All About Acids! AHA & BHA survival guide.

Sometimes we can get lost in the world of beauty terminology, everyone want’s great skin without the need for a science degree, but it’s important to understand some key ingredients and their use in skincare so you can make sure you’re getting the best products for your skin type and concerns. There’s no one size fits all as everyones skin is unique but you spend the most time looking at your skin, you have a good idea of issues you may want to tackle so use products to target those concerns.

Frankly there are endless acids on the market. Last week we looked at Retinols and today we will be looking at the difference between two of the most popular acids – AHA’s and BHAs. Alpha Hydroxy Acid and Beta Hydroxy Acid. Don’t be scared off by the term ‘acid’ here as these ingredients can be fantastic for some major skin concerns.

If we get down to the bare bones of it AHA’s tend to work at a surface level whereas BHA’s penetrate deeper into the pores to tackle congestion at a deeper level. AHAs are water-soluble acids made from sugary fruits, by peeling away the surface skin level it generates skin cell renewal which reveals evenly textured skin. My Beauty Bay Skincare review featured their correcting serum which at its core features AHAs for this exact reason.

Unlike AHAs, BHAs can get deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum and are oil-soluable.

So what are the shared benefits?

  • decrease inflammation, a key marker of acne, rosacea, and other skin concerns
  • decrease the appearance of large pores and surface wrinkles
  • even out your skin tone
  • improve overall skin texture
  • remove dead skin cells
  • unclog pores to prevent acne


  • mild hyperpigmentation like age spots, melasma, and scarring
  • enlarged pores (please don’t make the mistake I have by trying to reduce pores, this is a beauty myth, however your pores look bigger when they are full of dirt so simply by cleansing thoroughly and unclogging deep dirt your pores will not have that deep look anymore)
  • fine lines and surface wrinkles
  • uneven skin tone


  • acne
  • sun damage
  • calming sensitive skin (in low concentrations!)
  • Boosting skin cell turnover drying out excess oils and unclogging pores
An example of AHA & BHA in the same product.

Both AHA’s and BHA’s are exfoliators so it’s important to use a good moisturiser in combination with it. Some occasional use products will contain both of these but they can cause irritation if regularly used together. For example, I use The Ordinarys AHA & BHA peeling mask but only weekly as it can be abrasive on skin, I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone with sensitive skin! Personally I will alternate between them, using AHA’s which are for top level concerns in the morning and using BHA’s in the evening where the product can sink into my skin unencumbered by makeup and daily battles so they can be more effective. You are the best judge of this, there is no harm in using the product in different parts of the skin where there are different concerns or even just seeing what your skin needs that day and using it accordingly.

Just to complicate things AHAs and BHAs are an umbrella term for a lot of other acids which may become confusing when reading ingredients lists. Most products try to make it simple for you on the bottle now but as a little cheatsheet Salicylic acid is the only BHA whereas Glycolic, Lactic, Citric, Malic and more come under the AHA label

That’s all there is to it!

If you’re struggling to remember anything just look for your skincare concern here:

AHA’s are for surface level issues, build up of product, dry skin relief or anti-aging benefits
BHA’s are for deep level unclogging, tackling acne, oily skin and overall speeding up skincell renewal

So there we have it! The difference between two of the most popular skincare ingredients so you know what to look out for in your next purchase! There is no right or wrong or one size fits all so it’s about finding what works for you with your skincare concerns! Let me know some of your skincare faves in the comments below!

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