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AHA vs BHA: What’s the Difference?

Skin naturally sheds billions of skin cells every day. It is said that 90% of household dust, is made up of dead skin cells. As we age, this natural shedding process slows down or stops due to many factors such as sun damage, dry skin, oily skin, genetics, or skin disorders. The results of this are dull, dry or flaky skin, clogged pores, blemishes, and uneven skin tone. Exfoliation is key in helping skin balance itself. Getting rid of dead skin cell build up can reduce the effects of the slowdown.
Exfoliation helps your skin look younger, promote blood flow and circulation, promote collagen production, and improve overall skin health. With so many exfoliating products out there, how do we know what to use and what is appropriate for our skin type and need? To better understand what to use, we must first understand how they work and what skin types and conditions are appropriate for each category.
As an esthetician, I’m always asked what is the difference between AHA and BHA? Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) are acids derived from natural substances such as sugar cane, milk, grapes etc. They work by melting the intercellular glue that holds our skin cells together. AHA’s are water loving and water soluble acids and their molecular structure is small. AHAs are preferred for sun-damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate on the surface of skin and have the added benefit of also improving moisture content. A main point of difference is that they don’t penetrate as deep as BHA and the effects are felt on the surface of the skin. AHA’s are great to rejuvenate aging skin.
On the other hand, Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) is an oil loving acid. BHA is preferred for oily, acne-prone skin and for treating blackheads and whiteheads. BHA can get through the oil that clogs pores and helps to normalize the lining of the pore that contributes to acne. BHA’s have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. BHA’s are sometimes preferred for those struggling with rosacea. However, not everyone with rosacea can tolerate an exfoliant. It’s best to experiment with a BHA product to see how your rosacea responds. It is likely you’ll see less redness and a smoother, even skin with fewer breakouts.
Many clients often ask if they can be used together? Yes, but it’s not necessary. If you decide to do so, make sure to use them separately; one in the morning and one at night to prevent irritation.
AHA:
– Glycolic acid: derived from sugar cane
– Lactic acid: derived from milk
– Mandelic acid: derived from bitter almonds
– Tartaric acid: derived from grapes
– Malic acid: derived from apples and pears
– Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits
***It is important to note that with today’s technology, most of these acids are derived synthetically. This is to keep the acid stable, allow for use for those with allergies to natural substances, and control its strength***
 
BHA:
– Salicylic acid: derived from the Willow Bark Tree and others.
**This acid is dominantly used in skin care**
– Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits and considered a cross over acid. It can be an AHA depending on its formulation.
 
It is strongly recommended to use SPF when using any of the above acids. Exfoliants can make skin photosensitive and sensitive in general. SPF will help in the prevention of hyperpigmentation etc.
 
General guidelines for usage:
– You can apply an AHA or BHA product once or twice a day.
– You can also apply either of these around the eye area but, not on the eyelid or directly under the eye.
– Apply the AHA or BHA product after your face is cleansed and after your toner has dried.
– Once the AHA or BHA has been absorbed, you can apply any other product in your routine, such as moisturizer, serum, eye cream, sunscreen, and/or foundation.
– If you’re using a topical prescription product such as Renova, other retinoids, or any of the topical prescription products for rosacea, consult with your doctor before applying either AHA or BHA.
Now, all that is left to do is to choose which one is right for you and exfoliate the years away!
Some of our favorites on SkinStore.com are Neostrata Ultra Skin Smoothing Cream AHA 10 and Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2 Percent BHA Liquid Exfoliant.
 
 
 

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Maddy

Maddy

Writer and expert