AHA vs BHA: What's the Difference?

Last modified: Friday, May 17, 2019

Daisy Marie Clay

Author: Daisy Marie Clay

One thing we all have to learn at some point is the differences between AHA and BHA. These are both acids, used for the purpose of exfoliation.

We all naturally exfoliate our dead skin cells at different rates, but because of different factors such as individual genetics, age, skin type etc, we sometimes need to manually exfoliate to help speed things up.

When it comes to skincare this helps prevent clogged pores, dry skin and more… Both of these hydroxy acids have become extremely popular for exfoliation, and both are good for different purposes.

Read on to find out more about these acids.

What is AHA

Alpha hydroxy acid, also called AHA is a water-soluble acid. This organic acid is naturally occurring in milk, sugar cane and more. Historically it has been used from the days of the Egyptians who were noted for bathing in milk as part of their own beauty routines.

The incredibly small molecules in these acids are particularly good at breaking down intercellular bonds that holds our skin together. This helps us shed much faster, and that’s how it exfoliates best.

There are considerably more types of AHA’s than with BHA’s which is worth noting.

AHA Benefits

Recommended for those with dryer and more damaged skin, these water soluble acids are best used for helping rejuvenate the skin. Some of the acids in this family have been noted for helping reduce inflammation and promoting cell regeneration.

Types Of AHAs:

  • Glycolic Acid
  • Lactic Acid
  • Tartaric Acid
  • Citric Acid
  • Malic Acid
  • Mandelic Acid

What is BHA

Beta hydroxy acid, also known as BHA is an oil-soluble acid. This organic acid’s molecules are able to reach deeper layers of the skin.

This penetrating acid is found naturally occurring in fruits such as raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes.

There are less types of BHA’s, the main one being Salicylic Acid.

BHA Benefits

Because this acid is oil-soluble it reaches the deeper layers of the skin which is great for cleansing your pores. It helps by removing excess sebum and this helps prevent spots/pimples, acne and blackheads.

It is best used in people with oilier skin types, those who have acne prone skin and in some cases people with combination skin in certain areas.

According to some studies BHA’s are good at reducing inflammation which can also be very beneficial when it comes to improving the complexion and tone of your skin.

Types Of BHAs:

What Are The Similarities?

Both AHA and BHA are types of Hydroxy Acids. Hydroxy acids are often referred to as organic acids, which makes them safe to use in daily life, for certain uses, within safe limits. Acids that are classified as AHA or BHA contain a hydroxyl (OH) or hydroxy (-OH) group molecule present adjacent to the primary atom.

Taking off our really nerdy hats for a moment, it’s important to know that they are also both types of liquid exfoliant. This is particularly useful when compared to physical exfoliants.

Common physical exfoliants such as scrubs only work while you’re physically exfoliating. Whereas liquid exfoliants such as hydroxy acids work even when you’re not physically applying them.

Due to the fact that these are acids they also offer antibacterial properties.

What Are The Differences?

The main differences between these two acid types, besides the really scientific stuff, is that they are often recommended for people with different skin types.

Here’s the rule of thumb that I’ve discovered:

AHA is recommended for people with normal to dry skin.

BHA is recommended for people with oily and acne prone skin.

These are the main differences that you’ll want to keep in mind when it comes to actual practical application for your skin care routine.

Can You Use Them Together?

People often ask if AHA and BHA can be used together...

Answer: Yes.

There are a number of products on the market that are specially formulated to contain both of these acids.

You can also use two different products together, and this is what is called "layering". Most people recommend utilizing a Vitamin C Serum at the same time as layering Hydroxy Acids together.


Wrapping Up

So which is best? Is it BHA (Beta hydroxy acid) or AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid)?

The answer: It depends.

Both are good for different things, and what is best is going to depend on you personally. They are both great exfoliants, and you can achieve different levels of exfoliation with each.

I believe that the benefits of each, will be more of a benefit to some than others. As the old saying goes, "good for them, but not for me".