Humans shed nearly 500 million dead skin cells a day. Without exfoliation, some of those can get trapped in the skin and cause breakouts and dull your skin tone.
Physical exfoliants promise to buff away dead skin and leave you feeling smoother and brighter. However, they can be too harsh for certain skin conditions, especially on your face, leaving an over-stimulated exterior with micro-damage that can accelerate ageing and lead to more acne. Choosing the correct exfoliant and using it appropriately is key.
We propose for conditions that range between normal to inflamed, consider using chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs. Not every chemical exfoliant is the same or does the same job. AHAs and BHAs are two of the most common groups of chemical exfoliants. Let's learn about the difference between AHAs and BHAs, which one might be relevant for you, and how to use them in your skincare routine.
What is AHA
AHA is short for alpha hydroxy acid. These are water-soluble compounds derived from sugary fruits that help exfoliate the skin. They're known for their significant results and effects which usually have a concentration between 5% and 15%.
No matter what kind of AHA you use, depending on the condition or health of your skin, they can make the skin sensitive to the sun's UV rays. Because of this, it's essential to wear sunscreen when using AHAs to help prevent burns, irritation, fine lines and age spots.
What Do AHAs Do?
AHAs, as a chemical exfoliant, work on the surface of the skin. They exfoliate away the superficial layers of the skin to allow newer skin cells to weave themselves together. These acids work to hydrate skin, reduce superficial pigment and prevent debris causing congestion from building up.
After using AHAs, skin is usually smoother and looks more even-toned. With repeated use, you'll notice fewer dark spots from acne, scars, or hyperpigmentation.
Types of AHAs
Glycolic acid is a common form of AHA that can help prevent acne breakouts because it has antimicrobial properties. In the right concentration, you can use glycolic acid daily.
Lactic acid is the next common form of AHA. Along with the significant exfoliation properties, lactic acid also has incredible anti-aging effects. Other forms of AHA are tartaric, citric, malic, and mandelic acids.
In a Skincare Routine
You can find AHA as an ingredient in moisturisers, cleansers and exfoliators. You can also find AHA products on their own in the form of gels, serums and creams.
What is BHA
BHA is short for beta hydroxy acid. These acids are oil-soluble, which allows them to get deep into the layers of the skin. BHAs are a weaker acid compared to AHA, which means they can be less irritating, especially for those with sensitive skin.
However, don't think that they're weak overall. BHAs can still produce significant results to get you better skin. Weaker, in this case, means they can be used on a more daily basis and don't make your skin as sensitive to the sun. Concentrations usually range between 0.5-5% for over the counter products.
What do BHAs Do?
BHAs get deep in the skin to clean out pores and follicles, key skin attributes that contribute to acne. They soften and de-clog, debris like dead skin cells and excess sebum from pores and sebaceous glands to reduce texture, congestion and inflammatory breakouts. With continued use, you can see fewer breakouts and redness across your skin.
Types of BHAs
The most common BHA is salicylic acid, which is a go-to acne treatment for both prescription and over-the-counter products. Salicylic acid can also address redness and inflammation.
Citric acid can also be formulated as a BHA. Willow extract is a natural ingredients that contains salicylic acid and is considered in the family of BHAs.
In a Skincare Routine
Similar to AHAs, you can use BHAs throughout a skincare routine. They can be found in cleansers, serums, masks, and creams.
Shared Benefits and Differences
AHA and BHA have plenty of shared benefits, of course, both being exfoliants. But both can also decrease inflammation and redness, as well as the appearance of pores and wrinkles.
Both can make your skin more even in tone and texture and help unclog pores and remove dead skin cells to get rid of and prevent acne.
The main differences come from where the ingredient action focusses on within the skin. AHAs, focusses on the superficial skin layers, and BHAs tend to focus on medium to deeper layers of the skin. And while they have many shared benefits, they're often used to treat different skin concerns with the unique molecule benefits and ancillary actions.
When to Use Them
You can use AHAs and BHAs in a skincare routine both separately and together. But which one will be best for your skin often depends on what you're trying to treat.
When to Use AHA
If you have hyperpigmentation from age spots, scars, acne, or melasma, an AHA can help fade those marks. If you're looking to even out your skin tone, this is the chemical exfoliant to use.
You can also use AHAs for enlarged pores to help reduce their appearance. For smoother skin, use AHAs to combat fine lines and wrinkles on the surface of the skin.
When to Use BHA
BHAs are one of the best treatments for acne because they penetrate deeper into the skin. It can reduce acne, blackheads, and whiteheads. BHAs are also great for those with oily or combination skin that may produce excess oil or sebum.
Because this acid also unclogs pores, with regular and continued use, it can also help reduce the amount of acne you have.
When to Use Together
Using AHAs and BHAs together in a routine can often yield better results for your skin. On top of the other benefits, exfoliation can help increase the production of collagen, which can make the skin appear plumper.
However, it's important not to layer too many exfoliation products on top of each other because that can lead to over-exfoliation, which will have the opposite effect. Exfoliating too much can lead to dryness, peeling, irritation and deregulation of skin function.
It's best to alternate AHA and BHA products or use in low doses to avoid damaging your skin. If these ingredients are added an an enhancement to a serum or moisturiser use as directed and avoid over applications of Retinoids. If it is the main active in the formulation, ensure directions are followed and remember, go slow with usage and build up.
Get Your Best Skin with AHA and BHA
Exfoliation is an important step in a skincare routine. It helps remove dead skin and increase cell turnover to give you glowing skin and an even skin-tone. Swap physical exfoliants for chemical ones, especially on your face.
Before you do, learn the difference between AHA and BHA exfoliants. These different types of acids can do different jobs in your skincare routine. And with the right combination, you're sure to show off your best skin yet. Exfoliation on average is recommended weekly, and every skin is different, ask your professional if you have any queries about transitioning to an acid based product.
Ready to give your skin a transformation? Browse our selection of facial cleansers and exfoliators for brighter, more even skin today!