25 Editor-Approved Exfoliating Products That Contain AHAs or BHAsJanuary 27, 2023
Exfoliation is a critical part of any skincare routine. To do it, you can use a physical exfoliant to manually slough away dead skin cells or take the chemical exfoliant approach, which typically involves the use of alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) or beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs). These ingredients can target concerns like uneven skin tone, texture issues, acne and fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common AHAs found in skincare products such as toners, cleansers and moisturizers, while the most common BHA is salicylic acid.
To help you narrow down which chemical exfoliant is best for you, we’re explaining the differences between them and sharing some of our favorites below.
What Is Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)?
Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Elyse Love previously told Skincare.com that AHAs are ingredients that exfoliate the skin. Some examples of these ingredients are glycolic, lactic and mandelic acid.
What Does AHA Do for Your Skin?
According to studies, AHAs are used as “superficial peeling agents,” to gently slough off the surface of the skin and approve the appearance of discoloration. After using an AHA ingredient on the skin, your complexion may appear brighter, more radiant and clarified.
What Is Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)?
The FDA defines BHAs as another set of exfoliating ingredients, including salicylic acid, tropic acid, beta hydroxybutyric acid and trethocanic acid.
What Does BHA Do for Your Skin?
Similar to AHAs, BHAs slough off dead skin cells, but Dr. Love notes that they work to combat oiliness, large pore size and acne, so you may recognize it as a key ingredient of many acne-fighting serums and toners on the market.
The Differences Between AHAs and BHAs and the Benefits of Each
While both AHAs and BHAs are used to exfoliate the skin, they do have some key differences. AHAs are said to be water-soluble and are typically derived from sources like fruit, plants and milk. AHAs also have more hydrating properties than BHAs, potentially making them a great candidate for drier skin types. They may also help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improve overall skin tone.
BHAs are oil-soluble, so they are best for exfoliating pores and targeting acne. Find our favorite exfoliating products for the face and body, ahead.
The Best Skincare Products That Contain AHAs and BHAs
This drugstore option contains 1.5% salicylic acid plus glycolic acid to help brighten, clarify and soften the skin. If you have an acne-prone complexion, this formula will work to decongest and minimize the appearance of pores.
This potent formula works to gently exfoliate the skin for a more clarified complexion. It has 3% mandelic acid, 2% salicylic acid and 1% gluconolactone to visibly even out texture and tone, all while detoxing the pores and improving the moisture barrier.
Although BHA is the star ingredient in this gel, it also contains AHAs to help give the skin a radiant finish post-application. Salicylic acid works to minimize the appearance of large pores and help prevent new breakouts, while glycolic and lactic acids work to keep your complexion looking clarified.
This toner works to exfoliate dull skin to promote a glowier complexion. It contains a blend of six acids, including BHAs, plus niacinamide, bilberry extract and sugarcane.
AHAs and BHAs can also be used to clarify, exfoliate and brighten the skin beyond just your face. This potent formula with lactic acid, glycolic acid and retinol is designed to leave your skin looking radiant and as smooth as velvet, according to the brand.
This toner helps rid of impurities with AHAs and BHAs. Glycolic acid works to exfoliate the skin while betaine salicylate helps clear pores and balance out your complexion.
Jelly-textured and easy to apply, this mask is a treat if you’re looking for an AHA and BHA cleanse. It has plant-based glycolic, lactic, malic AHAs and willow-bark BHA to help thoroughly cleanse pores.
Brighten and clarify the skin with this overnight toner that has AHA, PHA and BHAs. According to the brand, it helps decrease the appearance of redness and works to prevent future blemishes, all with a few swipes.
Made with a proprietary clarity complex, this serum combines BHA and AHA to promote a glowing, smooth finish. As the brand explains, it works to refine pores, minimize breakouts and keep the skin hydrated, too, with hyaluronic acid.
Zap blemishes in their tracks with this gel cleanser that’s designed to detoxify and cleanse the skin. It has salicylic acid plus glycolic acid to calm blemishes, plus niacinamide to gently soothe and brighten.
Dealing with body acne? Try this AHA-BHA body wash that contains salicylic acid and glycolic acid to help clear your skin. It can be used on any skin type to unclog pores and leaves behind a soft, fruity-scented finish.
The Best Skincare Products That Contain BHAs
This potent salicylic acid serum reduces breakouts and post-acne marks with 2% salicylic acid, 3% lactic acid and a postbiotic ferment ingredient. It helps support a calm, balanced complexion and will leave your acne looking visibly reduced in just three days.
Brightening the skin is an easy task with this vitamin C formula that helps target dark marks and blemishes with salicylic acid. It refines the skin to help visibly reduce the look of large pores and fine lines, and also contains soothing vitamin E to nourish the skin.
This brightening vitamin C serum does more than just protect the skin against free radicals. It also contains salicylic acid to visibly improve skin clarity and reduce oiliness. After use, skin looks more even-toned and radiant, too.
This milky product contains lipo-hydroxy acid (a gentle derivative of salicylic acid) to gently exfoliate, and a blend of emollients and almond milk to soothe. After application, your skin will look more radiant, silky and smooth.
For a toner that will help brighten and decongest the skin, try this option with salicylic acid. It also has rosewater and sodium hyaluronate to help hydrate, soften and nourish.
Clear breakouts with this blemish-controlling toner that has 2% salicylic acid. It will help minimize the appearance of pores by gently exfoliating the skin, but won’t dry your complexion out thanks to the aloe vera and lemongrass oil ingredients.
The Best Skincare Products That Contain AHAs
This 10% glycolic acid serum works to improve the appearance of discoloration and help even out skin tone and texture. It also contains hyaluronic acid to help hydrate and soften the skin.
For an overnight refresh, this glycolic renewal treatment helps promote cellular turnover and give you a more refined, glowy look by morning. It has 10% glycolic acid and is suitable for all skin types, including dry complexions.
Reset your skin with this exfoliating option that contains lactic and glycolic acid. As the brand explains, it works to minimize the appearance of uneven skin texture and tone, and also contains niacinamide to nourish and soothe the skin.
If you struggle with dull-looking skin all over, opt for this brightening botanical body soap with AHAs. Fruit-enzymes exfoliate the skin, while ginseng and linden help reveal a silky, bright skin complexion.
For an overnight exfoliating option try this serum with 10% vegan lactic acid. According to the brand, it will help fight uneven skin tone and texture, and even contains soothing squalane to ensure you wake up with a hydrated complexion.
Smooth out your skin with this 5% glycolic acid scrub that not only chemically exfoliates, but physically exfoliates, too. It has volcanic sand and microcrystalline cellulose to address uneven texture, plus coconut and macadamia oils to ensure your skin doesn’t feel stripped post-scrub.