Battle of the AHAs and BHAs: What's the Best One for My Skin?

April 09, 2018 5 min read 0 Comments

Battle of the AHAs and BHAs: What's the Best One for My Skin?

By Samantha



Whether you’re new to the world of skincare or you’re just getting comfortable,AHAs and BHAscan be more than alittle intimidating.

Touted as the path to smoother,clearer,younger-looking skin, bothAHAs and BHAsare wildly popular hydroxy acids.Even though they may seem scary at first, with a little bit of information you’ll be ready to incorporate one (or both!) into your routine.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves,AHAs and BHAsarestillpotent acids with some important properties to be aware of.


Why use ahas and bhas at all?

Many people choose to include acids in their routine simply because they’re well-known for fighting many skin problems, from aging and sun spots to acne and uneven skin texture.The answer to why use acids? Becausethey really can do it all.

Working withAHAs and BHAs in your skincare routine can end up being the best thing ever – or the worst – and the difference boils down to your understanding of how they work, and which you choose.


The similarities


AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), as theirnames give away, are acids.

BothAHAs and BHAs act aschemical exfoliantsbyhelping skin cells to shed – which is why you’ll findthemas key ingredients in chemical peels.

Because they both exfoliate, they canbothdiminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, make skin look and feel firmer, keep the skin better hydrated, improve dull or uneven skin tone, and smooth out rough skin texture. Both could, therefore, be effectivein treating acne andacne scars, as well asunclogging pores.

But the answer to which acid you should choose for your skin is found in the differences, not the similarities.




AHAs are found naturally in fruits and cane sugar.Glycolic acid, lactic acid,mandelic acid,andmalic acid are the onesmore commonly usedin skincare products.

These hydroxy acids are usedfor the treatment ofskin conditions like acne, scarring, pigmentation, skin dryness, and wrinkles.

AHAs work byexfoliatingepidermal cells, whichremedies a dull, rough appearance and promotes cell renewal. Thisresults in softer, smoother skin, faded wrinkles, lightened age spots, and decreased blemishes.

AHAs also improve theskin’s barrier function and restore hydration, which makes them ideal for people with damaged and aging skin.




In cosmetics, BHAs refer specifically to salicylic acid (SA), which isderived from willow bark and isnot suitable for people allergicto salicylate.

SA has been around for a long time and is known for its ability to work on the skin’s surface, as well as deep inside the pore. It’s oil soluble, so it works well on skin that’s prone to bumps, clogs, blemishes and enlarged pores.

BHAs are most commonlyand exclusivelyused foracne breakouts, astheyloosen the bacteria and debris that can clog pores and cause breakouts, as well as exert calming and anti-inflammatory effects which reduce the redness of pimples.

All of these properties makeBHAs like salicylic acid suitable for sensitive skin that’s prone to redness, irritation, and/or rosacea, as well as asafeoption for those with dark or pigmentation-prone skin.



which should i choose?


Despite having similar effects,AHAs and BHAs aren’t both right foreveryone. While some people can use both happily, others might have to be more careful with which one they choose.

The answer to the question of whichto choose will inevitably be a little different for everyone.

When choosing betweenAHAs and BHAsfor acne-prone skin, the answeris to choose BHAs (or a combination ofAHAs and BHAs). However, whenchoosingtouse AHAs,which AHAwe ultimately go with will require a little more inquiry into our skin’s needs, asall of the AHAs have slightly different potencies and side effects.

Glycolic acidis the smallest AHA, making it the most potent (effective), offering the most dramatic results. Most of the studies we have on the benefits and safety of AHAs comes from glycolic acid studies.

Formulations of 10-15% are used for the treatment of skin aging and hyperpigmentation due to sun damage. However, for people with sensitive skin, glycolic acid may be too strong.If your skin is mostly normal, it can probably handle a glycolic acid product like this pumpkin enzyme masque from Banish, but be aware that it is one of the most likely AHAs to result in side effects, especially in people prone to skin depigmentation.

Lactic acidis another popular AHA; itcauses less side effects than glycolic acid and is more suitable for sensitive skin.

Mandelic acidis an even gentler option (recommended for people with dark and easily dyspigmented skin), although it will generally produce less dramatic results than glycolic acid.


important notes


It’s also important to remember to look for AHA products with a pH of less than 4 (with 4-10% concentration) and BHA (salicylic acid) products with a pH of less than 3.5 (and a concentration of 1-2%).

If you’re using retinoids anywhere else in your routine, be sure not to use them at the same time asAHAs and BHAs otherwise you riskover-exfoliation.

If you’re using a vitamin C product, be sure to alternate use aroundAHAs and BHAsbecause they may alter the effectiveness of the vitamin C. Just use them at different times of the day!

If you’re usingbenzoyl peroxide, also be sure to alternate use withAHAs and BHAsso you don’t risk any redness and irritation.

BothAHAs and BHAs can also causepurging, so expect some retaliation from your skin for the first while. Push through it – the results are worth it!

Also, both will make you more susceptible to sun damage so always wear an SPF product!


After reading this, you might be thinking thatAHAs and BHAs both sound great – and theybothreally are!

AHAs can be a great option for anyone, for people with dry and aging skin, sun-damaged skin (glycolic acid), sensitive skin (lactic acid), and dark or pigmentation-prone skin (mandelic acid). BHAs can also be suitable for all of these skin types but is especially suited for oily, acne-prone skin. If you want to use a combination ofAHAs and BHAsto fight your acne, glycolic and lactic acids are the better options.

Recommended AHA Product: 

Pumpkin Enzyme Masque


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