What are the difference between AHAs & BHAs? Credit: Stocksy
These days the modern world is obsessed with skincare products containing AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) for addressing issues such as acne, wrinkles, and dark patches, just to name a few. AHAs and BHAs are different types of exfoliants often made from plants and can be an ingredient in a variety of skincare products from cleansers, facial peels, scrubs, toners, and even moisturisers.
Including a hydroxy acid in your skincare routine is important if you are looking to maintain a healthy and smooth complexion. Their purpose is to remove dead skin and build up on the skin through exfoliation.
Although AHAs and BHAs are both exfoliating hydroxy acids they are far from the same thing. Keep in mind, it is not about which hydroxy acid is better. It’s about which hydroxy acid is best for you and your skin type. So, what is an AHA? What is a BHA? How are AHA’s and BHA’s different from each other? Can you use AHAs and BHAs together? Read on to find out.
AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acids. They are water-soluble acids which are acids made from sugary fruits. This exfoliator loosens the bonds that hold together the top layers of dead skin cells, peeling them away from the surface of the skin (the epidermis) which allows new, evenly pigmented skin cells to generate. After a single use you should notice instant benefits after using AHAs as your skin will become smooth to touch afterwards. AHAs are particularly coveted for their anti-aging effects.
You should be using an AHA if you suffer with:
AHAs are usually marketed as safe for all skin types, although you should use AHAs sparingly if you suffer from extremely dry or sensitive skin as it can cause irritation. Therefore, skincare specialists suggest starting off with using it every other day so your skin can get used to the product and then you can gradually work towards applying it daily. If you think AHAs sound like the product for you we recommend you go for a maximum concentration up to 10% for normal/oily skin and up to 5% for sensitive skin - no higher! You need to be very careful when choosing the concentration of your acids.
What are the different types of AHAs?
Glycolic acid is the most common type of AHA which is made from sugar cane. It has antimicrobial properties which is good news for anyone that’s prone to acne breakouts. Glycolic acid has the smallest molecular weight out of all the AHA types. This means it is less harsh on your skin and penetrates the skin easier.
Lactic acid is the second most common type of AHA. Instead of being made from fruits, like the others, it is made from the lactose in milk. This is very gentle chemical exfoliant and better suited to sensitive skin types. Lactic acid helps with smoothing out rough patches of skin which is perfect for people suffering with Keratosis Pilaris (strawberry skin) and also has anti-aging properties.
Citric acid is an AHA made from citrus fruits. Citric acids are used to dry out excess sebum and deep clean your pores.
There are a few other types of AHAs as well such as tartaric acid (grape extract), malic acid (apple extract), and mantellic acid (almond extract). But the two most common AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid.
BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acids. Unlike AHAs, BHAs are oil soluble. This exfoliating ingredient goes deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and sebum. It does this by going deep into the hair follicles and drying out the excess oil that has built up and the dead skin cells. Essentially unclogging your pores.
You should be using an BHA if you suffer with:
BHAs work best for oily skin types as well as people that suffer with acne prone skin. This is because beta hydroxy acids have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which is essential for combating breakouts and redness. BHAs are designed for daily use but, again, it's best to work up to it. We recommend applying any new skincare products with this ingredient only three times a week at first and then gradually increasing it until you are able to apply it daily.
What are the different types of BHAs?
Salicylic acid is the most common type of BHA on the market today. It is made from the bark of willow trees and sweet birch trees. It is used for calming down redness in the skin and has clinical evidence which shows it can help combat acne.
Both AHAs and BHAs are natural ingredients and are 100% approved by the FDA, as well as numerous other health organisations, to be used in your everyday skincare products. It is recommended that people below the age of 20 do not use topical acids unless specifically prescribed to it for a GP or dermatologist.
It is important to note, two side effects of frequently using AHAs or BHAs is mild skin irritation and sun sensitivity. Sun sensitive skin is more susceptible to sunburn, aging spots and increases the risk of skin cancer. It is absolutely essential that you start using a sun cream in your daily skincare routine with an SPF of 30+ – if you don’t already. Apply your sunscreen every day at the end of your morning routine, even during the winter. For a more convenient way of including an SPF into your routine, invest in a 2-in-1 SPF moisturizer.
You can use AHAs and BHAs together. This will cover all your bases as they each have different benefits and target different areas. According to a review in Clinics in Dermatology AHAs and BHAs will give you fuller skin by increasing collagen production. Collagen makes skin noticeably plumper and healthier.
However, it is highly recommended that if you plan to regularly use both AHAs and BHAs on your skin then it is better to find a product that contains both ingredients for a balanced formula. Aim to use a product with a concentration of no more than 10% - especially if you want to use this product daily.
If you plan to use separate products it is suggested that you use your AHA products on different days from your BHA products, or at least use your BHA in the morning and your AHA one at night. If you plan to mix your products yourself separately it is best to be aware that you are risking irritation and dryness.
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Zheelana is a writer based in Cardiff. She has a BA Honours in English and Creative Writing and is a certified TESOL teacher. When she isn’t out hiking in the lush Welsh countryside, she fills her days with reading, journaling, and going out for food.