AHA vs BHA Exfoliant: What Is The Difference, Which One Is Better, and How To Use Both?

8 min
by Ben Gentzler
February 06, 2022

Within the past couple of years, you have probably seen AHA and BHA mentioned more and more. You can count on seeing these acronyms whether you’re walking through the store, reading a magazine or watching commercials on TV.

AHA and BHA are short for Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids. Don’t let the word “acid” scare you off – when used correctly, they can provide a gentle way to chemically exfoliate your skin.

What are AHAs and BHAs?

AHAs are water-soluble and made from sugary fruits, while BHAs are oil-soluble acids. While they work differently, they can help you combat a variety of skin problems.

So when it comes to an AHA vs. BHA exfoliant, when one should I choose? Read more to learn the differences and how you can start incorporating them into your skincare regimen.

The Difference Between AHAs & BHAs

Since AHA exfoliants are water-soluble, they mainly work on top of the skin’s surface. When you use AHAs, they’re gently removing the dead skin cells and buildup that accumulated on the skin’s surface. Once you remove the buildup, your skin looks more vibrant and fresher because you are revealing the younger skin cells underneath.

BHAs penetrate deeper into your skin since they’re oil soluble. BHAs work to soften and dissolve keratin, which is a protein that’s part of your skin structure. While this method is different, it also works to remove dead skin cells and buildup just like AHAs.

What Are the Different Types of AHA Exfoliant?

The most common types of AHAs that companies include in skin care products these days are glycolic and lactic acid. Glycolic acid is a strong option that increases cell turnover quickly and is commonly found in peels, while lactic acid is slightly gentler.

Additional types of AHAs include the following:

  • Mandelic acid – Derived from almonds and works to increase skin cell turnover
  • Malic acid – Known for giving some fruits their tart taste; malic acid increases cell turnover while balancing your skin’s pH levels
  • Tartaric acid – Can help stimulate metabolism while offering astringent healing properties
  • Citric acid – Strong effects best for anti-aging but may be too harsh for those with sensitive skin

What Are the Different Types of BHA Exfoliant?

BHAs are slightly better known than AHAs. If you’ve ever used an over-the-counter acne treatment, you’ve probably used BHAs. Salicylic acid is the most common BHA, known for its effectiveness in unclogging pores and clearing pimples.

Other forms of BHA include:

  • Betaine salicylate – Works similar to salicylic acid, though it’s slightly more gentle and may be more suitable for sensitive skin
  • Salix alba or willow bark extract – Contains salicylic acid along with anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties

AHAs & BHAs Together

The answer is yes; using both acids properly together can help reveal brighter, clearer skin.

While BHA goes deep into your pores to remove dirt and debris, AHA makes sure your skin’s surface is clear. Using the two in tandem makes it easier to flush out dead skin and oil.

By using AHA and BHA together, you will also reap the benefits from other skin ingredients. With fresh skin, it is easier to deliver active ingredients deep into your pores. AHAs and BHAs are known as powerhouse skincare ingredients since they help maximize the effects of all the other products in your routine.

Benefits of AHA and BHA Exfoliants

AHAs and BHAs can work together to target a variety of skin concerns. For dry skin, AHAs work great to remove patchy, dead skin and make it easier for a moisturizer to work more effectively.

You can also help treat all types of acne with AHAs and BHAs. Since AHAs work on the surface of your skin, they’re great for treating surface pimples like whiteheads and blackheads. BHAs work underneath the surface to unclog pores and heal cystic acne more quickly.

Because the two acids focus on rejuvenating and revealing younger skin, they can also help smooth wrinkles and remove the appearance of fine lines. No matter your skin type, you can expect clearer, softer and firmer skin.

Learn more about the best acid type for your skin here.

Tips in Combining AHAs & BHAs

If you’re just starting to use AHAs and BHAs, make sure to start slow. As with any skincare product, it’s best to introduce it slowly into your regimen to make sure you won’t have a reaction. We also recommend patch-testing the product first on your neck to see if it feels good on the skin.

Whether you’re using chemical or physical exfoliants, it’s key to avoid over-exfoliation. If you use AHAs and BHAs every day, you could strip your skin and make it more susceptible to dryness and damage.

While using chemical exfoliants, your skin will also be more sensitive. The fresh skin left behind is more susceptible to sun damage. Use a facial sunscreen daily, and don’t forget to apply it to your neck and chest along with your face.

Dr. Dennis Gross AHA & BHA Product Favorites

Dr. Dennis Gross formulates AHA & BHA products for maximum effectiveness while staying gentle for even the most sensitive skin. Shop some of our favorite products for refined, clear skin:

  • Extra Strength Daily Peel – Two-step formula includes AHAs, BHAs and Retinol to lift away dead skin cells and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum – Blend of AHA and BHA acids work to minimize the appearance of pores and smooth your skin while preventing breakouts, blemishes, and blackheads.
  • Alpha Beta Exfoliating Moisturizer – Seven AHAs and BHAs refine skin while oil-free Squalane plumps fresh skin without clogging pores.
  • Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel - A cleansing gel that exfoliates and tones with the power of hydroxy acids for a deep cleanse. Dr. Dennis Gross cleansing gel helps minimize the look of pores while effectively removing makeup and dirt.

Bottom Line

When it comes to AHA vs. BHA, a solid skincare regimen should include both. The two acids are surprisingly gentle while working quickly to exfoliate and reveal softer healthier skin.

Combining both AHA and BHA has been shown to provide long-lasting results for a variety of skin concerns. What are you waiting for? Find the AHA and BHA products that work for you and reveal your best skin yet. Explore Dr. Dennis Gross AHA & BHA skincare line today!

Learn more about Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare today or contact us with any questions you may have.

Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben is an Education professional with 16 years of experience in prestige/professional skincare and beauty. Brand, retail, and professional/spa education & training.

MORE FROM Ben Gentzler

Layering 101: How to Layer Skincare Products

Read More

Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben is an Education professional with 16 years of experience in prestige/professional skincare and beauty. Brand, retail, and professional/spa education & training.

MORE FROM Ben Gentzler

Layering 101: How to Layer Skincare Products

Read More