People clued into the intricacies of skincare recognize the acronyms BHA and AHA, which stand for beta hydroxy acid and alpha hydroxy acid, respectively. These are distinct but similar classes of compounds that are often included in high-quality skincare products, including our own. Knowing the difference between them can help you optimize your routine and your products to achieve the best-looking skin you’re after.
What are Alpha Hydroxy Acids?
AHAs are typically plant-based derivatives that are mild acids (in case that wasn’t clear already) used to help exfoliate the surface of the skin and help the skin more easily shed dead skin cells, preventing excess buildup that can lead to breakouts, among other negative effects.
The most common AHAs include:
- Glycolic acid
- Citric acid
- Lactic acid
- Malic acid
You might recognize these compounds from other areas of health and wellness, but they play a crucial role in skin health as well. These and other alpha hydroxy acids are also referred to frequently as “skin peels,” which are great for helping improve skin texture, acne breakouts, and other skin concerns.
What are Beta Hydroxy Acids?
Beta hydroxy acids, on the other hand, are better suited for deeper issues when used in skincare products. This is because they affect the skin slightly deeper than AHAs, meaning they can address deeper issues, such as even rougher skin texture, tougher breakouts, and severe excess oil production. Specific BHAs include:
- Salicylic acid
- Tropic acid
- Trethocanic acid
One advantage that BHAs tend to have over AHAs is that, despite being able to penetrate deeper into the skin, they are more gentle in nature than AHAs. This provides a great alternative to the unlucky people who have both acne-prone and sensitive skin, for example.
Similarities of AHA and BHA
As you can guess from the highly similar names, these two classes of compounds share several benefits no matter what kind of skincare concern you might have. Perhaps the most well-known benefit of both these ingredients is the ability to reduce the appearance of sun damage. It's not just about dark pigmentation on lighter skin, but can include symptoms like roughness and laxity as well. Since acids are exfoliating, both BHAs and AHAs work to slough off dead or sun-damaged skin cells, even though they work in different ways.
In the same way, both types of acids can be found in chemical peels, which are helpful across the board for treating things like calluses, acne, and psoriasis. Finally, both types of compounds can be used in the same formula; including both salicylic acid and glycolic acid in the same product won’t inactivate or harm the other compound.
How AHA and BHA are Different
These classes of acids differ by the position of a single chemical component called a hydroxyl group. As small as this difference is, it makes a difference to most people’s skin. This difference allows BHAs to penetrate further into the skin (since they are oil-soluble) than AHAs (which are water-soluble). BHAs are more antibacterial than AHAs, but AHAs are stronger exfoliants, at least at the surface of skin. AHAs also are the only type of acid that is shown to have a positive influence on the skin's natural collagen production as well as the production of the compounds needed to make collagen (procollagen). This might be better for people looking for long-lasting rejuvenation.
However, due to their intensity, AHAs typically come with warnings or restrictions on how often to use. They increase the skin’s sensitivity to both physical irritation and sun damage.
Which Type of Product Should I Use?
The right type of active ingredient for your skin type depends mostly on your goals from any given product. For quick exfoliation and visible skin tightening benefits, an AHA-based formula is probably more beneficial. For clearing up breakouts, an BHA-based formula is probably more beneficial.
Our Best AHA Products
Epicuren Discovery is proud to offer our years of pharmaceutical skincare research in crafting the formulas we know to work best for various skin concerns. If you’re struggling with acne, rough skin, or other concerns, our products might be able to help.
Take our Pumpkin Apple Spice Peel, perfect for the fall season. Its blend of acids is a gentle exfoliator you can use even with sensitive skin thanks to the AHAs and soothing essential oils. With more antioxidants, try our Himalayan Superfruit Enzyme Polish that scrubs away dead skin while nourishing the skin with Vitamin C and other key compounds. Looking for more AHAs? Try our Glycolic Lotions and our Vegan Collagen Toner.
Finally, we offer several products with BHAs like our Clarify Cleanser, Clarify Exfoliating Astringent, and Clarify Blemish Eraser. Try our Clarify Starter Kit for the perfect trio of products to get you one-step closer to clearer looking skin.
Professional Skincare By Epicuren Discovery
As we mentioned, Epicuren Discovery sources the most proven ingredients in our high-quality skincare products, going vegan, cruelty-free, and environmentally friendly as often as possible while still creating great results for customers. You can learn more about our mission by browsing our site and discovering products that will change your skincare routine for the better. You can also take our Skin Quiz to find products matched to your skin type and goals.