Our skin naturally exfoliates dead cells every day, but over time—primarily as a result of age and unprotected sun exposure—this shedding process slows and may stop altogether. This results in dull, dry, or flaky skin; clogged, enlarged pores; bumps, wrinkles, loss of firmness, and uneven skin tone.
Helping skin gently exfoliate its buildup of dead skin—the way it naturally did when we were younger—reveals the beautiful, soft, hydrated skin hiding beneath, as quickly as overnight. Without question, a leave-on AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) chemical exfoliant can make a world of difference in your skin’s appearance. We’re often asked which one is best, and the answer is less complicated than you might think.
How AHAs and BHA are Different
AHAs are water soluble so only work on skin’s surface. They are generally preferred for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, due to their ability to enhance natural moisturizing factors within skin (as mentioned above, BHA is also hydrating, but it hydrates skin in a different way than AHAs do). AHAs have also been proven effective in reducing the visible signs of sun damage, including crepe-y skin and wrinkles.
BHA works on skin’s surface and deep inside the pore; it’s oil soluble, so it’s most often preferred for normal to oily skin prone to bumps, clogs, blemishes, and enlarged pores. BHA also has natural skin-calming properties, so it’s gentle enough for skin that’s sensitive or prone to redness or rosacea. This well-rounded, gentle ingredient is even suitable for bumpy skin disposed to milia.
How to Use Both AHA and BHA In Your Skin Care Routine
Should you apply an AHA and BHA exfoliant at the same time twice per day? Probably not. Most people don’t need that level of exfoliation but experiment to see which combination and frequency of application work best for you. (See what we mean about the need to experiment?)
As for how to use both at the same time—apply the exfoliants after cleansing and toning, starting with whichever has the thinnest texture; for example, you’d apply a liquid texture before a gel or lotion. You don’t need to wait for one to absorb before applying the next, and you can immediately follow with the rest of your skin care routine–it won’t throw off the pH of either exfoliant.
Alternating between AHA and BHA products to exfoliate your face might seem too complicated, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s fine to alternate, and it can be a great way for all skin types to experience the distinct benefits of each. In fact, many people find that alternating AHA and BHA exfoliants is the perfect solution to address their unique concerns.
Here are tips on how to alternate exfoliants and how often to exfoliate:
- Most people do fine exfoliating once daily, morning or evening based on personal preference.
- If you want to alternate an AHA and BHA, simply decide which exfoliant to use at the beginning of each week and then switch back and forth day by day. You can also use one for a week, then switch to the other the next week.
- Another option is to apply one type of exfoliant in the morning and the other at night. This can be a great approach for breakout-prone skin showing signs of sun damage.
- You also can experiment by alternating different strengths of an AHA or BHA—or both! For example, apply a 1% BHA exfoliant each morning and step up to a 2% strength at night.
- Once or twice per week, rotate into your routine a higher-strength specialty AHA or BHA treatment to give yourself an “at-home peel” experience that delivers more dramatic results.
Ultimately, there’s no single best way to go about using AHA and BHA exfoliants; it’s all about experimentation to find what works best for you and then adjusting as needed based on the changing needs of your skin. What counts is that you keep using a leave-on chemical exfoliant–and we suspect you’ll willingly do that once you see how routine use remarkably transforms your skin (get ready for compliments)!
How AHA Exfoliants Work on Skin
When we’re young, our skin naturally sheds built-up layers of dead cells at a rapid rate. But, as the years pass, several factors slow this process, bringing it almost to a halt. Culprits like unprotected sun exposure, dry skin, oily skin, and other skin problems can make skin dull, dehydrated, and older-looking. The glow goes, and dullness grows.
A leave-on AHA exfoliant works on the uppermost layers of skin’s surface, loosening the bonds between dead surface layers and the radiant skin beneath. And, while AHAs have benefits for all skin types—diminishing the look of lines and wrinkles, improving skin’s firmness, texture, and tone—their standout hydrating properties and ability to improve visible signs of sun damage make them ideal for normal to dry skin with advanced signs of aging.
It’s important to note that formulary concerns are crucial for a product to be both gentle and effective. Research has shown that AHA exfoliants containing glycolic acid or lactic acid in concentrations between 5% and 10% and with a pH between 3 and 4 are ideal for optimal, youth-reviving, non-irritating exfoliation.
How to Use an AHA Exfoliant
It often takes some experimenting to see which AHA works best for your skin. Some people can use higher concentrations (such as 10%) without a problem, while others find that lower concentrations (such as 5%)—or alternating the use of higher and lower strengths—is the ideal solution.
But whichever exfoliant you choose, it should be applied after cleansing and toning. The other products in your routine, like serums, boosters, and moisturizers, go on after your exfoliant in order from thinnest to thickest texture. (Don’t forget to finish with sunscreen during the day.)
Uses & Effectiveness of AHA
Likely Effective for
- Dry skin. Applying lotion or cream containing alpha hydroxy acid can improve dry skin.
- Treating sun damage when applied to the skin in a cream or lotion. Applying alpha hydroxy acid in a lotion, cream, or solution can decrease wrinkles and some other signs of sun-damaged skin. Alpha hydroxy acid skin peels might also work, but results are inconsistent.
Possibly Effective for
- Acne when applied to the skin in a cream, peel, or lotion. Applying creams, peels, or lotions containing alpha hydroxy acids reduces signs of acne in teens and adults.
- Acne scars. Applying alpha hydroxy acid to the skin in a facial peel or lotion seems to improve the appearance of acne scars.
The Best AHA & BHA Products
1. L’oreal Paris Dermo-Expertise Youth Code Luminize Super Serum
This is one of the best serums from the house of L’Oreal for combination skin type. The serum is known to be extremely effective against acne spots and also takes care of dry skin. It is extremely blendable in nature and with constant usage, you can witness the glow and your skin texture will also improve in the longer run.
2. Drunk Elephant T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
The serum has glycolic acid as the primary ingredient which improves skin texture for the long run. The night serum also works as a fabulous anti-ageing product which gets into your skin and repairs fine lines and wrinkles. It also evens out the skin tone and removes acne marks or pigmentation on the skin.
3. Pixi Overnight Glow Serum
This serum from the house of Pixi contains 10% glycolic acid in it. It is extremely lightweight and thus gets absorbed into your skin within seconds. The serum works overnight and combination skin beauties can use this serum alone on their skin. By morning, you will enjoy a soft, glowing and refreshed skin.
4. Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber De-Tox Hydrating Serum
The serum is rich in citric acid and a number of other skin benefiting ingredients. It is known to strengthen the epidermal shield on your face. The serum repairs the skin and makes it soft, plumped up and hydrated in the longer run. It also acts as a shield against the harmful effects of pollution and keeps the skin healthy.
5. L’Oreal Paris White Perfect Laser Anti-Spot Brightening Essence
This is an another lightweight serum which is extremely effective in removing dark spots from your skin. The essence is milky white in colour and it gets blended into the skin within seconds. The essence is also known to improve the skin texture in the long run. It is such a perfect product for combination skin type.
6. Alpha Skincare Intensive Rejuvenating Serum 14% Glycolic AHA
The serum contains dermatologist recommended 14% AHA which is known to completely repair and improve the skin texture. The serum reduces fine lines and wrinkles and reduces acne spots or any other black spots on your skin. The serum can be used by all skin types also.
7. Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
The serum is known to be extremely effective against sun damage on your skin. It reduces sun spots and pigmentation within some seconds. With regular usage, you will also notice that your akin complexion is getting light. Since the serum is to be used in very small quantity, a single bottle will last you pretty long enough.
8. Alpha H Liquid Gold Intensive Night Repair Serum
The serum contains 14% glycolic acid content and is known to brighten and lighten the skin with constant usage. The serum reduces breakouts and also removes black spots from the skin. It also adds a glow to the face and improves the skin texture overall.
9. Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Serum Treatment
The serum has powerful blend of antioxidants which is known to repair the skin and improve it in the long run. The serum removes the redness from the skin and works against hyper pigmentation on your skin
10. Mario Badescu Vitamin Serum
It is lightweight in texture and gets into your skin and repairs it over time. The serum removes acne spots and pigmentation marks of your skin. It is also known to add hydration boost to your skin and repairs the age spots with constant usage.
These were some of the benefits, uses and difference between AHA & BHA, I hope they were useful and they will help you better for your healthy and glowing skin.