What is AHA and BHA?


If you frequent skincare sites, you will probably hear a lot of acronyms like AHA and BHA floating around. For the longest time, I had no idea what those meant. What is this weird sounding chemical people were putting on their faces, and why do people rave about how amazing it is?

AHA = Alpha Hydroxy Acid. The most common types of AHA are glycolic acid (sugar cane), lactic acid (milk), malic acid (apples) and tartaric acid (grapes).

BHA = Beta Hydroxy Acid, also known as salicylic acid.

Both are chemical exfoliants. Exfoliating is important because while your skin naturally sheds its dead skin cells, the process can be effected by different factors such as skin type, sun damage and genetics. Not shedding the dead skin cell properly can cause things like clogged pores, bumps, flaky patches and blemishes.

There are different methods of exfoliating. A common one is with the exfoliating face washes that have those bead things such as the St Ives Apricot face scrub. Those bead things actually scratch the surface of the skin, therefore damaging the skin in the long run. AHA and BHA uses chemicals to exfoliate without damaging the top layer of the skin, making it a more efficient and gentle method of exfoliating.

AHA is suitable for dry /  sun damaged skin types since it gently removes the top layer of dead skin cells by detaching it from the skin. AHA is water soluble, therefore better for sun damaged skin since it works on exfoliating the surface while retaining moisture in the skin. AHA is also great for mature skin / wrinkles, since it contains properties that improves the thickness and collagen in the skin.

BHA is suitable for oily / acne prone / clogged skin, since it penetrates the skin and declogs the pores. It also contains more anti-bacterial properties, so it is suitable for acne skin and skin that has a lot of hyper pigmentation. BHA is oil soluble, therefore it is more suitable to breaking down oil / sebum in the pores.

AHA and BHA should be used after cleanser and toner, and before any moisturizers and serums. It can be used everyday, but if you’re unsure about how your skin might react, start by using it 2 – 3 times and week and slowly build it up depending on how well your skin reacts to the products.

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