AHA vs BHA: What’s the Difference?
Acids in skincare? You might be thinking *no, thank you.* But don’t worry: exfoliating acids aren’t nearly as intimidating as they sound. Below, we’re sharing everything you need to know about chemical exfoliants.
What Are Chemical Exfoliants?
Chemical exfoliants are acids that remove dead cells from the skin’s surface. They come in various strengths, from gentle PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) to high-potency acids you’ll only find in a dermatologist or aesthetician’s office.
Compared to physical exfoliants, chemical exfoliants are gentler on facial skin. They can be used on their own or combined with physical exfoliants (such as scrubs) for use on the body. The most common chemical exfoliants are AHAs and BHAs, which we dive into below.
Why Should I Exfoliate?
The role of chemical exfoliants isn’t just surface level. There are many benefits of exfoliating that we won’t go into detail about here (check out this blog post for a list of benefits). But the primary function of exfoliation is to remove dead skin cells that cause dullness, texture, and clogged pores.
AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)
Alpha hydroxy acids, commonly referred to by the acronym AHAs, are the most popular and diverse chemical exfoliants. This group of acids includes glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and more though we’ll focus solely on these three. While these AHAs all perform the same essential functions (sloughing off dead skin cells), they differ in molecular size, strength, and penetration. That’s why knowing your skin and choosing the best exfoliant for your needs is crucial.
Odds are you’ve heard of glycolic acid before. This beloved AHA derives from sugarcane. It has the smallest molecule size of all AHAs, so it goes into the deeper layers of skin, helping loosen up dead cells and improving areas of hyperpigmentation. Glycolic acid may also help promote collagen production, making it a great anti-aging ingredient.
Who it’s best for: Most skin types can benefit from glycolic acid. Those with sensitive skin should start with low concentrations or use a less intense exfoliating option. It’s great for those with normal, combination, and oily skin.
Lactic acid, derived from fermented foods, is a hydrating AHA that improves skin texture and appearance. Lactic acid helps combat dullness and uneven skin tone, lessens the look of fine lines and wrinkles, supports firmer skin, and gives you a healthy glow. The molecule size is larger than other acids, so its main work is done on the skin’s surface.
Who it’s best for: All skin types can benefit from lactic acid. Because it’s hydrating, it’s great for those with dry skin. Its molecular size makes it ideal for sensitive skin or those who find glycolic acid too irritating. Lactic acid also helps acne-prone skin by killing bacteria and aiding in acne treatment.
Our lactic acid-infused body scrubs are a gentle yet effective exfoliating option that nourishes and hydrates the skin. Choose your favorite scent and embrace smooth, even skin.
Mandelic acid, derived from bitter almonds, is a less popular but still highly effective AHA. It has one of the largest particle sizes of all AHAs, so it stays on the skin’s surface for longer, doing its job more slowly and gently.
Who it’s best for: Mandelic acid is one of the best options for those with deeper skin tones because it doesn’t kill melanocytes (a melanin-producing cell) and exasperate discoloration. It’s also great for sensitive or acne-prone skin because its large molecule size is gentle but effective at brightening and clearing skin debris.
BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids)
BHAs, specifically salicylic acid, are an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that loosens unwanted skin cells by dissolving the bonds that hold them together. BHAs help increase cell turnover, but their defining feature is that they’re oil-soluble, so they can go deep below the skin’s surface to help unclog pores. They also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help keep acne at bay.
Who it’s best for: Salicylic acid is a fantastic ingredient for those with oily skin and those with acne or clogged pores.
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