What’s the Difference Between AHAs and BHAs?
If you’re a skin-care lover like us, you’ve probably heard of alpha-hydroxy-acids and beta-hydroxy-acids, otherwise known as AHAs and BHAs. It’s even likely that these chemical exfoliants are already in some of your skin-care serums, toners or cleansers. While both AHAs and BHAs are acids that slough off dead skin cells, there are a few key differences between the two. With the help of Skincare.com consultant Dr. William Kwan, we’re sharing everything you need to know about the difference between AHAs and BHAs and how to know which one is right for your skin type, ahead.
What’s the Difference Between an AHA and a BHA?
The FDA confirms that both AHAs and BHAs are methods of chemical exfoliation to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. According to Dr. Kwan, though, there are two significant differences to keep in mind: AHAs are water soluble with a small particle size, while BHAs are oil soluble with a large particle size.
Who Should Use an AHA and Who Should Use a BHA?
AHAs and BHAs can be used to address and manage different skin conditions. Dr. Kwan recommends AHAs to those looking to help diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage. BHAs, on the other hand, are better suited for oily, acne-prone skin. “The large particles can rest on pores and can help with acne,” says Dr. Kwan. Both AHAs and BHAs, however, can help improve the appearance of skin texture and tone with continued use over time.
What Are the Most Popular AHAs?
AHAs in general are incredibly popular. Dr. Kwan shares that some of the most well-known, however, are glycolic and lactic acids. If you’re looking for a gentle, resurfacing product that can address dark spots, fine lines, hyperpigmentation and uneven tone, we suggest trying the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum.
What Are the Most Popular BHAs?
While there are a multitude of AHAs found in skin-care formulations, formulas featuring BHAs aren’t nearly as diverse. Salicylic acid is the most commonly known BHA. And chances are if you’ve ever dealt with acne or rough skin, you’ve already used it. BHAs can be found in nearly all skin-care products, whether that’s a facial cleanser or a body cream, like the CeraVe SA Cream for Rough & Bumpy Skin. Some formulas even combine AHAs and BHAs, like the SkinCeuticals LHA Toner. This toner, which is ideal for combination to oily skin types that are prone to breakouts, features a blend of salicylic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid and glycolic acid. It helps exfoliate the skin to reveal a brighter, more even-looking complexion and combats signs of aging.
What Should You Know Before Adding AHAs and BHAs to Your Routine?
Just like physical exfoliants like face scrubs, chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs can also cause unwanted skin dryness or irritation. Dr. Kwan is always careful to warn patients that products formulated with these types of acids should be used with caution as they can irritate or over-exfoliate the skin when overused. Closely follow the instructions on your chosen product, and make sure to always follow up with moisturizer. If you experience irritation, try scaling back and only using chemical exfoliants certain days of the week. If you have concerns, consult with a board-certified dermatologist.
Another thing to note when using chemical exfoliants? You’ll need to up your sun-protection game. Both AHAs and BHAs may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. It will be extra important to follow the FDA’s guidelines for sun safety, including broad-spectrum sunscreen applications (with an SPF value of at least 15) on all exposed areas of skin prior to heading outdoors, reapplying every two hours, staying out of the sun during its peak hours and covering up with protective clothing and accessories. For an all-over sunscreen for face and body, we love the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk SPF 100.
Design: Hannah Packer