AHA vs BHA: What’s the Difference?

AHA vs BHA: What’s the Difference?

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Skin naturally sheds billions of skin cells every day, in fact, it’s 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 is dull, dry or flaky skin, clogged pores, blemishes, and uneven skin tone. Exfoliation is a key step to help the skin to balance itself and get rid of dead skin cell build up to help you to achieve a gorgeous, glowing complexion. But which is the best exfoliator for your skin type? We explore AHA vs BHA exfoliators to help you achieve radiant skin.

What Does Exfoliation Do?

Exfoliation helps your skin look younger, promote blood flow, 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 will benefit from each category.

What Is The Difference Between AHA and BHA?

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, and grapes. They work by melting the intercellular glue that holds our skin cells together, to help the skin’s natural shedding process. AHA’s are made up of tiny molecules of water loving and water soluble acids. AHAs are preferred for sun-damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate the skin’s surface 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.


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.
Salicylic acid: derived from the Willow Bark Tree and others.
Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits and considered a cross over acid. It can be an AHA or a BHA depending on its formulation.

It is strongly recommended to use sunscreen when using any of the above acids. Exfoliants can make skin photosensitive, so a broad-spectrum SPF will help to protect the skin.

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 your way to flawless, radiant skin!
Some of our favorites on are Neostrata Ultra Skin Smoothing Cream AHA 10 and Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Retexturising Foaming Treatment 4% BHA.




Make-up Specialist

As a self-confessed social media queen, I love to write about all things beauty across our social media channels, keeping up to date with the latest trends, beauty news and products. My aim in life is to achieve an even eye liner flick, and I am constantly on the lookout for a new bold lipstick. In my spare time, I like to update my personal “dining out” blog, inspired by my passion for food and travel around the world.

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