AHA = Alpha  Hydroxy Acid

BHA = Beta  Hydroxy Acid

AHAs and BHAs are both organic carboxylic chemical compound exfoliants that help to remove dead skin cells. You could think of both as one side of the same coin.

 The main types of AHAs are

  • Glycolic acid (sugar cane derived) – strongest AHA
  • Citric acid (citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges)
  • Lactic acid (milk and pickled vegetables)
  • Tartaric acid (grapes)
  • Malic acid (apples)

The main types of BHAs are
  • Salicylic acid (bark of willow tree) – most common and strongest BHA
  • Betaine salicylate (sugar beets) 
  • Salix alba (bark)

The main differences between AHA and BHA 
  • Solubility: AHA is water-soluble and BHA is oil soluble. This means that AHA does not penetrate as deep into the skin compared to BHAs.
  • Best for: AHA is often recommended to individuals with drier skin as it is water-soluble it is made up of molecules that love water and helps with moisture content, good for surface level problems such as past acne scars and pigmentation. While BHA is recommended to individuals with oilier, acne-prone skin that need help on a deeper level while also exfoliating the top layer of skin (epidermis).

  • Helping with acne, clogged cores, and blackheads: BHAs, due to the fact they work at a deeper level can help clear out trapped sebum in pores which helps with congestion. As it is oil-soluble it can penetrate deeper and help slow down oil secretion. 
  • Concentration: To be effective an AHA formulate product needs to contain a minimum of 8% while a BHA can contain only 2%, with some formulas only containing a little as 0.5%.
  • Sun Sensitivity: AHAs cause the skin to be more vulnerable to UVA and B rays by the sun which can result in a higher chance of sunburn, sun damage, and premature aging. This can easily be avoided by applying a high percentage, board-spectrum sunscreen/SPF to the skin with a minimum of 30 recommended, however, a 50 is even better. As it is proven to block 97% of UVB rays. SPF should be applied daily to the skin regardless if you are using an AHA product or not (for ultimate skin health). On the other hand, BHAs are not as sensitive to skin exposure as AHAs.