If you’ve applied a chemical exfoliator before, then you’re likely aware of Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA).
And if you haven’t, well, you’ve still likely used them, because they’re in just about every other skin care solution – from your toners to your sheet masks to, even, your moisturizers.
But what exactly are these prevalent skincare ingredients? And how are they really different from one another?
As skincare and beauty connoisseurs, we’ve compiled a guide of how AHAs and BHAs help your skin, how they compare and why including each in your skin care routine could result in baby soft skin.
Tip: If you’re using an acid for the first time, it’s best to introduce one at a time, otherwise you risk over-exfoliating and damaging your skin’s pH levels. Read on to find out more.
What are AHA and BHA, anyway?
Starting with AHA…
Alpha Hydroxy Acids are molecules derived from natural sources like sugar cane, milk, and grapes, and are proven to be a better solution for more dry, mature and sun-damaged skin types because they’re great at exfoliating and providing moisture. Put another way, AHAs are ideal for treating issues that lie on the skin’s surface.
There’s also a good chance your skin care solution holds a little AHA as an ingredient, because there are just so many different types – the most common being glycolic, lactic and mandelic acid.
Here’s a list of the different types and how each benefits your skin!
Different Types of AHAs and How They Benefit Your Skin
- Glycolic Acid: Helps with hyperpigmentation, scars, sun damage and skin-aging, and unblocks pores and blackheads. It’s a very effective acne treatment but can also easily irritate your skin if you use too much. Start out with a lower percentage (-10%) of glycolic acid and use every 3 days.
- Lactic Acid: The second most common AHA made from the lactose found in milk. People with Rosacea or sensitive skin will benefit the most from this AHAsa it’s less likely to irritate.
- Mandelic Acid: Helps your skin’s overall texture, pigmentation and pore size.
- Citric Acid: This AHA can be found in toners that are for neutralizing the skin’s pH. From oranges to lemon, and grapefruit, citric acid is found in fruits and is an effective antioxidant.
- Tartaric Acid: Helps signs of sun damage and acne. It is found in unripe grapes.
- Malic Acid: Great for acne-prone skin, it is mostly found in apples and cherries as well as other fruits. It helps open pores and clears out sebum.
Note: The best AHAs for skin penetration are glycolic and lactic acid because they’re small molecules. AHAs are also humectants which means they draw moisture to the skin – BHAs don’t do this. So if your skin is on the dry side, AHAs can introduce moisture – but if you have acne or oily clogged pores, try out a BHA!
Where AHAs thrive in fighting those pesky concerns on your skin’s surface, BHAs on the other hand shine by treating your skin’s deeper lying issues. This is because they’re oil-soluble, meaning, they can penetrate more deeply into your pores.
Also, unlike its relative, there’s only one BHA used in the cosmetic world – that being, salicylic acid produced in willow bark. For cases like persistent acne, BHA is proven to work!
But that’s not it – here’s how salicylic acid helps your skin in more detail:
How BHA Benefits Your Skin
- Helps oily skin with blocked pores, inflamed acne as it soothes redness
- Exfoliates the skin and increases cell renewal
- Dissolves oil in the pores
- Minimizes the appearance of pores by clearing out old sebum
BHA vs AHA – What’s the difference?
From reading the above, you’ve probably got the gist of how BHA and AHAs work with your skin, but there’s a lot more to be said about they’re differences. Here are the most critical differences between the two:
- AHAs increase cell turnover. Exfoliates the surface of the skin. Better for dry skin.
- BHA unclogs pores, exfoliates, treats hyperpigmentation.
- Solubility: While AHAs are water-soluble, BHAs are oil-soluble. That means BHA can penetrate through sebum and help degunk your pores.
- Collagen: AHAs are better at stimulating collagen production and help discoloration, as well as the appearance of the fine lines and wrinkles.
- Irritation: All acids have the potential to be over-drying when used in too high concentrations, or too frequently. But AHAs are more likely to irritate—especially glycolic acid, because of its small molecule size. BHAs are less irritating because of their larger molecule size and natural anti-inflammatory properties.
- Photosensitivity: Although it’s best to wear sunscreen, AHAs tend to make the skin more sensitive to the sun than BHAs do.
Is There Room for Both in Your Skin Care Routine?
But given that both are acid exfoliators, you must approach with ease, which means you should never double up your exfoliating step with a toner or moisturizer that holds the same acids – it’s just too harsh!
If you’re curious as to why, look further into our skin’s delicate acid mantle – it’s a protective moisture barrier that keeps our skin hydrated, which can be damaged if we over-exfoliate.
You’re probably wondering then, “why risk using both?”
Essentially, AHAs and BHAs can work A LOT better for many in removing dead skin cells and blemishes, therefore being a crucial step in having more baby-smooth skin.
If you experience consistent breakouts, acne or rough skin texture, then using both might be something to consider.
However, to avoid damaging your skin and for the best results, soak-in our guidelines of how to combine both acids in your routine!
Guidelines on How to Combine AHA and BHA
AHAs and BHAs tend to come early on in your routine – after cleansing and before your moisturizer for instance.
An example of a 10 step routine would be:
- Oil cleanser
- Water-based cleanser
- BHAs (salicylic acid)
- AHAs (lactic, glycolic, mandelic etc.)
- Eye Cream
Ideally you’d use:
The BHA at am, and an AHA at pm.
You can work up to using both, by alternating and using AHA one day, and BHA the other day, and wait for 20 – 30 minutes until these are fully absorbed before applying the remaining skin care solutions.
If you’d like to experiment with hydroxy acids in your routine, you can find both in a variety of:
- Exfoliating products
AHA and BHA Final Tips
Start slow and build until you find your tolerance so you can achieve your skin goals. AHAs – are great for drier skin types with their humectant properties and BHAs for oilier skin types.
AHAs and BHAs CAN be used together, but we highly advise adding them one at a time and finding your tolerance for each product before starting up another. Let us know if they work, and if you’re seeing a difference in your skin texture.