Chemical Exfoliators: AHAs and BHAs

Chemical Exfoliators: AHAs and BHAs

From dermatologists to beauty bloggers, everyone is talking about chemical exfoliators, AHAs and BHAs. I’m going to explain what they are, what they do, how to use them in your skincare routine and which ones are best for which skin types.

What do Chemical Exfoliators Do?

AHAs and BHAs (standing for Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids) can be used to help fight signs of aging, improve skin complexion and uneven skin tone and improve acne. Often when they are talked about, people mention a ‘glow‘ from the exfoliation revealing brighter, fresher skin.

Although often linked together, AHAs and BHAs have a slightly different mechanisms and work in different ways. AHAs are water soluble and work on the outer most layer of your skin while BHAs  are oil soluble, which means they are able to penetrate much deeper in to your skin to unclog your pores

What are AHAs?

Glycolic Acid and Lactic acid are the most common forms of Alpha Hydroxy Acids, derived from fruit sugars and sour milk respectively (don’t worry, they don’t smell like either!).

AHAs work by breaking and loosening up the bonds formed between dead skin cells. This allows the skin’s rejuvenation process to be more effective; as this top layer of skin sheds, new healthy cells are able to emerge to give you a radiant, youthful look.

By removing these dead skin cells, your skin is also able to absorb other products like serums and moisturisers more effectively, so AHAs can make great toners. They are also great for helping to target pigmentation and brown spots and are a great ingredient in anti-ageing skincare.

Because AHAS have humectant properties, helping to lock in moisture, they are ideal for drier skin types and won’t dry out your skin.

You should also introduce AHAs slowly into your skin care routine, in order to work out the best concentration for your skin and avoid irritation. Start using them once or twice a week and then increase usage as required by your skin.

As you skin gets exfoliated, it is also really important that you use a great SPF with these products as your new skin is more prone to sun damage.

What are BHAs?

The main BHA used in skincare is Salicylic Acid and it has become one of the pioneer ingredients for oily and acne prone skin.

As it has an oil-based structure, it is able to penetrate much deeper into the skin’s surface. It works to help unclog pores and remove excess oils, which are one of the reason for development of pimples and acne.

Salicylic acid is a very common ingredient in most acne treatments and serums as it not only clears out your pores but is also offers anti-inflammatory properties to reduce swelling and redness associated with acne and break-outs.

BHAs, like AHAs, also helps to prevent early ageing as they play a role in protecting and stimulating production of Collagen and therefore preventing early signs of lines and wrinkles.

BHAs are generally less likely to cause sensitivity than AHAS but they can be drying on the skin. Also worth noting is that Salicyclic acid is based on the aspirin complex and therefore is not always suitable for people who have aspirin allergies.

What would work for me?

Glycolic Acid – this is ideal for use in those who are seeing the first signs of ageing, dullness and some development of dry skin. It is great for giving you a healthy radiant complexion and an even skin tone.

Lactic Acid – this is ideal to use on dry skin. Generally it is also better tolerated than Glycolic acid as it work more on the skin surface to remove the layer of dead skin cells.

Salicylic Acid – ideal to use in oily and acne prone skin as it unclogs pores and removes excess oils while helping with rejuvenation of skin cells. It can be slightly drying if over used so make sure to finish off your routine with a good hydrating moisturiser.



Resident Pharmacist

With a Masters in Pharmacy, I am here to explain the science behind the beauty. I offer expert advice on ingredients, the latest Skincare trends, lifestyle choices and any skin concerns you may have. I enjoy travelling and taking part in running events like Tough Mudder and the Colour Run. Currently loving: La Roche Posay Eau Thermal