Skin naturally sheds billions of cells every day. It is said that 90% of household dust is made up of dead skin cells. As we age, this natural shedding slows 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 skin cell build up can undo the effects experienced by skin cell shedding slowing down.
Exfoliation helps your skin look younger, promote blood flow and circulation, promote collagen production, and improve skin health. But, with all the exfoliating products out there, how do we know which to use and which is appropriate for our skin type and need?

To understand which to use we must understand how they work and what skin types and conditions are appropriate for each category.

What’s The Difference Between AHA And BHA?

As an esthetician, I’m always asked what 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 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, but they do not penetrate as deep as BHA and the effects are concentrated on the surface of the skin.

On the other hand, BHA, Beta Hydroxy Acids, is an oil-loving acid. BHA is preferred for oily, acne-prone skin, for treating blackheads and whiteheads, because BHA can penetrate the oil that’s clogging your pores, normalizing the lining of the pore that contributes to acne.

BHA’s have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, helping to calm red, sensitive skin. BHA is recommended for those struggling with rosacea, however, not everyone with rosacea can tolerate an exfoliant, but it is wise 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.

Can AHAs and BHAs be used together?

AHAs and BHAs can be used together, due to their differing properties, however, it’s important to make sure you build up your skin’s tolerance to prevent irritation.

Sources Of 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 today. This is to keep the acid stable, allow for use for those with allergies to natural substances, and control its strength***
Sources Of BHA:

  • Salicylic acid: derived from the Williow Bark Tree
  • 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, so SPF will help to prevent hyperpigmentation, dark spots and accelerated aging.
General guidelines for usage:

  • You can apply an AHA or BHA product up to twice a day
  • You can 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 the best suited category for your skin and begin to exfoliate years away.

SkinStore Editors

SkinStore Editors

Writer and expert

Our team of beauty experts cover everything from skincare to makeup, picking out the most effective products from the best brands and latest trends. Stay up to date on everything beauty with the SkinStore blog, and find all your essentials in one place.

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