by Alexandra Nicole

The Everything Guide to AHAs and BHAs

All the questions you have about AHAs and BHAs—BEAUBIT is here to answer them for you.

Image via @angelique_skin

Our skin naturally gets rid of dead cells every day, but over time, this shedding process slows down and may stop altogether. The result is dull, flaky skin; clogged, enlarged pores; and uneven skin tone.

Which is where exfoliating comes in; it’s a must to keep your skin smooth and glowy, and acids are one of the best ways to do it. Chemical exfoliants can make a world of difference in your skin’s appearance. 

What are all these acronyms?

There are two forms of acid you should familiarize yourself with: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). Neither acid is better than the other necessarily; they just target different needs.

AHAs

AHAs are derived from sugar cane or other natural sources, which is why they are often referred to as fruit acids. Glycolic acid, which is the smallest of the AHAs and is derived from sugar cane, is the most widely used AHA in skincare products. 

AHAs works on both the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and the deep layer (the dermis). In the epidermis, AHAs have an exfoliative effect, increasing the shedding of dead skin cells retained at the surface. They also help stimulate collagen production, which is why it is so important when you want to reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Examples: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid.

BHAs

BHAs are a type of acid found in willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves or sweet birch bark. 

They work to soften and dissolve keratin, a protein that forms part of the skin structure. This helps to loosen dead skin cells, so they’re easily sloughed off. BHAs also work inside the pores, helping to regulate cell turnover and shedding.

Examples: Salicylic acid, betaine salicylate, willow bark extract.

Which is better: AHAs or BHAs?

It’s not so much a question of which is better, as it is a question of which one works better for your skin type.

AHAs are water-soluble so they only work on the skin’s surface. They are generally better for normal to dry skin, due to their ability to enhance natural moisturizing factors within the skin.

BHAs are oil-soluble, so it’s most often preferred for normal to oily skin prone to bumps, clogs, blemishes, and enlarged pores. BHA also has natural skin-calming properties, so it’s gentle enough for skin that’s sensitive or prone to redness or rosacea.

Can you use both AHA and BHAs at the same time?

Probably not. Most people don’t need that level of exfoliation but you can experiment to see which combination and frequency of application work best for you.

Alternating between AHA and BHA products might seem too complicated, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s fine to alternate, and it can be a great way for you to experience the distinct benefits of each. You may find it is the perfect solution to address your unique skin concerns.

How to use?

As for usage—apply after cleansing and toning, starting with whichever product has the thinnest texture; just like how you’d apply a liquid texture before a gel or lotion. You don’t need to wait for it to absorb before following with the rest of your skincare routine.

Additionally, once or twice per week, rotate into your routine a higher-strength AHA or BHA treatment to give yourself an “at-home peel” for more dramatic results.

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