You may have been seeing AHA and BHA products everywhere in skin care lately, as many K-beauty brands and Sephora fave Drunk Elephant have incorporated these superpowered, complexion-improving ingredients in their products. If you are stumped on what the heck AHA and BHA ingredients actually do for your skin, we caught up with Drunk Elephant’s Director of Education Nathan Rivas to help set the record straight.
Although AHA and BHA ingredients usually go hand-in-hand, Rivas says that AHA acids or alpha hydroxy acids are usually lactic, citric, and glycolic acids, which are derived from vegan and non-vegan sources. These sorts of acids function as leave-on exfoliants, which work to gradually dissolve the bonds holding dead skin cells together. Additionally, he says, these acids are very helpful in improving skin texture and tone, and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
If you are interested in adding AHA into your beauty routine, Rivas recommends using AHA products at 8% and 15%. However, he warns that glycolic acid (the most common AHA) at 10% is already strong enough, so you’ll want to be cautious with how much you actually apply to your face. Rivas also notes that unlike BHA ingredients, alpha hydroxy acids aren’t as effective at unclogging your pores.
In contrast, BHA or beta hydroxy acid goes a little further than AHA.
Rivas says these acids gradually exfoliate the skin, while also working to penetrate and exfoliate deep into your pores, too. Because these acids tend to go a little deeper than AHAs, BHA acids help your products (think serums and creams) absorb better.
Rivas suggests that salicylic acid is one the most common forms of beta hydroxy acids.
Derived from chemical salicin, (an ingredient often found in aspirin) this acid has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-redness benefits. Salicin, he says, is another form of BHA, but it does not have the same exfoliation properties as salicylic acid when applied topically.To use beta hydroxy acids properly, Rivas cautions not to go overboard with salicylic acid.
Rivas also warns of the misconceptions surrounding both alpha and hydroxy acids, as he says anyone can use these products if they are free of irritants and are formulated at the right pH level. He recommends using hydroxy acids formulated at a pH lower than 4.0, as higher concentrations can be extremely irritating to the skin. However, when using both AHA and BHA products, you’ll want to make sure to avoid certain irritants. Too much alcohol and essential oils can cause the skin to have a harder time tolerating both hydroxy acids.
“A pH of 3.5 to 4.0 is an ideal range for exfoliation to occur without provoking sensitivity,” he adds.
But at the end of the day, Rivas says both hydroxy acids are more than beneficial. When used on a daily basis, they help manage breakouts, fix uneven tone, and promote new cell turnover.
“Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) are two sides of the same coin,” he suggests. “Both gradually exfoliate by dissolving dead skin cells on your surface layers—so both are great for improving tone and texture—BHA just goes a little further to do the same from inside the pore.”
Now that you know how to AHA and BHA like a pro, here are 15 products that will reveal brighter and firmer-feeling skin.
1Pacifica Kale Luxe Oil-Free Cream
This oil-free cream is filled with AHA acids, which help improve skin texture, tone, and appearance over time.
2Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
This intensive serum uses 12 percent AHA/BHA serum to keep your complexion smooth and ultra-radiant.
3COSRx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
This exfoliating liquid uses AHA/BHA acids to keep your skin acne-free.
4Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
If you love mask treatments, this AHA/BHA facial works to perfect uneven skin tone and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.
5MISSHA Real Solution Tencel Sheet Mask
For just $3, you can totally enjoy this sheet mask which uses AHA and BHA acids to remove dead skin cells effectively.
6Derma E Overnight Peel
Natural beauty lovers will love this overnight peel which uses fruit acids and five percent AHAs to diminish age spots and blemishes like a pro.
7Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant
Those struggling with redness will love this lotion exfoliant, which uses two percent BHA gel to reveal smoother and healthier-looking skin.
8Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
This exfoliating AHA/BHA cleanser also uses jojoba beads to gently polish away any dry and dead skin cells.
9Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
This set comes with 60 AHA/BHA-infused application pads which help brighten and firm the skin.
10philosophy Renewed Hope In A Jar
Refine and refresh your complexion with this heavy-duty moisturizer which uses a special triple blend of alpha hydroxy acids.
11Mario Badescu Revitalin Moisturizer
This rejuvenating AHA-based formula helps soften and brighten dull skin.
12Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion with Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15
A multi-vitamin and alpha hydroxy acid blend keeps your face smooth and shielded from harmful sun damage.
13The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
This exfoliating mask will help keep breakouts under control.
14ACWELL Bubble Free pH Balancing Cleanser
Licorice root extract and salicylic acid work together to reveal a luminous and acne free-complexion.