What is the difference between AHA and BHA?


We’ve heard about AHAs and BHAs and how important they are for the youthful look of your skin, but few know what the difference is between them.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid, or AHA, is an acid derived from fruits that has skin rejuvenating properties. The most known AHAs are Glycolic, Lactic, and Malic. You’ll see these AHAs in a lot of skin care formulations for different types of problems, as they promote the turnover of new skin cells.

They work by melting down the intracellular “glue” allowing dead-skin cells to be removed from the surface of the skin.

By exfoliating the skin, AHA reduces hyperpigmentation, stimulates collagen production, decreases small wrinkles, and acts as a humectant to hydrate skin. As a result, skin looks smoother, brighter, younger, and even-toned. Because of their anti-aging and hydrating properties, they are more suitable for dry and sun damaged skin.

Beta Hydroxy Acid, or BHA-The only type of Beta Hydroxy Acid, or BHA, used in skincare products is Salicylic Acid, which is derived from the willow bark tree.

Salicylic acid also dissolves the substance that holds cells together, and can reduce hyperpigmentation, surface roughness, and fine lines.

So, what’s the difference with AHAs then?

BHAs work exactly the same as AHAs, by breaking down and exfoliating dead-skin cells, but the main difference between them is that BHAs are oil soluble whereas AHAs are water-soluble.

Who is AHA better for?

AHAs are water-soluble making them more suitable for thickened and sun-damaged skin where breakouts don’t occur frequently. They cannot penetrate the skin as deep as BHA and their effect is felt on the surface of the skin.

  • AHAs work better for sun-damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate the surface layers of the skin and help skin retain more water thus improving the moisture content.
  • AHAs rejuvenate aging skin.

Who is BHA better for?

As I mentioned earlier, BHA is oil soluble so it has the ability to penetrate pores filled with sebum (oil) and exfoliate them. This makes BHA particularly useful for oily, acne-prone skin.

  • BHA has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial action;
  • BHA is preferred for those who have sensitive skin type or sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea;
  • Salicylic acid is a good ingredient for local spot treatments and a good alternative to Benzoyl Peroxide because it is less harsh on skin.