What the F**k are AHAs and BHAs?


Something I really hate about the beauty industry is their tendency to over complicate things in the name of marketing gimmicks. Make the consumer feel dumb so they’ll buy the first thing they see. Before esthetics school, I had no idea what the difference between anything was, and I was often too intimidated by the “explanatory” articles I’d read to actually implement anything. My lack of a good skincare routine was just as much due to being overwhelmed as it was to lack of education and, if I’m being totally honest, laziness. I strive to simplify things, because I don’t think skincare should be this big ambiguous “for professionals only” thing. I’m fully in the “POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” camp. Or in my case, “GOOD SKIN TO THE PEOPLE!”

In my quest to simplify the skincare world so even I can understand it, I’m going to be breaking down the differences between AHAs and BHAs. Chances are, you’ve heard of these terms, but don’t really know what they are. Me neither! But put simply, they are forms of exfoliation. And of course, we know that exfoliation is necessary for our skin’s health and cell turnover. Exfoliation, when done properly, helps your hydrating products perform better, evens out your skin tone and texture, and generally makes everything look brighter and better. So, using that logic, you should really make it a skincare goal to understand which forms of exfoliation are best for you, and maybe make that portion of your skincare routine your bigger investment.

Okay so wtf are they?

AHAs and BHAs are acids used in chemical exfoliators. Here’s a table explaining the difference between the two:


So as you can see, the concept really is not as difficult as the beauty/skincare industry would have you believe. These are just two different categories of acids that exfoliate your skin in a chemical form. Simples, right?! Let’s simplify it even further by breaking down what each form is good for:


AHAs and BHAs are just one ingredient in a shitload of ingredients. But this one ingredient can change your skin dramatically, for the better. So, when shopping for a new chemical exfoliator, be sure sure to find one that contains a source of either AHA or BHA, depending on which addresses your concerns. It could be listed as simply as AHA/BHA, alpha hydroxy acid/beta hydroxy acid, or the specific acid being used-glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid.

The “catch”

There are just a few things to consider before going out and buying the first thing you see containing one of these acids. AHAs can cause greater sun sensitivity, so be sure you’re using your sunscreen with it (every damn day!). AHAs and BHAs are of little to no use if you rinse them off, so don’t fall for marketing gimmicks and purchase a cleanser or mechanical exfoliator (scrub) containing them; keep it chemical in this case. Also, both are known to irritate the skin in higher concentrations, so you might need to do some adjusting until you’ve found the right product and “dosage”.

What other skincare terms mystify you? Let me know in the comments below, and I just might try to simplify it in a future post!



Hipster Ariel: http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/fan-fiction-library/images/7/7e/1378582144_what-the-fuck-is-that.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20141121230126

Table image: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/CXX_-4l_ucKCgkOfZN_P1Bvhtygc5vFG_lYMqWaLkVMjJTxT3Mj5MYmY4PYW11tTvt_4pLyEtzw64AtlI_OvQQGly81tAd7566TZAh–AFhGlHTq7_Fz_ic1OhVC4ew=w506-h284

The Little Book of Skincare by Charlotte Cho

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here by Paula Begoun

Milady Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary (4th edition) by M. Varina Michalun and Joseph C. Dinardo

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