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The Difference Between AHA and BHA Exfoliants


Difference between AHA BHA


AHA and BHA Exfoliants

Exfoliation is something that happens naturally in our skin without us really noticing, in dry skin cell turnover (another word for exfoliation) can be a little slower, medical conditions such as acne* may also slow down the process, cell turn over also slows down as we age. This can results in flaky, dry or dull skin, blocked or enlarged pores; bumps, fine lines and wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

Helping to speed up the skin’s natural turn over so that the dead skin cells are removed as quickly as they did when we were younger reveals the soft, hydrated skin hiding underneath. AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) chemical exfoliators can make such a difference to your skin’s appearance.

We're often asked which one is best, what you use depends on your skin and your skin concerns.

How AHAs and BHA are Similar

AHA exfoliants (alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic and lactic acids) and BHA exfoliants (beta hydroxy salicylic acid) both encourage cell turn over by helping to dissolve the glue like bonds that hold the dead skin to the surface. Once those bonds are softened, the dead skin cells loosen and can be simple washed away. You won't actually see your skin shedding, but you’ll definitely feel the difference and see an improvement in skin smoothness once your chemical exfoliator has been rinsed off.

To work effectively, AHA and BHA exfoliating chemical peels need be formulated with a low pH, between 3 and 4 is ideal. At Bravura London we ensure our products are formulated to be as effective as possible without being too harsh on the skin, this is why we incorporate soothing ingredients such as Vitamin B5, Aloe Vera and Lavender with our chemical peels and all of our peels have a PH of between 3-4.


Lactic acid peel


Additionally, AHA and BHA both:

  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Leave the skin looking fresher and firmer
  • Improve efficacy of serums and moisturisers
  • Improve the appearance of dull, uneven skin tone
  • Smooth rough, flaky or bumpy skin
  • Brighten dull, grey looking skin

Each exfoliator has unique properties that make them suited for different skin types and concerns.


Salicylic acid versus glycolic acid

AHA's exfoliators like glycolic acid are water soluble and work on the skin’s surface. They are generally preferred for neutral (normal) to dry skin due to their ability to enhance natural moisturising factors within skin (lactic acid is particularly good for dry skin) but still give great results on oily skin. AHAs have also been proven to be effective in reducing the appearance of the visible signs of sun damage, including discolouration, creepy skin, uneven skin tone and wrinkles.

A BHA exfoliant works on both the skin’s surface and deep within the pores. Salicylic acid is oil soluble, so is best suited to neutral, oily, combination skin which is prone to breakouts, blackheads, blemishes and enlarged pores. BHA also has natural skin-calming properties, so it may also be effective at reducing the appearance of surface redness. Salicylic acid may even help skin prone to milia or bumps under the skin.


Salicylic acid peel


Can you use AHA and BHA together?

Yes! Although salicylic acid works on the surface as well as within the pores, AHA’s do tend to be more effective for reducing the appearance of surface issues such as discolouration and signs of ageing. So if you have concerns such as breakouts and blocked pores as well as discolouration and blemishes, using a combinations of both AHA’s and BHA’s can give great results.

We have cleanser and toners that contain both AHA’s and BHA’s but our chemical peels are single ingredient formulas as we have found at a higher strength, the acids give effective results when alternated rather than combined and are also less irritating to the skin.

Do I need AHA if I use BHA?

The reason for using both an AHA and BHA exfoliator in your routine depends on if your skin needs more thorough exfoliation. If you have advanced signs of sun damage, deep wrinkles, blemishes that don’t fade or dull, flaky skin, using an AHA such as glycolic acid alongside a BHA will give the best results.

Should I use BHA or AHA first?

Should you apply an AHA and BHA chemical peel at the same time? No, you’d alternate between each product every other evening.

Or you can use both on the same evening in different areas. For example, if you have an oily tzone but have dry cheeks, you can apply the salicylic acid (BHA) to your tzone and the lactic acid (AHA) to the cheeks.

Alternating between AHA and BHA products to exfoliate your face might seem too complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really simple and definitely worth the results! Alternating between AHA’s and BHA’s can be a great way for all skin types to experience the distinct benefits of each. In fact, many people find that alternating AHA and BHA exfoliants is the perfect solution to address their unique concerns.


Glycolic acid peel


Are AHA’s and BHA’s for the face only?

No, any products containing AHA’s or BHA’s can also be used on the body, they can be used for skin complaints such as keratosis pilaris to help reduce the “chicken skin” appearance, on the chest and back to reduce the appearance of breakouts, on the legs to help exfoliate and reduce the chance of ingrown hairs and on elbows, knee’s and knuckles where the skin can become a little thicker and appear darker. Just avoid sensitive areas such as the genitals.


Here are some tips on how to alternate AHA and BHA products and how often to exfoliate:

  • Cleansers and toners containing AHA or BHA are fine for the day, stronger products such as chemical peels are best used in the evening.
  • Alternate between chemical peels every other day, if you have sensitive skin, use less often.
  • If you’re using more than one AHA use the salicylic in-between the AHA, for example Monday Glycolic Acid, Wednesday Salicylic Acid, Friday Lactic Acid, Sunday Salicylic Acid, Tuesday Glycolic acid and so on.
  • Avoid acid products or high strength acids before or after using your AHA or BHA.
  • Always use a gentle cleanser before a chemical peel, no acid cleansers, sonic brushes, face flannels or scrubs.
  • Always use an SPF during the day.

There should be no set rules when it comes to skincare, just guidelines, it’s all about experimenting to find out what works best for you and then adjusting based on the changing needs of your skin. For example in the dryer winter months you may need to use the salicylic acid less often or swap your glycolic acid AHA to Lactic acid which is a gentler AHA. The most important thing with skincare is consistency, keeping up with a good routine and using your exfoliators regularly (or as needed). The amazing thing about AHA’s and BHA’s is that they instantly leave the skin feeling softer and looking healthier, regular use only improves results, giving you motivation to keep using these exciting ingredients.


* Acne is a medical condition, while salicylic acid BHA is an amazing, well known spot treatment, acne often requires prescribed medical treatment. A good, daily skincare routine is important for skin health and skincare products will support your acne treatments but will not treat acne.


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