What are AHA and BHA? We may often encounter these names on skincare products and are not really sure what they are. They are chemical exfoliators that are very potent in unclogging pores on the surface and from within. In my opinion, they are the best exfoliator for acne and acne prone skin. I have covered the topic of skin barrier repair products, which can help with acne. Now, let’s educate ourselves a little bit on these potent exfoliating chemicals and also learn about AHA vs BHA.
AHA vs BHA: what is AHA and what is BHA?
AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid. It is derived from natural substances like sugar cane, milk, and some fruits. There are AHAs that are derived synthetically as well. AHA is a water-loving/hydrophilic, water-soluble acid with small molecules. They exfoliate the surface of the skin and at the same time hydrate the skin. Most of the workings by AHA are on the surface of the skin. That is, they do not penetrate deep into the pores or deeper layer of the skin. However, they are still a potent ingredient to rejuvenate aging skin. AHA is also the best exfoliator for acne that is smaller, only on the surface and less severe.
BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid. It is oil-loving acid and therefore can penetrate deeper into the skin pores and get through the sebum that clogs the pores. BHA exfoliates the skin by refining and normalizing the lining of the skin pore. Moreover, BHA is also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Therefore it is often used to treat blackheads, whiteheads and acne. The most common type of BHA is salicylic acid. BHA is the best exfoliator for acne that is deeper in the skin because it works its way to skin deeper layers.
Now you understand AHA vs BHA and the difference in the way they work on the skin. The combination of their varying functions makes AHA and BHA the best exfoliator for acne.
AHA vs BHA: Incorporate in your routine
When people hear the word “chemical” or “acid”, they often feel scared to put this substance on their skin. Do not fret! There are some acids that are good for the skin. And when used properly in the right range of concentration, they can do your skin wonder. In fact, AHA and BHA may be a game-changer in your skincare routine. This is especially so if you are dealing with clogged pores, dull and tired skin, aging skin, and acne.
AHA and BHA are the best exfoliator for acne prone skin. They are chemical exfoliator, as opposed to physical exfoliators like St Yves facial scrub. For people with sensitive, acne-prone skin with breakouts, you should never scrub your skin. When your skin is breaking out and irritated, the last thing you should do is to scrub and irritate it further. You might be tempted to scrub your face hoping to get rid of the dead skin cells, dirt, and sebum that clog the pores. However, you can do it using a gentler method using AHA and BHA. If you are not sure to use AHA vs BHA, try both and start with a lower concentration.
How to use AHA vs BHA?
To get the benefits of the best exfoliator for acne, you need to understand how to use them.
Rather than picking AHA vs BHA, you can use both within the same day but alternate them. For instance, AHA in the morning and BHA at night or vice versa. I recommend not to use any of these products in the morning as they make your skin more photosensitive. So the best way to use AHA and BHA is to use them on alternate nights.
When using AHA or BHA, your skin becomes more sensitive to light and more prone to hyperpigmentation. Always use sunscreen with SPF 50, whether you leave the house or not as sun rays still get into the house through windows or doors. Moreover, don’t forget to reapply every 3-4 hours.
Don’t combine AHA or BHA products with Vitamin C. AHA, BHA and Vitamin C altogether may be too acidic and too harsh for the skin. Be kind to your skin barrier. If your skin barrier is damaged, your are prone to skin irritation.
I apply AHA or BHA after cleansing at night. If you want to combine these best exfoliator for acne you can use this order: AHA/BHA, facial essence, moisturizer or hydrating serums. If you use hydrating toner, you can do it in this order: AHA/BHA, toner, and moisturizer.
What best exfoliator for acne to try?
AHA is effective in the range of 5-15%, while BHA is effective in the range of 1-2%. When you start you can use it 2-3 times a week at first, starting from low percentage of acid when you are introducing these products onto your skin before working your way up if you think this works for you. If you want to incorporate AHA and BHA on daily basis, you can use products that have a lower percentage of the acids (low percentage, but high frequency).
Other than using BHA as actives, you can also use BHA in the cleansing step of your skincare routine. Some “anti-acne” or “deep cleansing” cleansers often have salicylic acid (BHA) in their formulation. Examples are Cerave Renewing SA Cleanser, Neutrogena Deep Clean Cream Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser, to name a few.
Favorite best exfoliators for acne
- Paula’s choice BHA (2% BHA) – I am currently using this. So far I am satisfied with the results. You use it consistently for 1-2 weeks and you can notice that your nose pores look more refined, and the blackheads / sebaceous filaments production seems to be under control.
- Alpha-H Liquid Gold (5% Glycolic Acid) – This product has received rave reviews from a lot of skincare junkies. It contains glycolic acid, and it exfoliates while moisturizing the skin at the same time. It is ideal for aging, tired-looking skin. In fact, this brand has a myriad of glycolic acid-containing products to choose from.
- CosRx Pimple Clear Pad (0.5% BHA) – Good for beginners on BHA. This contains a very low percentage of BHA. However, if your skin is very sensitive and you want to see how BHA works for you, try this out. This product is one of the bestsellers from CosRx (a Korean brand).
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum (AHA and BHA blend 12%) – This might be too advanced for those who want to start using AHA / BHA for the first time. The percentage of AHA BHA is high and you may feel some tingling sensation when you use this. However with persistent usage, many find this blend really smoothes their skin, making their skin more glowing and radiant.
Spot treatment using the best exfoliator for acne
If you have acne and you are into homemade stuff, I bet you have heard or maybe you have even tried an aspirin mask. This mask is a tried and tested method to treat your acne at home. It works well on acne or pimples because of the salicylic acid contained in aspirin. What you do is crush a few uncoated aspirins and mix them with water or honey (honey is moisturizing). We recommend that you use honey in your mask mix to prevent your skin from becoming overly dry.
Bear in mind that this mask is quite drying on the skin, so if you have some pimples here and there, you may want to just spot treat the pimples. The BHA will help to calm the inflammation on your skin down and therefore reduce redness and swelling. Don’t forget to put on moisturizer or facial oil after rinsing off the mask. This best exfoliator for acne is not limited to toning the skin, but you can use it for spot treatment as well.
Should you use AHA vs BHA as best exfoliator for acne?
You should try either AHA, BHA or both. I am glad I try them out early and reap the benefits on my skin. They really helped me with my whiteheads, clogged pores, blackheads, and my persistent issue with acne. I will continue using AHA and BHA in my skincare routine for the rest of my life. So, start your journey with these best exfoliator for acne today!
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