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AHA vs BHA: What's Best for Your Skincare Needs?

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Feb 10, 2023

    AHA vs BHA: What's Best for Your Skincare Needs?

    With all the skincare products with different ingredients to choose from, it can sometimes be overwhelming to choose the best ones. What ingredients can benefit your skin type?  Two popular products are AHA and BHA skin cleansers. Read on to learn more about AHA vs BHA and decide which one is best suited to your needs. 

    AHA vs BHA: What’s The Difference?

    People utilize hydroxy acids, such as AHA (Alpha-hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta-hydroxy acid) to treat skin disorders like acne. They also use them for cosmetic reasons to make their skin look better.

    Some examples of hydroxy acids that can be found in a wide range of cosmetic products are Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, and Salicylic acid. These promise to enhance skin health, by treating disease and enhancing appearance.

    aha vs bha

    AHA vs BHA: Why Do They Exist?

    AHA includes the following naturally-occurring organic acids:

    • Glucosamine acid
    • Citrus juice
    • Acetic acid
    • Acid tartaric
    • Acid lactate

    These substances may improve the appearance of the skin. But skin peels make use of AHAs to treat: 

    • Acne
    • Scars
    • Melasma (brown or gray spots/patches of skin) 
    • Hyperpigmentation (patches of darker skin) 
    • Roughness
    • Age stains
    • Seborrhea (rash with red and itchy patches and white scales) 

    People make use of BHAs to smooth out their skin’s texture and lessen the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

    Salicylic acid, a kind of BHA, is frequently included in acne treatments.

    Different BHAs include:

    • Salicylic acid
    • Beta-hydroxybutanoic acid
    • Trethocanic acid
    • tropic acid

    AHA vs BHA: The Advantages

    Both AHAs and BHAs exfoliate the skin.

    Each of them: 

    • reduce inflammation (rosacea, acne, and other skin issues)
    • reduce pores and smooth out surface wrinkles
    • balance out skin tone
    • makes skin texture more uniform
    • eliminates dead skin cells
    • clears clogged pores, thereby preventing acne

    One of the benefits of hydroxy acids are their ability to repair sun-damaged skin.

    To assess the extent of UV damage, dermatologists typically examine changes in skin color, roughness, and collagen density.

    Because of their benefits, cosmetic companies have harnessed the power of hydroxy acids. 

    AHA vs BHA: What You Need to Know

    Before incorporating AHA or BHA products into your routine, it’s important to note the following:

    • Both AHAs and BHAs are exfoliants; however, they function in different ways.
    • AHAs function by lowering the amount of calcium ions in the skin; this promotes shedding of skin cells 
    • Salicylic acid has extra antimicrobial properties aside from being a skin peeling agent like BHAs.
    • Despite vast research, the knowledge on their safety and effectiveness is not enough
    • Comparing products can be challenging due to varying components and directions for usage
    • Many hydroxy acid-containing products also have moisturizing and exfoliating effects. 
    • AHAs and BHAs are also present in small amounts in certain over-the-counter and prescription creams and lotions.
    • There may be higher quantities of these components found in chemical peels used to treat psoriasis, calluses, acne, and skin growths.

    AHA vs BHA: What’s the difference?

    AHAs, which are water-soluble acids derived from sweet fruits, help clear the skin’s top layer to make room for the production of skin cells that are more uniform in color. Here are other benefits of AHAs: 

    • The skin will typically feel smoother to the touch following application.
    • Better intense exfoliation. This is good for restoring sun-damaged skin and minimizing the signs of aging.
    • AHAs may affect procollagen and collagen synthesis; these two compounds that help skin look younger
    • AHAs are more aggressive, so they’re best used with caution.

    BHAs, on the other hand, are lipid-soluble. This allows them to penetrate deeper into the skin, into the pores, where they can help remove excess sebum and dead cells. Here are other benefits of BHAs:

    • Salicylic acid or BHA can be less irritating to the skin than AHAs.
    • BHAs have antibacterial properties
    • They can increase resistance to UV skin damage
    • BHAs are best suited for anti-acne products because of their antibacterial properties.

    Although both are exfoliants, each has unique qualities that make them better options for certain needs or conditions.

    AHAs vs BHAs: Which Should You Choose?

     If your main goal is to relieve skin dryness or fight signs of aging, go for AHAs. Seek the help of BHAs to fight acne. 

    AHAs are primarily used for:

    • Scars, melasma, and age spots are examples of moderate hyperpigmentation
    • Enlarged pores
    • Surface wrinkles and fine lines
    • Variable skin tone

    Despite the fact that AHAs are frequently promoted as suitable for all skin types, you must be careful, especially if you have severely dry and sensitive skin. To prevent skin irritation, a gradual incorporation into your routine may be best. 

    The Use of AHAs

    Gradual, consistent application can ensure less side effects. Remember to wear sunscreen daily, regardless of whether or not you choose to use AHAs. Sunscreen protects you from sunburn, age spots, and reduces the risk of skin cancer. 

    Using AHAs may cause certain side effects, most often in the areas to which they are applied. Watch out for the following: 

    • A skin scorching feeling
    • Rashes
    • Wrinkles
    • Itchiness
    • Welts or blisters
    • Swelling
    • Variations in skin tone
    • Skin sensitivity
    • Toxic burns
    • Sunburn

    To properly use skin products containing AHA, carefully read the product’s directions and possible warnings.

    AHA vs BHA: What if We Use Them Together?

    Research from 2008 found that combining AHA and BHAs result in fuller, healthier skin. It may also address severe acne conditions such as cystic acne.

    This is because, in combination, these substances can boost collagen production. However, using them together may result in dryness and irritation. This is particularly important to note for those seeking to use at-home chemical peels with AHA. Alternating usage may be best.

    As with all skin products, it will depend on your skin type. If you have combination skin type, you may explore applying AHAs to dry areas and BHAs to oily areas. AHAs may also work best for areas that require exfoliation.

    But regardless of skin type, combining the two can be irritating. So, consult your doctor before incorporating one or both of these into your skincare routine.

    Key Takeaways

    When it comes to AHA vs BHA, which is best? Both AHA and BHA can deeply cleanse and rejuvenate the skin. But AHA appears to be more efficient in terms of addressing skin pigmentation problems, while BHA has more antibacterial capabilities. It may also be less harsh and irritating.
    However, both can help restore sun-damaged skin.
    Of course, it’s still best to consult your dermatologist especially if you have chronic, severe skin conditions. They can help you choose the safest, most efficient option to help you achieve your healthiest skin yet. 

    Join our Skin Health community to connect with Hello Doctor’s dermatologists and fellow readers on your journey to healthier, more radiant skin!


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Feb 10, 2023

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