The Difference Between AHA and BHA
Every skincare aficionado knows that ingredient lists are kind of scary. The super-long words in tiny print can look pretty impossible to decipher. But, if you’re going to make your skincare routine the best it can be, you should be an informed consumer, and you can start by familiarizing yourself with the basics of skincare ingredients. Two ingredients that you’ll see all the time—if you look—are called AHA and BHA, thought they probably go by different names on the back of your chosen chemical exfoliant. Let’s get into the difference between these two household ingredients, and find out what they have in common.
AHA and BHA are very close relatives in the chemical family tree, and they have the same basic use in common—they’re acid exfoliants. When you think of exfoliation, you probably think of abrasive face scrubs or pumice stones. But exfoliation isn’t just about scrubbing away dead skin. AHA and BHA both exfoliate on the cellular level by dissolving some of the building blocks of skin cells. When they’ve done their job, dull and dead skin just falls away from the face to reveal a fresh new layer of healthy skin beneath, with no scrubbing or tearing necessary. But the differences between them are crucial for the discerning buyer to understand.
AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid. It’s derived from a number of sources, namely sugarcane, fruit or milk. Most often, you’ll find it in an ingredient list as glycolic acid or lactic acid. According to Dr. Kenneth Howe, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology, AHAs work both on the stratum corneum—the outer surface of the skin— and the deep epidermis to sever connections between dead skin cells. Once the cells break away from each other, they effortlessly come away from the face.
One unique property of AHA is their ability to stimulate collagen production, which melts away fine lines and leaves skin looking more youthful. They’re fairly mild and are great for anyone struggling with dry skin and looking to gently exfoliate the surface of their face.
BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid. If you stay on top of skincare trends, you might have heard that salicylic acid is the current holy grail of acne treatment. Salicylic acid is actually a specific type of BHA, alongside betaine salicylate and willow tree bark. BHAs are derived from other types of tree bark, like birch bark, as well as certain vegetables.
BHAs are distinct from AHAs in a number of ways. For one, BHAs are oil-soluble and are uniquely suited to sink deep into pores to cut through sebum and clear away acne. AHA, which is water-soluble, is better suited for dry skin that isn’t acne-prone.
BHAs don’t stop at acne, either. They’re useful for fighting off bacteria on the surface of the skin and treating warts and calluses. There’s even evidence to suggest they protect against sun damage.
Essentially, both AHAs and BHAs could make a great addition to your skincare routine. AHA can help with dryness and flakiness, and BHA can clear out even the toughest breakouts. Many people use them in tandem, experimenting with different concentrations and modes of application to take their skin to the next level.
So, if you’re interested in seeing how they work for yourself, check out our skincare selection here at Keshoume! You might find the perfect chemical exfoliant—or at least, a quality moisturizer to put on after you’ve refreshed your face. You’re sure to feel the difference!
Rowan Thompson - February 8, 2021
Noble, Audrey. “AHA vs. BHA: What's the Difference, and Why Should You Use Them?” Byrdie, 3 July 2020, https://www.byrdie.com/aha-vs-bha.
Villett, Michelle. “AHA vs BHA Exfoliants: What's the Difference (and How to Choose the Right One for Your Skin).” The Skincare Edit, 19 Aug. 2019, https://theskincareedit.com/aha-vs-bha.