Chemical Exfoliant The Difference Between BHA and AHA


Posted on: 12 January 2017 by Michel Jones

Looking for appropriate skin exfoliants can get a bit tricky if you’re starting late in the game.

When a person’s skin is already thinner, more sensitive, and less elastic, there’s a good chance that testing out skin exfoliants can lead to dryer or more sensitive skin. But how can you find out if an exfoliant will work for you? One trick is by familiarizing yourself with the basic terms used by different brands and products.

Mechanical and Chemical Exfoliants

There are two basic types of skin exfoliants: mechanical and chemical. The former uses gentle abrasives to scrub off dead skin cells and impurities. These involve sponges, brushes, or special scrubs. Other materials like pumice, crushed grape seeds, and oatmeal can be used for these purposes.

Chemical exfoliants can be categorized between AHA and BHA, or alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, respectively.This type of exfoliant is more prevalent in the west, but it is also carried by a few top quality Korean skincare brands. Unlike mechanical scrubs, chemical exfoliantstend to be gentler on the skin. They can lower the skin’s pH level, cleanse it of excess oils, even its texture, and nourish it in some cases. The only drawback is that these types can increase your skin’s sensitivity, so it’s best to use sunscreen when going out.

Now that we’ve got these basics down, let’s go over the differences between AHA and BHA exfoliants.


Alpha hydroxy acidsare derived from fruits and milk.When buying these products, check the labels if they contain the following acids: glycolic, lactic, malic, and triple fruit acid. These AHA-based exfoliants are best used for people with dry or thickened skin.

Using AHAs

These exfoliants are best used for dry, rough, and clogged skin. Those with skin showing loss of firmness are also advised to use AHAs. The organic fruit-derived acids used in AHAs contain nutrients that nourish the skin by infusing it with natural vitamins andrestoring its healthy appearance. People with less elastic and less firm skin should take care to only use AHAs once or twice a week since they tend to strip away the topmost layer of the skin. For best results, an AHA-based exfoliant should have a concentration of 10 percent or less, and a pH of 3.5 or more to prevent irritation.


Beta hydroxy acid exfoliants are the chemical cousins of alpha hydroxy acids. The difference is that these are more oil-soluble and more suited for oily and acne-prone skin. The best known beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid.

Using BHAs

If you have clogged pores, blackheads, and blemishes, this type is the one for you. BHAs specialize in clearing your face of dead cells and impurities, revealing the healthy skin hidden below it. Using these at least two to four times a week can help balance or restore your skin’s natural oil levels.

Those with sensitive skin are also advised to use it instead of AHAs. This is because BHA-based exfoliants can penetrate the pores deeper and soothe red areas, unlike the AHAs.

This sums up the differences between AHA and BHA exfoliants. If you’re still unsure which ones are the best for you to use, then it’s best to consult with your dermatologist before trying out either one.

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Michel Jones

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