I thought exfoliating skin was easy.
Pick a scrub. Use it. Done.
Problem was, that often left my skin red and irritated. 🙁
Then, an angel suggested I try chemical exfoliants. But, there was a problem with those, too. No, it’s not because they’re chemicals. Some chemicals are good (water, anyone?).
Nope, chemical exfoliants talked a language I didn’t understand. AHAs? BHA? WTH? How isa girl supposed to make sense of all that?
Like, can’t someone just start talking plain English and tell you what you have to use, please?
Fine, I’ll do it. Here goes:
What the heck are AHAs?
AHAs is short for alpha hydroxy acids. I know, that’s not much help. Let me start again.
AHAs are acids derived from sugar, milk, nuts and fruits. The most common types used in cosmetics are:
- Citric acid
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Mandelic acid
What do AHAs do?
AHAs are powerful multitaskers. They:
- Exfoliate skin by dissolving the glue that holds skin cells together
- Boost collagen production (glycolic acid)
- Hydrate skin
- Reduce the appearance of wrinkles and dark spots
Which AHAs is better?
Well, it depends on your needs. But the best one is definitely glycolic acid. Unlike the other acids, it goes the extra mile. It also boosts collagen production and makes skin thicker and firmer.
If you have sensitive skin, stick to lactic acid. It’s the gentlest member of the AHAs family and will exfoliate your skin without irritating it.
Are There Any Side Effects?
AHAs, especially glycolic acid, can irritate skin and even make it peel at first. That’s why it’s best to start with a small dose (around 5%) a couple of times a week and build up dose and frequency from there slowly.
Also, if you exfoliate in the morning, apply sunscreen afterwards. Like all forms of exfoliation, AHAs increase skin’s sensitivity to UV rays.
Who Should Use Them?
Because they’re so hydrating and can boost collagen too, AHAs are better for:
- Dry Skin
- Sun-damaged skin (glycolic acid)
- Sensitive skin (lactic acid only)
- Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment With 5% AHA ($33.00): available at Dermstore, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80): available at Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty
- The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% (£5.50): available at Adore Beauty, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related post: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Should You Use? Dry or sun-damaged skin? Exfoliate with AHAs. Oily skin? BHA works best for you.
What The Heck Is BHA?
Yes, there’s only one beta hydroxy acid (BHA) used widely in cosmetics. I’m talking about salicylic acid. It’s derived from willow tree bark.
What Does BHA Do?
- It exfoliates skin by dissolving the glue that holds skin cells together
- Penetrates inside the pores, unclogging them from within
- Has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe redness and irritations
- Reduces the appearance of fine lines and dark spots
Are There Any Side Effects?
Salicylic acid is effective at lower concentrations than AHAs (1% or 2% work a treat). So, it’s less likely to cause irritations. But, it CAN still irritate your skin if you use it too often. Don’t go overboard!
And, of course, it increases skin’s sensitivity to UV rays during the day, so don’t skip your sunscreen!
Who Should Use It?
Both AHAs and BHA exfoliate skin. The main difference is that AHAs are water-soluble while BHA is oil-soluble. So, only BHA can penetrate and unclog pores.
That makes them better for:
- Oily skin
- Acne-prone skin
- Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion ($27.00): available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00): available at Dermstore, Look Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution (£4.25): available at Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty
The Bottom Line
Both AHAs and BHA exfoliate skin. But AHAs are hydrating and collagen-boosting, which makes them ideal for dry and sun-damaged skin. BHA, instead, unclogs the pores, making it a must for oily skin.
Do you prefer AHAs or BHA exfoliants? Share your thoughts in the comments below.