What’s the difference between AHAs and BHAs?

Wed, 23 November 2016 11:03AM


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We hear the terms AHA and BHA all the time in skincare these days. Regularly, skincare experts tell us to incorporate one or the other into our daily routine – but have you ever actually worked out what they are? Or were you like me, and just blindly accepted they were “good”? Honestly, for a long time I just thought they were fancy vitamins. Spoiler alert – they’re not. But they ARE good, once you work out which type is right for your skin and how to incorporate it. I chatted to skincare expert Melanie Grant, director of Melanie Grant Skin Health, to get to the bottom of a) what these fancy terms even mean, and b) whether they’re actually right for my skin – and yours.

What are they, exactly?

They’re exfoliators – which you may have already known. But unlike those grainy scrub exfoliators, AHAs and BHAs are liquid – they’re essentially mild acids that eat away at stuff that can dull skin, like dead skin cells, and clog pores, like dirt and pollution.


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So what’s the difference between them?

“AHA’s are water soluble hydroxy acids, and are great for treating dull, dry, lacklustre skin,” explains Melanie. “They work as a chemical exfoliant, helping to break down the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together. This allows for fresh, new skin to come through – resulting in a glowy, bright and polished complexion.”

BHAs, on the other hand, are all about unclogging pores. “These are oil soluble hydroxy acids, so they work wonders for oily, acne-prone skin,” explains Melanie. “They work by deep cleaning the pores, liquefying and removing oil plugs, dirt, pollution and dead skin cells – thus helping to reduce blackheads, blemishes and acne.”

Are they just called AHAs and BHAs on packaging?

Not necessarily. In some cases, packaging will just say the product includes an AHA or a BHA. But there are also other names underneath those banners. “Some popular AHAs are glycolic, lactic, citric and malic acid,” says Melanie. “And for BHAs, there’s salicylic, benzoic and butyric acid.”


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So what’s right for me?

Well as you’ve probably guessed, BHA’s are fab for people dealing with blackheads, congested skin, and breakouts because they’re getting right down and dissolving all that pore clogging stuff. “If you have oily, acne prone skin, try incorporating a BHA serum into your night-time regime,” suggests Melanie. “You can also try an exfoliating water to treat and prevent blackheads and congestion – these are great to use on the t-zone.” AHA’s are a bit more of an all-rounder. “I often recommend a lactic acid cleanser to my clients for evening use,” says Melanie. “It keeps the skin bright and polished.” There’s also the option of peel pads. “These can be used weekly,” says Melanie – although she does stress that when it comes to AHAs, you need to be careful not to overuse a skin can become dry and irritated if you do. “It’s also super important to be diligent with sunscreen whilst using AHAs, as they make your skin more sensitive to the sun.”

I’m a bit freaked out by all this acid business…

Got sensitive skin, or just a bit hesitant to start wiping acids on your face? Melanie recommends trying lactic acid first. “Lactic acid is my preferred AHA. It’s the gentler type, and it promotes hydration as well as exfoliation,” she says.

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  • Posted by: Mary-1339644919 Enthusiast // Wed, 23 November 2016 04:30pm

    Great useful article


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