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What Are The Skincare Ingredients AHA and BHA For Anyway?

Step up your beauty routine with these skincare acids!

If healthy-looking and radiant skin is what you’re aiming for, exfoliating should be in your skincare regimen. But, as any skincare devotee would say, getting rid of dead skin cells doesn’t just refer to those typical scrub products made of gritty formulas we’ve grown accustomed to. In fact, there are two forms of exfoliating acids that can make sifting through the plethora of options feel like more a daunting task than a fun trip to the skincare aisle or scrolling through our go-to beauty websites.


There are AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta hydroxy acids), and while neither acid is better than the other, they target different needs and skin types. Plus, many exfoliants combine both ingredients, allowing you to tackle multiple skin concerns at once!


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It's true that our skin goes through a natural exfoliating process daily, but with lack of sun protection and continuous aging, the natural process tends to slow down—or end altogether. To know exactly what these exfoliating acids are, how they differ, and exactly what their glow-worthy benefits are, we talked to Dr. Gaile Robredo-Vitas, a board-certified dermatologist at DermHQ and BeautiqueMD!


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Metro.Style: What are AHA/BHA—and what are the benefits of using them? 

Dr. Gaile Robredo-Vitas: AHAs and BHAs are chemical exfoliants that is usually found in many products such as cleansers, toners, moisturizers and pads. They both work by removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, revealing smoother, younger-looking skin. Both acids also help even out skin tone, reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin firmness over time. 


MS: What’s the difference between AHAs and BHAs? 

GRV: AHAs are water-soluble acids that come from substance like sugar cane, milk or almonds, or grapes. They work on the surface of the skin by breaking the bond that holds skin cells together causing old skin cells to slough off revealing new skin cells from underneath. AHAs are also able to stimulate production of collagen and are good for individuals with dry skin. They are indicated for targeting uneven pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. 


Different types of AHAs include: Glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, tartaric and citric. BHAs, on the other hand, are oil-loving and can penetrate deeper into the skin, sloughing off dead skin cells and dissolving keratin plugs and sebum. BHAs also have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. They are idea for those with oily and acne-prone skin. BHAs that you will see in skin care products include: Salicylic acid, betaine salicylate and salix abla or willow bark extract. 


Other than those mentioned above, AHAs and BHAs also differ in other aspects: 

• BHAs tend to be less irritating than AHAs most probably because of BHAs molecular size and anti-inflammatory properties.

• AHAs increase may make your skin more sensitive and vulnerable to sun damage and premature aging. (SPF is then a must!)

• AHAs are said to encourage cells to self-destruct through programmed cell death, while BHAs simply loosen the bonds between skin cells.


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MS: What are the best ways to incorporate AHA/BHA to our skincare routine?

GRV: When introducing a new product or ingredient into your skincare routine, it is best to do so gradually. Also, it is very important to identify what skin issues you want or need to address. When adding an AHA or BHA (or both), consider doing the following:

1. Start with lower concentrations of AHAs (5-10%) and/or BHAs (1-2%)

2. When using a combination of both AHA-BHA, choose one with a mild blend (lower concentration) of both acids.

3. Apply your AHA and BHA at different times of day – eg. BHA in the morning and your AHA in the evening. Or, you could apply them every other night.

4. Apply your acids in different areas of the face – eg. BHA on the oilier parts of the face like in your T-zone, and your AHA everywhere else.

5. If you’re a bit brave or you feel that you can tolerate using both at the same time, you may layer one acid on top of the other starting with the one with a thinner texture or consistency—but remember that this increases your risk of irritation, dryness or undesirable effects.


SHOP AHAs and BHAs below:

Skin Medica AHA/BHA cream

  • Skin Medica AHA/BHA cream

Pixi Glow Mud Cleanser

  • Pixi Glow Mud Cleanser

VMV Hypoallergenics Re-Everything Toner

  • VMV Hypoallergenics Re-Everything Toner


MS: What should we do if our skin becomes irritated after using skincare acid? 

GRV: There are many reasons for getting irritated after using an AHA or a BHA. It can be a true allergy to the ingredient, excessive amount of the product of too high a concentration used too soon, using them on already impaired or irritated skin, wrong application or using these ingredients with other products that contributed to the reaction. 


If you experience irritation, itchiness, prolonged redness or a burning sensation, discontinue using the product and apply a barrier repair cream or a healing cream. If your skin worsens or continues to show signs of irritation, consult your dermatologist form proper assessment and advice. 


MS: Can we pair skincare acids with other active ingredients? 

GRV: Yes, of course. I often use my acids to exfoliate my skin and to prepare it for better absorption of the next products and ingredients I plan to put on my skin. 


In my opinion, there is no product that you cannot absolutely use with AHA or BHA, however layering products that can potentially irritate the skin is not advisable the first time you try them. They may be combined later on after your skin has strengthened and developed some form of tolerance and when you have gained more experience in using these acids on your skin. 


My advice though is to always use sunscreen especially when using AHAs. I also advise that you use a moisturizer each time you exfoliate using a higher concentration AHA or BHA. 


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