Exfoliating is the key to a glowing complexion. Did you know that many dermatologists believe that exfoliation is the most important part of any skin care routine? If you’re new to exfoliating, it’s time to start – especially if you’re looking for smoother texture, less acne, fewer wrinkles, and more radiance. And to be honest, who isn’t looking for that?
If you are unsure of the types of chemical peels out there, especially when it comes to Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), you’ve come to the right place. We break down the difference between AHAs and BHAs while also informing them of their numerous benefits.
The difference between AHAs and BHAs
Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids have a lot in common. Both work as exfoliators to clog pores (by “loosening” the sebum and the bonds that hold skin cells together) and remove dead skin cells to promote smoother, more beautiful skin.
You can both::
- Smooth and soft rough texture
- Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Provide moisture
- Lighten and even out skin tone
- Clog pores
The main difference between AHAs and BHAs is that they are water-soluble and oil-soluble, respectively. Neither is necessarily better than the other – it all depends on what you are looking for in terms of treatment.
AHAs are generally more widely used for antiaging benefits, although they can also effectively treat acne. AHAs are recommended for normal to dry skin types as they are more moisturizing than BHAs.
Alpha hydroxy acids include water soluble acids such as glycolic, citric, and lactic acids. While “acid” can be an intimidating term, it can be safely used on the skin to clog pores, fight acne, restore radiance, fade dark spots and acne scars to even out skin tone and improve overall texture, which makes the skin feel and feel smoother and less dull.
AHAs are mainly used for:
- Hyperpigmentation will fade
- Reduction of surface wrinkles
Since AHAs are water-soluble, they are more likely to act on the surface of the skin. This is also the reason why they are recommended for dry to normal skin types. BHAs are oil soluble and work deeper in the pore to remove sebum and dead skin cells (they can penetrate deeper into the pore than alpha hydroxy acids). They are recommended for combination with oily skin prone to acne and enlarged pores.
Beta hydroxy acids include salicylic acid, an acid that is common in many anti-acne products. Sometimes citric acid can also be classified as a BHA, although this is less common. In addition, unlike alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids can reduce inflammation and soothe reddened, angry skin. This is an ideal ingredient for sensitive skin or rosacea as it is rather gentle overall.
BHAs are mainly used for:
- Fight against acne
- Reduce inflammation
If you have acne and signs of aging, you can switch between AHAs and BHAs for the best results. Layering them on top of each other can occasionally cause irritation if not used properly.
However, some skin care products have been specially formulated with AHAs and BHAs for a really powerful combination that is nonetheless non-irritating. If you’re looking for a great chemical peel, this is the place to go The retexturing and perfecting serum from Formulyst. This liquid serum has been specially formulated with an AHA / BHA plant extract complex to gently but efficiently remove dead skin cells for a refined complexion.
The details of the various AHAs and BHAs
Glycolic acid (AHA)
Glycolic acid is typically obtained from sugar cane. It has the smallest molecular size of any acid (meaning it can penetrate the skin very efficiently) and it has a reputation for working really well. For this reason, it is also the AHA that is most commonly found in antiaging beauty products. In fact, it is the most studied of the acids.
Chemical peels done in dermatologist’s offices usually contain glycolic acid.
It works by basically removing the “glue” that holds skin cells together. This “glue” consists essentially of accumulated sebum (oil) and other lipids that bind dead skin cells together and cause blockages. By removing these dead skin cells, glycolic acid helps the products you later apply to absorb better. In addition, glycolic acid has been shown to stimulate collagen production. In dermatologist’s offices, glycolic acid peels can be used in concentrations of up to 70 percent. Concentrations between eight and 30 percent are to be expected for non-prescription products. 30 percent is considered pretty high but is still safe to use. However, it can be quite irritating.
Well, anyone who can or should use glycolic acid is cautioned against sensitive skin types and those with rosacea. Additionally, if you regularly use glycolic acid, it is best to avoid sun exposure, or at least be generous with sunscreen. Glycolic acid can dry out the skin further. So use a moisturizer to counter this. Finally, you should note that it is okay if you experience a tingling sensation while using products containing glycolic acid. However, if you experience a burning sensation rather than a tingling sensation, you should stop using the product.
Citric acid (AHA)
Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits. It is mainly used to adjust the pH of certain products so that they don’t get too alkaline. It’s not as well studied or nowhere near as popular as glycolic acid, although it can be combined with glycolic acid and other acids to encourage deeper exfoliation. Like glycolic acid, it also breaks the bonds between dead skin cells in order to break them down.
Citric acid can help fade discoloration to even out skin tone. It can help fight blemishes by clogging pores and it can help smooth out fine lines. However, deeper wrinkles would require more serious treatment like injections or laser treatment.
Citric acid is also used to lighten the skin (thanks to its vitamin C content) and act as an astringent. It can cause mild side effects such as redness and peeling, with a common tingling sensation when used.
Lactic acid (AHA)
Lactic acid occurs naturally in milk. It’s also very popular as a skin care ingredient in exfoliating masks, lotions, creams, toners, and cleansers. Unlike glycolic acid, it is more moisturizing and therefore less irritating to people with sensitive skin. However, higher concentrations of this acid can still be irritating. If you’re not sure if it’s right for you, do a patch test on the inside of your arm first.
It removes dead skin cells and reveals lighter, more radiant skin. Like the previous acids, it can also have a positive effect on acne, discoloration, textures, dullness and fine lines.
Other AHAs include mandelic acid (made from almond extracts), malic acid (made from malic acids), and tartaric acid (made from grape extracts). These are less well known, but when combined with them, they can improve the effectiveness of the stronger, better-known acids.
Salicylic acid (BHA)
This acid can definitely ring a bell if you’ve ever used an over-the-counter acne product. It is often found in concentrations between 0.5 and 5 percent. It is most commonly found at 2 percent in over-the-counter acne product formulations.
Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, making it perfect for oily and combination skin. It works on the surface of the skin to exfoliate, but it also moves deeper into the pore to break up sebum and clear the clog. In addition to helping to clog pores in fighting acne, salicylic acid can also help reduce redness and inflammation. This ability to calm inflammation also enables it to fight inflamed pimples and infected lesions.
Formulyst Retexturing and Perfecting Serum
If you’re looking for a great chemical peel, this is the place to go Formulysts Retexture and perfect the serum. This liquid serum has been specially formulated with an AHA / BHA plant extract complex to gently but efficiently remove dead skin cells for a refined complexion.
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigative Dermatology, “Glycolic Acid Peel Therapy – A Current Review”; Clinical, cosmetic and investigative dermatology, “Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: A comprehensive overview”;