If you want healthy-looking, radiant skin, exfoliating should be in your skincare repertoire. But there are now a few different ways to get rid of dead skin cells and give that glow! If you have sensitive skin, sticking with a gentle creamy base like Radiance Face Scrubis best.

However there are two other forms of exfoliation, called acids that can make sifting through the plethora of options feel more like a daunting task than a fun trip to the skin care aisle. There are AHAs and BHAs, and while neither acid is better than the other, they target different needs and skin types. Plus, many exfoliants combine both ingredients, allowing you to tackle multiple skin concerns at once (more on that later).

True, our skin goes through a natural exfoliating process daily, but with a lack of sun protection and age, that process of shedding tends to slow down—or end altogether. So, a little help from some exfoliating products is often needed for that dewy complexion. Knowing exactly what these exfoliating acids are, how they differ, and exactly what their glow-worthy benefits are can help you attain the skin of your dreams! 

Although BAO doesn’t offer products with these ingredients (just yet-coming soon!) I have created this easy-to-follow guide to figure out the differences between AHA and BHA and how to choose the right option for your skin.

What Are AHAs?

AHA stands for alpha-hydoxy acid. AHAs are derived from sugar cane or other plant sources, which is why they are often referred to as fruit acids. Among AHAs is glycolic acid, which is the smallest of the AHAs. It’s derived from sugar cane, and is the most widely used type in skincare products. AHAs are generally recommended for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, thanks to their ability to enhance natural moisturising factors within the skin.

The Benefits of AHAs

AHAs have many skin benefits. Firstly, they target all areas of the skin. AHAs benefit both the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and the deep layer (the dermis). AHAs have an exfoliative effect, increasing the shedding of dead skin cells retained at the surface, therefore revealing fresh skin cells.

AHAs also help stimulate collagen production, making it ideal for those wanting to reduce the appearance of fine lines. AHAs do this both by increasing collagen synthesis by fibroblasts (the collagen-producing cells in the skin), and by decreasing degradation of the existing dermal matrix.

What Are BHAs?

BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid, a very popular ingredient for getting rid of acne and it’s called salicylic acid. Yep, that's a BHA. BHAs are organic carboxylic acids that work on skin’s surface and deep inside the pore. They are oil-soluble, so usually better for normal to oily skin that are prone to bumps, clogs, blemishes, and enlarged pores.

The Benefits of BHAs

If you have sensitive skin, including those prone to redness or rosacea, the BHA will be your preferred choice. Salicylic acid (SA) is fat-soluble, so it’s good on oily skin and gives it an enhanced ability to penetrate pores. These features explain why SA is used in a lot of OTC acne products.

How to Choose AHA vs. BHA

When choosing between AHA and BHA, it comes down to the way in which you want the products to work along with your skin concerns. If your issues are deeper, like cystic acne or just acne in general, you'll want to use either BHA or an AHA/BHA combination, as it will likely be able to better penetrate the issue.

For an issue like dry skin, however, AHA is your best bet. An AHA/BHA combo might work depending on your skin type, but when your goal is to exfoliate just the top layer of your skin, you should be using an AHA. However be mindful that AHAs and BHAs are strong humectants that have a peeling effect and can cause the skin to dry out if overused. For this reason, they should be used when you want your skin to glow a few times a week as opposed to every day.

How to Combine AHAs and BHAs

Many products make use of both AHAs and BHAs, though they can cause skin irritation if doses are too high. Bottom line, if your skin requires a little more TLC (think stubborn pores, deep-set wrinkles, or rough bumps), you could do well with a combo.

If in doubt, or you are still unsure always contact the brand or visit a dermatologist for specialist advice.