Our skin naturally exfoliates dead cells every day – but over time, this shedding process slows. This results in dull, flaky skin, enlarged pores, wrinkles, uneven skin tone and more.

But fear not! You can help your skin on the way by gently exfoliating the skin to reveal the beautiful, glowing skin underneath.

Let’s talk about two popular chemical exfoliants: BHA and AHA’s… what they are and what’s the difference between them.

What’s similar about them?

AHA exfoliants (alpha hydroxy acids, i.e. glycolic and lactic acids) and BHA exfoliants (beta hydroxy/salicylic acid) both work to ‘unglue’ the bonds holding dead, dull skin cell to the surface of the skin. What you need to do is break these down so the skin naturally sheds these old cells.

Both AHA and BHA exfoliants are formulated with a pH range between 3 and 4.

“AHA’s and BHAs are commonly used in the same sentence, and indeed products, but work in very different ways. AHAs work at the superficial layers of the dermis, and are commonly Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid. They promote shedding at surface level and provide an antibacterial effect.

BHA’s work at the deeper layers of the skin, with Salicylic Acid the most common. Salicylic acid is oil soluble, which will get deep into your pores to break up oils, exfoliate the skin and other deep follicular action,” says Kelly Saynor. Kelly Saynor, a Specialist Aesthetics Nurse.

They both work to…

  • Remove dead skin cells
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Decrease the appearance of large pores and surface wrinkles
  • Evens out skin tone and improves overall skin texture
  • Can help to unclog pores to prevent acne
  • They both impact collagen and procollagen production to show an improvement in the appearance of photoaged skin.

Some products that use a combination of BHA’s and AHA’s include:

Jane Scrivner Skinfoliate


Strivectin Daily Reveal Exfoliating Pads

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

paulas choice

So, let’s get on to the differences and which one could work better for your skin type. Neither is better – but they work slightly differently so can suit different needs.

AHA Exfoliants

AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid.

AHA’s are water soluble and made from sugary fruits. They work on the skin’s surface to hydrate and smooth and are a slightly more aggressive type of exfoliant. They are proven to be effective in reducing visible signs of sun damage, including wrinkles and improving skin tone. They help regulate cell turnover for healthy, dewy skin. Some common AHA’s include Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid and Citric Acid.

“AHAs exert their effect on the skin-surface and help regulate the skin-moisture balance.  They are particularly suitable for sun-damaged or dry skin,” says the experts at skin care and supplements brand RINGANA.

They’re ideal for dry, sun damaged skin as they’re so moisturising.

Some products that utilise AHA’s include:

The Nue Co The Pill

the nue co

Alpha H Liquid Gold with 5% Glycolic Acid

BHA Exfoliants

BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid.

BHA exfoliants on the other hand, are oil soluble. They penetrate deeper into the pores to clean out dirt, oil and dead skin cells. They also work on the skin’s surface to calm and are often used for acne and sun damage.  Some common exfoliants include Salicylic Acid.

“BHAs can penetrate deeper into the skin and are particularly suitable for blemished and oily skin, as they counteract clogged and enlarged pores as well as blackheads and blemishes.

In addition, BHAs are milder and well tolerated, they have a soothing effect on irritated skin. Therefore, people with sensitive skin prone to redness and irritation can also benefit from the exfoliating effect of BHA products,” says the experts at skin care and supplements brand RINGANA.

They’re ideal for breakout-prone skin, as well as normal to oily skin due to the fact its oils soluble.

Some products that utilise BHA’s include

Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser with Salicylic Acid

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Pore Tight Toner

glow recipe

No matter what exfoliant you use, make sure you don’t overdo it or you could damage your moisture barrier… and of course, don’t forget to use your SPF as it will make your skin more sensitive to the sun.