?

Being an oil-soluble acid, BHA penetrates your skin on a deeper level, which reduces the excessive production of sebum that leads to acne.
BHA also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a great relief from the pain that might occur from an internal or persistent pimple while reducing redness and swelling.

Which one should I use for wrinkles?

Due to their skin cell-regenerating properties, AHAs help stimulate collagen production, making them ideal for minimising fine lines and reducing visible sun damage. AHA is also very effective at gentle skin exfoliation as it peels the surface of your skin, exposing more even skin tone and texture.

Brightening Hero and AHAs/BHAs: A synergistic approach to hyperpigmentation

While AHAs and BHAs lay the groundwork by exfoliating dead skin cells and clearing pores, a product like Brightening Hero amplifies the fight against hyperpigmentation.

Brightening Hero could be enriched with ingredients known for their brightening properties, such as Tranexamic Acid, Alpha Arbutin, Vitamin C and Niacinamide. These ingredients work by inhibiting the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for dark spots. When used together with AHAs and BHAs, Brightening Hero fights hyperpigmentation and melasma, making your skincare routine more effective in achieving a radiant complexion.

Can AHAs and BHAs be combined?

While AHAs and BHAs each offer significant benefits for the skin individually, combining these acids thoughtfully can amplify their positive effects, leading to enhanced results for your complexion.

A prudent approach to combining AHAs and BHAs is through the utilization of a single product that incorporates both acids. This product would be carefully formulated to contain a balanced concentration of each, minimizing the likelihood of over-exfoliation or skin irritation.

If you're using at-home chemical peels, and you have one product with AHA and another with BHA, it's best not to apply them simultaneously. Since both are exfoliators, layering them together might lead to skin irritation due to their potent exfoliating properties.

Instead, you can alternate the days on which you are using them, or try using one in the morning skincare routine and the other in the evening.

Final thoughts

Skincare acids are the perfect addition to your skincare routine, whether you have blemish-prone skin, oily skin, or an uneven skin texture.

It's easy to incorporate AHAs into your skincare routine, and you don't have to change your existing products either. The incredible benefits of AHAs can be maximized by simply swapping a cleanser here and there and adding a toner.