I have already talked about my love for chemical exfoliants. They produce more precise results and are gentler on the skin than scrubs. The types used in cosmetics are Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). While they can both dissolve the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, allowing them to slough off, they also have different properties that make them more suitable for different skin types. So, which one should you choose?
AHAs work best for normal, dry, and sun damaged skin types
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are acids derived from sugar, milk, nuts, and fruits. The more common types used in cosmetics are Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid, and Citric Acid. They exfoliate skin, reduce hyperpigmentation, stimulate collagen production, decrease small wrinkles, and act as humectants 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.
The best AHAs for exfoliation are Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid. That’s because their molecules are quite small and so can easily penetrate skin. But if you want to use them for anti-aging purposes, opt for Glycolic. Unlike lactic acid, it can increases the thickness and firmness of the skin too. Keep in mind that high concentrations of AHAs can irritate skin. That’s because they work by removing the top layer of dead skin cells, which protect the raw skin underneath. While removing some of them will be beneficial for the skin, going overboard will result in red, flaky, and painful skin.
So, exfoliate only two or three times a week, and stay from those 20% or higher glycolic peels. Don’t believe those who say they can be safely performed at home. If not administered by a professional, they can do more harm than good. AHAs also increase sun sensitivity so never use them during the day without applying sunscreen afterwards.
BHA works best for oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin types
The only type of Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) used in skincare products is Salicylic Acid, which is derived from the willow tree bark. Salicylic acid too dissolves the substance that hold cells together, and can reduce hyperpigmentation, surface roughness, and fine lines.
What’s the difference with AHAs then? Well, while AHAs are soluble in water, Salicylic Acid is soluble in oil. This means it is able to penetrate inside the pores, which are filled with sebum and dead cells, and unclog them. That’s why it is a better option for people with oily or acne-prone skin. It is also a great alternative for those with sensitive skin. Because it has anti-inflammatory properties and is effective at lower concentrations (1% or 2% already provide great results) than AHAs, it is less likely to irritate it.
This doesn’t mean that it won’t irritate your skin if you overdo it, though, so use it carefully. And always with sunscreen. Salicylic Acid too can increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Do you use chemical exfoliants? Do you prefer AHAs or BHA?