AHA And BHA Exfoliants: What Is The Difference?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Vindhya L Veerula, MD, FAAD Dr. Vindhya L Veerula Dr. Vindhya L VeerulaMD, FAAD facebook_icontwitter_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MA (English Literature) Ramona Sinha MA (English Literature) Experience: 11 years
Last Updated on

You cannot deny the importance of exfoliation in your daily skin care routine. Exfoliation has gone beyond simple scrubs. AHA and BHA are the new-age exfoliants that have taken holistic skin care to the next level. If you aren’t using them, you are missing out on serious benefits that these ingredients have to offer. Here’s everything you need to know about these exfoliants. Keep reading!

Table Of Contents

What Are AHA And BHA Exfoliants?

Both AHA and BHA are chemical exfoliants.

Exfoliants are of two types – manual and chemical. Manual exfoliants require you to apply them to your skin and scrub, but chemical exfoliants don’t work that way.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) are two hydroxy acids you will find in masks, cleansers, peels, moisturizers, toners, and similar skin care products. Both AHA and BHA exfoliate your skin, remove dead skin cells, and boost collagen development. How both of them work depends entirely on the concentration of the chemicals used in the product. AHAs and BHAs help:

  • Minimize pores and fine lines
  • Improve your skin texture
  • Remove dead skin cells and unclog pores
  • Reduce skin inflammation

Now, if both acids exfoliate skin, how are they different? From the individual uses, benefits, and types to their sources, a lot of factors determine the differences between these two ingredients. You will get to know all of these in the coming sections. Read on.

Back To TOC

AHA Vs. BHA: What’s The Difference?

AHA Vs. BHA What’s The Difference
Image: Shutterstock

Alpha Hydroxy Acid or AHA is mainly derived from botanical sources. And that’s why AHA is often referred to as fruit acid. There are six types of AHAs derived from natural resources such as fruits, sugarcane, and milk. These are:

  • Glycolic Acid: Of all the AHAs, this has the smallest molecules. It is usually derived from sugarcane, but it can be manufactured synthetically as well.
  • Lactic Acid: It is mainly derived from dairy products, but it can also be extracted from fruits and fermented vegetables.
  • Citric Acid: It naturally occurs in citrus fruits. This AHA is a powerful antioxidant and also a natural preservative.
  • Tartaric Acid: It is found in unripe grapes. Tartaric acid is the substance that gives the unique taste to wines.
  • Malic Acid: It is mostly found in apples and cherries, but it is also present in several other fruits. It is often used for flavoring candies, tablets, and beverages.
  • Mandelic Acid: This AHA is derived from bitter almonds and is used for treating infections as it has antibacterial properties.

AHA is water-soluble and helps in exfoliating the topmost layer of your skin. Hence, after using AHA products, you will notice that your skin has turned satin smooth.

Beta Hydroxy Acid or BHA is an oil-soluble hydroxy acid. It is also known as salicylic acid. While AHA works on the surface of your skin, BHA can penetrate the layers of your skin and cleanse it from within. That’s why salicylic acid is mostly used in acne formulations as it calms the skin and reduces inflammation.

Both AHA and BHA have their unique set of benefits. Both target unique skin care needs to give you clear and healthy skin. Check out their benefits.

Back To TOC

AHA And BHA Exfoliants: What Are The Benefits?

AHA And BHA Exfoliants What Are The Benefits
Image: Shutterstock

Benefits Of AHA

  • Since AHA is a water-soluble hydroxy acid, it is super hydrating for your skin and best for those with dry skin.
  • It works on the topmost layer of your skin and helps loosen the bonds between the dead superficial layer and the skin beneath.
  • Due to its hydrating qualities, AHA can make your skin plump, improve its firmness and texture, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
  • It is ideal for those who experience excessive sun damage and are worried about advanced signs of aging.
  • AHA boosts collagen production and plays an important part in anti-aging treatments.

Benefits Of BHA

  • Since BHA is oil-soluble, it is perfect for those with oily and acne-prone skin.
  • It not only works on your skin surface but also penetrates your skin pores, clears oil and sebum, and reduces acne inflammation. Hence, BHA is mostly used in acne medications.
  • Just like AHA, BHA also helps in diminishing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. It improves skin firmness and tone.
  • BHA helps in balancing excess oil production. If you have comedones and severe acne, you can ask the dermatologist to prescribe BHA formulations for managing your symptoms.

Regarding the benefits, both AHA and BHA are beneficial for skin care. However, which one is right for your skin depends on certain factors.

Back To TOC

AHA Or BHA – Which One Should I Use?

AHA Or BHA – Which One Should I Use
Image: Shutterstock

Your choice of a product depends on your unique skin care needs. Check out this list to determine which product can meet them:

Beneficial For
Sun damaged skin
Dry skin
Beneficial For
Skin that’s prone to rosacea
Oily and sensitive skin
Skin that’s prone to whiteheads and blackheads
Acne-prone skin
Remove dead skin cells
Fight signs of aging
Keep skin hydrated and brightens it
Remove dead skin cells
Unclog the pores and controls excess oil/sebum production
Prevent whiteheads and blackheads
Suitable For
Dry and sun damaged skin
(not suitable for sensitive skin and skin that’s prone to breakouts)
Suitable For
Oily and acne-prone skin
(not suitable for those who are allergic to aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid)

Whichever exfoliant you are choosing, it should be used the right way. If you are using a lot of products together, it is essential to layer them in the right way to ensure that your skin can absorb all equally.

Back To TOC

How To Use AHA And BHA Exfoliants

How To Use AHA And BHA Exfoliants
Image: Shutterstock

AHA exfoliant is water-soluble. This means it works best on clean skin. To use AHA exfoliants:

  • Wash your skin with a mild cleanser.
  • Pat it dry. Wait for a few minutes and let it dry completely.
  • Apply toner on your face.
  • Wait for a few minutes and then apply the AHA product.
  • If you are using a serum, apply it immediately after using the AHA exfoliant.
  • Apply moisturizer.

Remember that the AHA exfoliant makes your skin photoreactive. And that’s why it should be used only at night. However, if you are using it during the daytime, do not forget to apply sunscreen.

When introducing BHA to your skin care routine, go slow – because excessive use of this product can make your skin dry. You can follow the same application process as with AHA products. The only difference is, you do not have to wait for your skin to dry completely after cleansing. You can immediately apply the BHA product to your face and then layer it with other products.

Confused whether to use AHA or BHA? Well, it’s not unusual. If you cannot decide whether you need to treat your acne or dry skin, you can use both AHA and BHA together. How? Read on.

Back To TOC

Is It Possible To Use AHA And BHA Together?

Is It Possible To Use AHA And BHA Together
Image: Shutterstock

Yes, it’s possible to use both AHA and BHA at the same time. You have two options:

  • Apply a mixture of both the products once a day (either in the morning or evening), or
  • Use them alternately.

If you want to use them together, apply both after cleansing and toning your face. Check the texture of both the exfoliants. First, apply the product with a thinner consistency, followed by the other. You do not need to wait before applying the second product. Make sure you are applying both only once a day.

If you are using both the products alternately, you can follow any of these routines:

  • You can alternate AHA and BHA exfoliants each day. If you are using AHA product one day, use BHA product the next day.
  • You can alternate between AHA and BHA exfoliants each week. Use AHA product once daily for one week and then BHA product once daily in the following week.
  • Yet another option is to use them alternately at different times of the day. If you are using BHA exfoliant in the morning, use AHA exfoliant at night. This routine is excellent for those who have acne-prone skin with signs of sun damage.

However, before you use AHA or BHA exfoliants, make sure you are using the right concentration of the formula. These exfoliants are available in concentrations ranging from 4% to 10%. Consult a dermatologist. Find out the level of damage in your skin and check the recommended concentration of the chemical exfoliants that will work for you.

Back To TOC

Regular exfoliation keeps your skin youthful and radiant. And there is no fixed way of using any product. Keep fine-tuning your skin care routine to check what works best for you. Ever used any of the chemical exfoliants? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

Was this article helpful?
Dr. Veerula (Dr. V) is a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons. She is an energetic, proactive, and compassionate medical practitioner with 5 years of experience and a thorough understanding of overall mind-body-spiritual wellness.

Read full bio of Dr. Vindhya L Veerula
Latest Articles