article, skin care

Skin Care: what are BHAs and AHAs? 

If you are new or slightly familiar with the Korean skin care routine like I was a few months ago, the multitude of products can be so overwhelming! It’s confusing what each product does to your skin, and arranging the products in the proper order feels like a never-ending exam.

Among the skin care items included in the routine, the most alien to me were AHA and BHA exfoliators. They sounded like some harsh chemical that I didn’t need to spend my money on. I still don’t find AHA/BHA exfoliators  a necessary addition to your skin care unless you suffer from acne or if your pimples are a true bother for you.

What do BHA and AHA exfoliators do?
To explain it simply, these are mild acids that exfoliate dead skin cells and cleanse your skin from excess sebum.

They are called actives and are pH-dependent. This means that your skin has to be a specific pH level for it to work more effectively. Your normal skin pH should work (which is 4.2-5.6).

I know the term “acids” seems like something you’d want to avoid putting on your face. Acid just means it has a pH level lower than 7 (which is neutral). In fact the skin on our faces are naturally acidic! AHAs and BHAs are mild acids, if I may emphasize it once again. Mild acids.

Well that sounds so nice, isn’t it? Well don’t facial washes or foam cleansers do that already? Isn’t it a bit redundant to exfoliate with these? And besides, how are BHAs different from AHAs anyway?

Let’s take a deeper look into BHAs.
BHA means Beta Hydroxy Acid. I’m not a chemist, so I won’t explain what that means… But I am a beauty nerd who likes to do her research, so I can tell you what it does!

It is an oil-loving acid so it removes oily gunk from the skin. This is used to treat whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, acne, and other oil-related skin problems. It penetrates into the skin (deeper than AHAs) and gets through all the excess sebum, giving you smooth skin and lessens redness caused by acne.

Well, how about AHAs?? ?
AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid. They are derived from natural sources like sugar cane and grapes. They are water-loving and water-soluble acids which means they break down the cellular “glue” of the gunk on your face. AHAs exfoliate the surface of the skin so dry, flaking, dead skin cells from your face are removed. It also improves moisture. Overall this is great for dry skin, aging skin, or skin that is damaged by the sun.

BHAs exfoliate excess sebum, whiteheads, blackheads, acne… you get it.
AHAs exfoliate dead skin cells from your skin surface.

Important notes when using chemical exfoliators
Yes, you can use AHAs and BHAs togetherNo, you don’t have to. It depends on what your skin needs. You can use up to twice a day, but it is not recommended. 

When introducing your skin to chemical exfoliators, start by applying once a week to avoid skin irritation. Then gradually do more often until your skin gets used to daily application.

You don’t have to use it daily. Again, it depends on what your skin needs. I use a BHA exfoliating pad once or twice a week only when I have pimples. If you have l acne-prone skin, use this to manage and prevent breakouts.

Use after cleansing your face. Either after facial wash or toner. Works more effectively on normal skin pH which is acidic, so either use a low pH facial wash or wait around 15-20 minutes after washing your face to allow skin to return to normal pH.
You may also use a pH adjusting toner; make sure your toner has that function. Some toners are only hydrating, some are just cleansing. If it doesn’t say it’s a pH adjusting one, most likely it’s not. I hear Mizon AHA BHA Daily Clean Toner is a really good one, but I haven’t looked into it nor do I own one.

If you want to use them together, use BHA first and wait around 20 minutes before applying AHA. Waiting is necessary to let your skin return to its normal pH before applying another acidic product.

Wear sunscreen. Exfoliating makes your skin photosensitive (but not the pink skin, painful to touch kind) so you don’t want the sun to counter the nice effects of your exfolation. Especially if you use AHA!

*featured image from


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