AHA - What is BHA? What Does Exfoliation Mean? What Does AHA Mean? What Does BHA Mean? What Do AHAs and BHAs Do?


AHAs and BHAs—short for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and Beta Hydroxy Acids. These acid groups are the two most common exfoliating acid families you'll see in skin care products, and they often come together.

So how do they actually work? Which type is best for your skin? And can you get better results if you use both?
If you are asking these questions, this article is for you. You will learn the difference between AHAs and BHAs, how to choose the right one for your skin, and whether you should use both.


First of all, let's start with what exfoliation means.

The process of removing dead and useless skin cells from the skin is called EXFOLIATION.

Exfoliation has been the secret to glowing and healthy looking skin for centuries. Although the pouch in our tradition is the harshest form of this, it is a method used by our grandmothers. Exfoliation can be done both by scrubbing with a pouch or particulate grains, and with acids that work chemically on the skin with the developing technology.


AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid, which is a type of acid derived from sugarcane, milk, or fruit. AHAs exfoliate dead skin cells on the surface of your skin, revealing fresh new skin cells underneath.

How exactly do they do this?
By breaking down the biological "glue" between the skin cells of AHAs, they accelerate their rupture from the skin. This break occurs naturally when you wipe your face and touch it. Since AHAs accelerate this process, new and younger cells at the bottom rise faster.

Types of AHAs:

These are the different types of AHAs you'll see in skincare products:

  • Glycolic acid: The most common AHA derived from sugarcane. It is also the strongest due to its small molecular size, but this also makes it the most irritating. With an increase in the rate, skin irritations may occur. They work very well at optimum concentration.
  • Lactic acid: The second most common AHA derived from milk. It is a gentler alternative to glycolic acid and may be suitable for sensitive skin.
  • Mandelic acid: A mild AHA derived from bitter almonds. Because it is weaker than lactic acid, it is often combined with other acids.
  • Malic acid: A mild AHA derived from apples. Like mandelic acid, it won't act enough on its own, so you'll typically see it in combination with stronger AHAs.
  • Tartaric acid: A weak AHA derived from grapes. Rather than acting as an exfoliant, it is more often used to stabilize the pH levels of other acids.
  • Citric acid: A weak AHA from citrus fruits. It is similar to tartaric acid in that it regulates pH. It is also used as a preservative.
  • Phytic acid: A weak AHA from rice, seeds and grains. It is mostly used as an antioxidant.

What Are BHAs and How Do They Work?

BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid, a type of acid derived from willow bark, wintergreen leaves, or sweet birch bark. Like AHAs, BHAs exfoliate your skin surface, but they also work deep inside your pores. Since AHA is water soluble, it exfoliates the skin surface. Because BHA is soluble in oil, they can enter the lower layers of the skin, namely your pores. This positions them as the first choice in pore care.

BHAs have various mechanisms of action inside your pores. By exfoliating the pore lining so that oil can flow more freely, they prevent the buildup of dead skin and sebum that lead to clogged and stretched pores. They also have anti-inflammatory and photoprotective properties.

BHA Types

The main BHAs you'll see in skin care products are:

  • Salicylic acid: The most common BHA and also the strongest. However, it is not as irritating as glycolic acid (the strongest AHA) due to its large molecular size and anti-inflammatory nature.
  • Betaine salicylate: A BHA composed of salicylic acid and betaine (a moisturizing amino acid derived from sugar beets). It is a milder alternative to salicylic acid.
  • Salix alba or willow bark extract : A natural BHA derived from willow bark. The salicin content converts to salicylic acid, but it is much weaker so it won't give you stunning results.

Usage of AHAs and BHAs by Skin Conditions:

  • Exfoliating and Smoothing: AHAs and BHAs are effective in removing surface dead skin cells and creating a soft, smooth texture.
  • Giving Shine: Both AHAs and BHAs have been found to reduce the thickness of the stratum corneum, the top layer of skin made up of dead skin cells. This will make your skin glow more and look brighter.
  • Reducing Pigmentation: AHAs and BHAs help fade dark spots and even out skin tone, as both promote the shedding of old, discolored dead skin cells.
  • Tightening and Wrinkle Reduction: At higher concentrations, AHAs and BHAs have been shown to increase collagen density in the dermis. This means they can both help reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin firmness over time.
  • Moisturizer: AHAs and BHAs are both hydrating – they help your skin attract and retain more moisture.
  • Clearing and Preventing Acne: AHAs and BHAs help prevent acne breakouts and heal existing acne by exfoliating dead skin that can lead to clogged pores.


Now that you're familiar with the similarities and differences between AHAs and BHAs, what does this mean for your skincare routine?

  • If you have acne: BHAs should be the priority option. Salicylic acid has been proven to reduce the number and severity of acne lesions, making it superior to benzoyl peroxide.
  • If you have oily skin: Only BHAs reduce your oil production.
  • If you have dry or sensitive skin: Lactic acid is the best AHA for these concerns, as it is one of the gentlest and most moisturizing acids.
  • If you have pigmentation: Both AHAs and BHAs will help. Use with niacinamide to target discoloration even more.
  • If you have wrinkles: Glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids have all been shown to produce changes in skin thickness and the depth and number of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • If you have "normal" skin: If you are blessed with well-groomed skin and are not a big concern, I suggest you try a mild lactic acid as all you need from your acid.
  • If you want to combine acids: If your skin tolerates it, you can combine AHAs and BHAs in one routine, or use a product that contains both.


The most confusing question for users about acids is whether skin spots will occur before and after acid use.
Use acid or not, you now know that you must protect your skin from the sun. Exposing your face to the sun without protection causes premature aging of the skin.
When you add at least 30 factor sunscreen cream to your daily skin care routine and you are not exposed to the sun directly, you can use acids in summer and winter with peace of mind.

I hope this article has helped you expand your knowledge about acids.

With the hope that you can get along with your skin and make it and yourself happy...

The secret of achieving a beautiful skin that shines with health is the right information about skin and skin care, with the right products, and stable skin care.

If you have more questions about acids, let us know on Instagram. (@evolvy.skincare) or by e-mail ( info@evolvy.co ) and send your questions.

On behalf of the Evolvy team

Pharmacist Evrim Damar Guest

1 comment

  • Çok bilgilendirici bir makale olmuş. Teşekkürler


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