AHA vs BHA: What’s the difference?

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Exfoliating your skin regularly is a must do for a healthy, dewy glow. The likelihood is when you first started, the only options you thought available were the kind you need to get scrubbing with – muslin cloths, face scrubs, konjac sponges, exfoliating brushes.

Then you were warmly welcomed into the world of chemical exfoliants. AHAs vs BHAs.

The kind of exfoliants that don’t ask you to buff, scrub or gently move in circular motions. The kind which exfoliates gradually instead of all in one hit. The kind which takes less than 10 seconds to apply and continues to work for hours after.

But which do you use?

What Is BHA?


AHAs are best for some skin types. BHAs are best for other skin types.

When you see the word BHA on a face wash, toner or moisturiser, you’re seeing the abbreviation for beta-hydroxy acid. BHAs are 1 type of chemical exfoliant with the most common type of BHA being salicylic acid.

Almost all BHA exfoliants in the skincare world are based on salicylic acid. Meaning, most of the time, BHA, beta-hydroxy acid and salicylic acid mean the exact same thing.

So when should you use a BHA? Which skin types work best with BHA exfoliants? How do you know which to choose: AHA vs BHA?

What’s the Difference Between BHA and AHA?

BHA and AHA exfoliants have very similar benefits for different skin types. Use the wrong one for your skin type and it won’t be doing much. Use the right one for your skin type and you’ll see a fresh, clear, even, smooth skin tone in no time.

While you now know BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid, what you might not know is that AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid.


The 2 have very similar names because they’re very similar skincare ingredients.

If you want to get super savvy about the science, know this, alpha and beta are exactly like a postcode, they tell scientists where a certain part of the molecule lives. In space 1 aka alpha or in space 2 aka beta.

Why does it matter? Because different postcodes aka locations of hydroxy acids dissolve differently in different liquids.

This is the key to your decision of AHA vs BHA.

AHAs dissolve best in water and BHAs dissolve best in oil.

Meaning… and I bet you’re here already: AHAs are best for normal to dry skin types and BHAs are best for combination and oily skin types.

Glycolic Acid vs Salicylic Acid

When choosing a liquid exfoliant the products you’re looking at may not be labelled up as simply as AHA and BHA. Instead, you might see a salicylic acid mask or a glycolic acid face wash.

These 2 types of chemical exfoliant are the most common types used.

And all you need to know is this;

  • Glycolic acid is an AHA and is, therefore, best for dry to normal skin types
  • Salicylic acid is a BHA and is therefore best for combination or oily skin types

AHA vs BHA bottom line: If you have a dry to normal skin type, choose glycolic acid. If you have a combination or oily skin type, choose salicylic acid.

AHA or BHA for Acne?

Exfoliating regularly is a great way to help fight away acne, spots and pimples. When you develop a spot, dead skin has become trapped in your pores. Usually, your skin exfoliates itself almost fully every 30 days, but as you get older this slows.

Using a liquid exfoliant can happily speed up your skin’s natural exfoliation rate helping stop dead skin from becoming trapped in your pores. When spot causing bacteria have no food, they have to pack up and go hibernate.

In the choice of AHA or BHA for acne, the answer is simple. Do you have it already? Spots happen in your pores and your pores are where sebum aka oil is created. This sticky mixture of dead skin and oil is the reason why oily and combination skin types are prone to spots, acne and pimples.

…and the reason why BHA or beta-hydroxy acid exfoliants or salicylic acid exfoliants aka the kind which dissolve in oil are the best at helping treat your spots or acne.

Can I Use AHA and BHA Together?

…Can I use BHA and AHA at the same time? Can I combine AHA and BHA?

Now my fellow skin savvy, some skincare products combine AHAs and BHAs. 

In case you were wondering this is a high, high strength product. 2% is the maximum safe amount of salicylic acid allowed in the EU and 30% is the maximum salon safe dose of glycolic acid advised in the EU.

Using AHAs and BHAs together, in general, is not advised because you’re using too many ingredients which have a similar effect and when you do this, skin can get itself in a pickle. Imagine waxing your legs once, only to do it again 10 seconds later. Imagine eating dinner to then have to eat the same sized portion for dessert. Imagine doing a body attack class to go do a body pump class after.

It’s going to hurt… and doing the same to your skin will hurt too, not as pain, but as inflammation, redness and irritation. Which is ageing – not good.

Word to the skincare wise: In general, it is not advised to use AHA and BHA products together and if using pre-prepared AHA and BHA products it should be occasionally and with caution.



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