aha and bha treatment

All you need to know about AHA and BHA

October 16, 2020

You hear about it all the time as wonder ingredients for acne-prone skin, but what are AHA and BHA and how are they different? Read on to find out!

We’ve been receiving many questions about the differences between AHA and BHA. Today we’ll be having a closer look at each type of hydroxy acid—what are they exactly and why are they considered wonder ingredients in acne treatments? Which hydroxy acid should you be using? We’ll answer those questions and more! 

What are hydroxy acids?

Hydroxy acids, also known as fruit acids, are acids that are used to address a variety of skin issues, including but not limited to wrinkles, acne and skin discoloration. They are also known to be effective at restoring your skin’s hydration. The use of hydroxy acids in skin care products dates back over 40 years. 

There are two main types of hydroxy acids that you’ll hear about often: alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA). It’s important to note that there’s really no competition between these two at all—one hydroxy acid isn’t better than the other. Their difference lies in their use. 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs are water-soluble acids that work best as exfoliating agents. The most commonly used AHAs in cosmetics and skin care products are glycolic acid, which can be found in SMACNE products, lactic acid and citric acid. 

The FDA considers AHA safe for cosmetic use if: 

  • The final concentration is 10% or less, 
  • The final pH of the product is 3.5 or greater, and 
  • The formulation protects your skin from increased sun sensitivity, or the packaging indicates you will need additional protection from the sun. 

Because AHAs are water-soluble acids, they work best on the surface of the skin. This makes AHAs ideal for removing dead skin cells and loosening proteins and sebum on the surface of your skin, helping improve the appearance of blemishes, scars, hyperpigmentation and large pores. This also helps prepare the skin to absorb other topical treatments and skin care products.

Glycolic acid, of the most commonly used AHAs, loosens and removes dead skin cells, and stimulates the production of collagen, which helps renew your skin. This is why after using an AHA-based product, your skin feels soft and supple. 

While AHA is said to be compatible with all skin types, a word of caution for people with extremely dry or sensitive skin: AHA is known to make your skin more sensitive to the sun. When using AHA-based products, make sure to moisturize after and apply broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 before heading out to protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays. 

Beta Hydroxy Acids

Beta hydroxy acids or BHAs are acids that can go deeper into your skin to loosen and remove dead skin cells and loosen excess sebum and other contaminants deep within your pores. Unlike AHA, which only works on the surface of the skin, BHA can penetrate your skin’s natural protective oil layer because it is oil-soluble, which allows it to clean deeper into the skin.  The most commonly used BHA in cosmetics and skin care products is salicylic acid, which can be found in SMACNE products. 

Because BHA gets deeper into the skin, it’s also generally believed to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. BHA is also primarily used to treat acne problems and sun damage, and can also help calm sensitive skin in lower concentrations. Its ability to get deep into your hair follicles, dry out excess sebum production and unclog your pores makes it perfect for people with combination to oily skin types. 

Salicylic acid, the most commonly used BHA, works three ways: it is an anti-inflammatory agent that reduces the swelling of your pimples and the redness of your skin; it is an antibacterial agent that exfoliates your skin, promotes skin regeneration and controls the production of sebum; and it is a keratolytic agent that loosens dead skin cells and hydrates your skin. 

Like AHA, BHA may make your skin more prone to sun damage, so you should use sunscreen after applying a BHA-based product. You should also do a skin test on any BHA product before use to make sure it doesn’t sting or irritate your skin.

So which one is more effective for acne?

As mentioned earlier, AHA and BHA work at different levels—which means they work on different types of acne. Because AHA works on the surface of your skin, it’s more effective for inflammatory acne, blackheads and whiteheads that aren’t lodged too deep into your pores. BHA, on the other hand, is more effective for cystic acne and more stubborn breakouts, as well as deeper blackheads and whiteheads. Used together, they can provide a two-pronged attack against acne—and that’s what makes the SMACNE acne kit more effective. 

Give SMACNE a try—get your kit here and benefit from our proven combination of natural ingredients and the best of science!

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