Active Ingredient Highlight: AHA or BHA?

You’ve been doing the classic skincare routine: cleanse, tone, and then moisturize. But still, it feels like your skin is still in need of a boost in the "glow department". You might be missing out on one thing and that is exfoliation.

Smiling curly haired girl with flawless skin holding up a citrus fruit

While it’s true that our skin naturally exfoliates dead skin cells on a daily basis, it starts to need some help over time. As we get older, our skin’s ability to exfoliate and renew itself slows down and it may even stop completely. This can happen due to a number of things like genetics, too much sun exposure, and simply aging. 

Do you really need to exfoliate?

When you exfoliate, the dried-out, dull layer of your skin is sloughed off revealing fresh, glowing skin. Your skin is left looking healthier. Your skin can be better-taken care of and your skincare products are more easily absorbed. Without this shedding process, our skin becomes dull and dry which can then lead to flaking, bumpy skin, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, clogged and enlarged pores. It’s a nightmare waiting to happen! 

To remedy this, you can either use a physical exfoliator or our ingredient highlight for the day, chemical exfoliants which are our AHAs and BHAs. Some people run to physical exfoliators once they hear the word chemical. But physical exfoliators like scrubs and cleansing brushes can actually be pretty brutal on the skin. The abrasive application can lead to microtears and scarring which makes your skin situation even worse.

Surprise, surprise — chemical exfoliants can be the gentler approach. AHAs and BHAs act similarly by gently dissolving the bonds that hold in the dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. As soon as the layer of dead skin cells detaches from the skin, you can say hello to healthy, supple, even-toned skin!

But what’s the difference between AHAs and BHAs?

While they have their similarities, choosing between the two will depend on your skin’s specific needs. Both AHAs and BHAs can be helpful for minimizing fine lines, improving skin tone, skin hydration and collagen production. But each one of them also has individual properties that are meant to target a variety of skin concerns. Sometimes, combining the use of both AHAs and BHAs can be beneficial to certain skin problems too but we’ll talk more about that later. For now, let’s head to the lowdown on the differences between AHAs and BHAs:

What are AHAs?

AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid. This acid derives from natural substances that’s why it’s sometimes referred to as fruit acid. AHAs are water-soluble so they exfoliate on the skin’s surface and are great at rejuvenating the skin without penetrating into the deeper layers which would be BHA’s territory. Because of this, AHAs are great if you’re dealing with sun damage, dull and dry skin, hyperpigmentation, fine line, and light acne scars.

Some popular examples of AHA are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Glycolic acid comes from sugar cane and is known for its brightening and anti-aging properties. Amongst all AHAs, glycolic acid has the smallest molecules which help for better skin absorption. Lactic acid, on the other hand, derives from lactose in milk. Just like glycolic acid, it prevents skin dryness and improves skin tone. Since it has larger molecules compared to glycolic acid, this is a safer and gentler choice for those with sensitive skin.

What are BHAs?

BHA or Beta Hydroxy Acid is your oil-loving acid that goes deeper into your skin’s pores. It tackles clogged oil and dead skin cells in the lower layers of the skin which means BHAs are best for those with oily and acne-prone skin — bye-bye blackheads and whiteheads! They have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties too so BHAs can also be a great calming agent for sensitive skin that’s prone to redness (rosacea) and bumps like milia.

A well-loved BHA is salicylic acid. This is your bacteria-fighting BHA and it’s also used to treat calluses and dry areas of the skin. In more potent doses, salicylic acid is also used as a treatment for warts. Be careful not to overdo this one. Another popular choice of BHA is citric acid which helps control excess oil and helps in skin rejuvenation too.

Laboratory isolating small bottled samples of a substance or ingredient


Can You Use AHA and BHA together?

As mentioned earlier, using both can target multiple skin problems depending on your skin requirements. Alternating the application of AHA and BHA is relatively safe. You can use AHA one day, and then BHA the next day. Trying them out on different weeks can work as well. Some products are also formulated to include both AHA and BHA safely.

But remember, this is exfoliation and it’s not really a good idea to overdo it. Too much exfoliation can make your skin more sensitive and therefore exposed to more damage and irritation. You shouldn’t exfoliate more than once a day unless advised by your dermatologist. Always read and follow your product labels and wear sunscreen! Chemical exfoliants help repair sun damage but preventing sun damage is always a must.

AHAs and BHAs are completely safe as long as you get the right formulation within a good pH range and be on the lookout for any skin reactions you get after trying out a product. Skin sensitivity and tolerance differ from person to person. If you feel that a certain product isn’t helping your skin or is worsening your skin situation, stop using it at once. It’s always best to consult the experts so try and talk to a dermatologist to get the best treatment and products for your skin concerns.


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