Skincare Battlefield: AHAs vs BHAs

Okay imagine this: you’re walking in the store with your shopping cart full of groceries and you decide to stop by a new isle in the store: the skincare isle. Now, you’re no stranger to the skincare products, so you imagine that the skincare isle is like every other isle in the store. But upon entering the seemingly normal space, you realize that it’s a trap! It’s too late to leave now that you have seen all the bright colors of packaging and the promise of “dermatologist recommended” on product labels. Not to mention, you’re being brainwashed into skipping over skincare ingredient names because they “sound too fancy”. You’re in too deep.

But then you see a true war unfolding. You see products that have similar purposes and read AHA and BHA. What’s the difference? How do you choose? Who will be the winner of this war?

Table Of Contents:

What are AHAs? How do they work?

AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) are water soluable, natural chemical exfoliants for the surface skin. They are derived from natural sources such as fruits.

There are seven common types of AHA

  1. Glycolic Acid
  2. Citric Acid– NOT to be confused with Vitamin C
  3. Lactic Acid
  4. Mandelic Acid
  5. Malic Acid
  6. Ascorbic Acid– aka Vitamin C
  7. Tartaric Acid

All of the above are Keratolytic Agents. This means they destroy the cohesive bonds of Keratinocytes to loosen the dead skin cells on your skin.

Kera- what??

Keratinocytes are your skin cells that have a protein called Keratin. Keratin is also found in your hair and nails.

The loosening of Keratinocytes helps a process called Desquamation, which is the process of your skin flaking off dead skin cells to reveal new, fresh ones. When Desquamation slows, the dead skin cells on top of your skin start to build up. This is when pores clog, unwanted acne appears, and dull skin shows.

So, as you can tell, Desquamation is very important for our skin. :))

What are the effects of AHAs?

As you continue to age, your body’s ability at basically everything reduces. Your metabolism, digestion, and even desquamation will slow down.

It is what it is.

BUT, lucky for our future old selves, we have AHA! The postive effects include:

  • Reduction of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Hydration of skin (since it is water soluable)
  • Increase of Dermal thickness
  • Fading of scars and pigmentation
  • Prevention of acne
  • Increase of collagen and blood flow
  • Brightening of skin


AHA really seems like a miracle!

Unfortunately, there are some side effects/risks with AHAs:

  • Skin starts to develop a collagen dependency
  • Reactions (though unlikely) may occur
  • Chemical burns
  • If pH of product is too low, skin’s pH is thrown off balance
  • PHOTOSENSITIVITY- You NEED to use sunscreen after you use AHA!

Though there are more risks, it basically just depends on you and your skin type.

So how should you avoid these negative effects?

If you are new to AHAs and BHAs or have sensitive skin, avoid negative effects like chemical burns by simply starting with a low concentration and applying it every other day. You can work up to higher concentrations and/or daily use.

If you’re confused about how much is too much, the concentration of up to 20%-30% and a pH of less than 2 is suitable for daily use. Up to 70% and lower than a pH of 2 shouldn’t be used unless prescribed by a professional or dermatologist.

Glycolic Acid is the smallest and simplest of the AHAs, therefore it works deepest into the skin. If you have sensitive skin and are new to AHAs, I would recommend starting with an AHA larger that Glycolic Acid since it won’t be able to go as deep into your skin, such as Lactic Acid. If you do decide to go with Glycolic Acid, though, remember that the benefits go deeper than the others, but so do the risks.

Summary – AHA

Without all the big words, AHAs help with anti-aging, hydrating skin, and improving the process of flaking off dead skin cells. To avoid the risks, just start with a low concentration and use it every other day. If you have sensitive skin, be cautious about using Glycolic Acid.


What is BHA? How does it work?

There is only one BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid), Salicylic Acid, which is why they are used interchangeably in this blog.

Salicylic Acid is THE holy grail for all acne sufferers. It works similiarly to AHAs by breaking bonds of Keratinocytes and normalizes desquamation, which is the process of dead skin cells shedding off your skin and new skin cells underneath show. Along with exfoliating, Salycylic Acid works its way into hair follicles to dry out excess oils.

How amazing is Salycylic Acid??

What are the effects of BHA?

Unlike AHA, BHA is oil-soluable, meaning that it can easily dissolve oil-based impurities on your skin. This helps to:

  • Remove excess oils from hair follicles and pores
  • Prevent acne
  • Help against inflammation and redness

Negative effects are similar to AHA:

  • Chemical burns/ reactions
  • Allergic reactions
  • Photosensitivity- USE SUNSCREEN!

Those who have salicylate allergies and are allergic to Aspirin shouldn’t use BHA.

Just like AHA, if you are new to BHA, you should start with a low concentration and work your way up. You can also start every other day before using it daily.

And again, use sunscreen if you’re going out after using AHA/BHA because these cause skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My favorite gif of all time hahah

Summary – BHA

BHA exfoliates the skin the same way AHAs do. BHA only means one acid: Salicylic Acid. Salicylic Acid is AMAZING if you have oily and acne prone skin.

If you’re just starting with BHA, start with low concentration every other day and work up to higher ones daily. Those who are allergic to Aspirin should refrain from BHA.

Which should you choose?

Now comes the part to weigh both sides.

AHAs are usually good for all skin types except sometimes sensitive skin, while BHA is most effective for oily and acne prone skin, but works for all skin types as well.

Both are excellent skincare choices, so the decision doesn’t really depend on which is better, but rather on what skin care needs you have.

If you’re struggling with oily skin and acne (I feel your pain), BHA will help you control the oiliness and prevent breakouts and redness.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for an anti-aging product, those with AHAs will help with collagen production, skin turgor, and it will also even out your skin tone.

If you can’t decide, there are many products that include both AHA as well as BHA such as the SOME BY MI – AHA, BHA, PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner and The Ordinary- AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

By the way, The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% uses the highest concentrations of both AHA and BHA, so be careful if you have sensitive skin or are new to using the chemical exfoliants!

I hope whichever you choose works well for you! Go get your glowy skin!

That’s about it for this post! Hope you enjoyed.

Please like this post ❤


If you have any questions please comment below!

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Blog about Skin and Self Care

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