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The Difference Between AHAs & BHAs

These are the game-changers you need in your routine.

Beauty & Fashion

If you ever wondered about using acid-based skincare products as part of your skincare routine, you're probably familiar with Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA). Most skincare brands have at least a few products with these key ingredients. But what are they? How do they help our skin stay flawless? And what's the difference between the two?


Well, let's start by defining what AHAs and BHAs are. These types of acids are categorized as hydroxy acids. And hydroxy acids help remove dead skin cells through exfoliation which allows new skin cells to surface. Some hydroxy acids you might have heard of are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. We usually find these ingredients in skincare products (chemical peels) that are made to treat common skin conditions like acne. When these acids are topically applied, they smooth, tighten, firm, and brighten the skin.

The key benefits of both AHAs and BHAs are that they work as an exfoliant, provide moisture, and repair sun-damaged skin. The main difference between the two is that AHAs are water-soluble and BHAs are lipid or oil soluble.

Whether you choose to use alpha-hydroxy acids or beta-hydroxy acids, here is how your skin can benefit from them and the products you should try.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids Do It All

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According to Healthline, alpha hydroxy acids are primarily used for hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, fine lines, melasma, and uneven skin tone. Common alpha hydroxy acids include glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid, and mandelic acid. Most AHAs are derived from a plant-based source like fruits, nuts, and sugar cane, but lactic acid is sourced from milk. This means it's much gentler on the skin and safe to use on sensitive skin.

You can add AHAs a few times a week to your morning skincare routine. See how your skin feels or reacts to it. And be sure to use moisturizer and sunscreen to prevent burns or irritation.

Beta Hydroxy Acids Are Your Acne Solution

Compared to alpha hydroxy acids, there is only one beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, which it's derived from willow bark. Many over-the-counter facial cleansers contain salicylic acid as well because of its acne-fighting properties. In a Glamour article, dermatologist Robert Anolik, M.D. said, "BHA is lipophilic, so it's drawn to oils. That means it will not only exfoliate the top layer but also target the sebaceous glands down in the pores, clearing the clogs that create whiteheads and blackheads while also helping fade the pink marks that are left over from old outbreaks."

Salicylic acid can also correct dark spots without skin irritation because of its anti-inflammatory properties. BHAs can be used a few times a week too.

How To Use AHAs and BHAs

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The beauty of AHAs and BHAs is that you can use them together. Try alternating each product by using one type in the morning and the other as part of your nighttime routine. You can use AHAs and BHAs on alternating days too. But never layer these two products together! Remember, these are acids that act as exfoliants—so they can cause dryness and irritation.

Make sure to use low concentrations because higher concentrations can irritate the skin. Anything with a concentration of 10% or less is what you want. If you're not sure, ask your esthetician or dermatologist how to incorporate these acids into your skincare routine.

Must-Try Alpha Hydroxy and Beta Hydroxy Acid Products

Alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acid-based products can be found at your favorite beauty stores like Ulta or Sephora. They can also be found at online skin stores like Amazon, Dermastore.com, or from your favorite skincare brands.

Here are a few trending AHA and BHA products you can try:

Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Facial Cleanser

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Clinique iD: Moisturizer + Concentrate for Pores & Uneven Texture

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum

SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF

Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

Herbivore Botanicals Prism 12 AHA + 3 BHA Exfoliating Glow Serum

I swear by The Ordinary brand because it's high-end quality and affordable AF, but try whatever beauty brand you like. The skincare brands I use vary, but I do include a medical-grade salicylic acid and glycolic acid scrub in my skincare regime. It helps with my acne, and I definitely feel the difference in my skin texture after one wash.

Listen, AHAs and BHAs are the game-changers you need in your skincare routine.

So, get your glow on sis.

To get your beauty fix and to stay up to date with the latest trends, check out the xoNecole Beauty section here.

Featured image via Getty Images

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