AHAs, BHAs — what do those letters mean? And why do they matter? AHAs and BHAs are skin exfoliants that you’ll often see in skincare products. But what exactly do they do, and how do you know which is best for your skin? Not to worry — we’ll be answering both in this article. You’ll learn everything you need to know about using AHA vs. BHA for skin, the main differences, and how to tell which one your skin needs the most.
Let’s dive in!
What are AHAs and BHAs?
AHA stands for “alpha-hydroxy acid.” AHAs are water-soluble acids that come from sugary fruits and sugar cane. If you see AHAs referred to as “sugar acids,” that’s why.
AHAs help remove the top layer of skin to be replaced with new, healthier skin cells. The new skin is smoother and more evenly colored. You’ll find AHAs in many skincare products, especially those for anti-aging and preventative aging.
BHA stands for “beta-hydroxy acid.” BHAs are common in acne-fighting products because they work on the skin’s surface and deeper into the pores. BHAs are oil-soluble and often recommended for acne-prone skin. If you struggle with pimples, clogged pores, or large pores, BHAs are often an ideal choice.
What is the difference between AHA and BHA?
AHAs and BHAs have similar chemical structures, but they differ in one hydroxyl group. What really matters is how they affect your skin.
Since AHAs are water-soluble, they target more of the surface of your skin. They help peel away the top layer and allow new skin cells to shine. On the other hand, BHAs go deeper into your pores because they are oil-soluble.
(If you’re not sure which acid type is suitable for your skin, keep reading — we’ll cover that below.)
AHA skin benefits
AHAs come with many different benefits. First, they’re excellent for exfoliating the surface of your skin. But AHAs can also work on the deeper layer of your skin, known as your dermis.
Using skincare products containing AHAs can lead to:
- Increased collagen production, which keeps your skin plump
- Reduced appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Fewer visible signs of sun damage
- Smoother, brighter skin
- More even skin pigment
As you can probably tell from these benefits, AHAs provide many anti-aging pros for your skin.
In a 2015 study, 52 volunteers followed an anti-aging skincare routine that contained AHAs and vitamins. The volunteers used a cleanser, eye cream, and moisturizer night and day. After 21 days, nine out of ten volunteers saw an improvement in skin texture and smoothness.
How to use AHA
Not all AHAs are the same; they have different exfoliating effects. And a product will be a better exfoliator if it has a higher concentration of AHAs.
Types of AHA include:
- Glycolic acid, made from sugar cane
- Lactic acid, made from lactose (milk sugar)
- Mandelic acid, made from almonds
- Malic acid, made from apple acids
Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common alpha hydroxy acids used in cosmetics. You’ll find glycolic acid in chemical peels and everyday skincare products. Glycolic acid can also help address mild acne.
When using an AHA exfoliant, apply it after cleansing and toning your face. If the product is a gel or lotion, use your fingertips to apply. If the product is too liquidy for that, use a cotton pad. Be careful to avoid your eyelids and the area right under your eyes (otherwise, applying around your eyes is okay).
At first, it’s best to avoid using products with AHA every day. We recommend using them every other day or a few times a week to prevent irritation. In some cases, one can work up to once a day. And, as Cleveland Clinic advises, avoid products with more than 15 percent AHA.
BHA benefits for your skin
BHAs are ideal for oily- or combination-type skin. Since BHAs tend to be gentler, they are also helpful for those with sensitive skin.
BHAs are beneficial for:
- Helping clear and prevent acne
- Fighting bacteria on the skin
- Protecting skin from the sun (But do not use it as a substitute for sunscreen! Slather on the SPF!)
- Calming skin, including skin that is sensitive or has redness or rosacea
Salicylic acid is one of the most common types of BHA. It works for oily skin and, since it’s oil-soluble, it can better penetrate your pores. You’ve probably seen this acid in acne-fighting products at your local store.
How often to use BHA
Like with AHAs, your skin might need time to adjust to BHAs. Products are often designed for daily use — however, it’s best to start with a few times a week to avoid irritation or too much dryness.
BHAs are often found in toners and acne products. Follow the directions on the bottle. You might see concentrations of BHA between 0.5 percent to five percent.
AHA vs. BHA for skin: which is better?
Everyone’s skin is different, so the answer to this question will vary. It helps to think about your most significant skin concerns.
AHAs are mostly best for:
- Fine lines
- Enlarged pores
- Uneven skin tones
- Dark patches, age spots, and scars
AHAs are the most common exfoliator choice because they tend to be safe for all skin types. However, those with sensitive or very dry skin should use AHAs less frequently at first.
BHAs are mostly best for:
- Oily skin
- Clogged pores
- Mild to severe acne
- Sun damage
- Redness from rosacea
BHAs go deeper, so they tend to work best for those who have acne or other deep skin issues. They’re also an ideal choice for calming sensitive skin.
AHAs are best if you just want a quality exfoliant for your skincare routine or have dry skin. But if you need to address acne, oily skin, or concerns below the surface, BHA can be your best friend. You might need a BHA or AHA/BHA formula.
Can you use AHA and BHA together?
AHAs and BHAs are exfoliants, which means they can be drying and irritating. It’s best to avoid using them together without speaking to a doctor first. Some products that contain both are used for non-daily use or spot treatment.At Franz Skincare, we love high-quality skincare ingredients. AHAs and BHAs are some of our favorites. However, don’t forget about the rest of your skincare routine! If you need to fill out your skincare regimen, check out our serums and face creams, microcurrent face masks, and anti-aging products.