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One thing that we swear by for healthy-looking, glowing skin is exfoliation. It is one of the skincare procedures we must religiously follow to scrap off the dead skin cells that get accumulated through the course of day and night. Having said that, gone are the days where physical exfoliation with gritty scrubs used to be the only way out. With open arms, we have welcomed a new generation of exfoliants that deliver the same results but with skin-friendly chemicals or commonly known as AHAs & BHAs.

A very common family of exfoliating acids, AHAs & BHAs are trusted by dermatologists and aestheticians to treat a ton of skin concerns, and thereby you can find them in a lot of products on the skincare aisle. But you might wonder which particular exfoliant is good for your skin type?! Stay onboarded as we exfoliate your way to make the right choice when you’re choosing between AHA & BHA next.

AHA or Alpha-Hydroxy-Acid

Alpha-Hydroxy-Acids are acids derived from sugarcane, milk, or fruits. Its superpower is to slough down dead cells as they impact calcium ions by breaking down the adhesion between skin cells.

Types of AHA

A number of effective AHAs are used to formulate skin care treatments. Some of them are as follows:

  • Glycolic Acid: Derived from sugarcane, it is the most common and the strongest form of AHA. It can be the most irritating form of AHA as well, thus it is advisable to use the right concentrations & do a patch test before use.
  • Lactic Acid: Derived from milk, it is the second most common and a gentler alternative to Glycolic Acid. Since it is not as strong as the older one, it can be suitable for sensitive skin.
  • Mandelic Acid: Derived from bitter almonds, it is a mild form of AHA that is often combined with other acids for visible results.
  • Malic Acid: Derived from apples, it is again a mild AHA that needs to be combined with other stronger AHAs to show its effect.
  • Tartaric Acid: Derived from grapes, it is a weak form of AHA that is used to stabilize the pH of other acids rather than as an exfoliant.
  • Citric Acid: Derived from citrus fruits, it is again a weak form of AHA, used to regulate pH but other than that, it is also used as a preservative.
  • Phytic Acid: Derived from rice, seeds, and grains, this is again a weak form of AHA, commonly used as an antioxidant.

BHA or Beta-Hydroxy-Acid

Beta-Hydroxy-Acids are acids derived from willow bark, sweet birch bark, and wintergreen leaves. Although BHAs are exfoliants, similar to AHAs, that slough off dead skin cells by loosening the protein bonds present in between the skin cells. What sets BHAs apart from AHAs are their additional anti-inflammatory and photoprotective properties & their ability to work deep inside the pores. It exfoliates the pore lining as well which allows the free flow of sebum, putting a check on dead skin build-up that leads to stretched out and clogged pores.

Types of BHA

Here's a list of the most commonly found BHA in skincare formulations:

  • Salicylic Acid: It is the strongest and the most common form of BHA. Given its large molecule size and anti-inflammatory property, it is not as irritating as the strongest AHA.
  • Betaine Salicylate: A gentler alternative yet equally effective as Salicylic Acid, it is a BHA that combines Salicylic Acid & Betaine (hydrating acid derived from sugar beets).
  • Willow Bark Extract: Derived from willow bark, it is a natural form of BHA but is much weaker. When applied as a sole product, it won't give dramatic results but when combined with other acids, it delivers glowing results.

Similarities between AHA & BHA

It is a common myth that AHAs are ideal for exfoliating, anti-aging, and skin-brightening whereas BHAs work only on acne-prone skin. Let us bust the bubble here and bring to you all the amazing common benefits that both AHA & BHA deliver:

  • Exfoliates & refines texture
  • Brightens skin
  • Reduces hyperpigmentations & evens out skin tone
  • Firms skin & slows down early signs of aging
  • Hydrates by attracting & holding moisture
  • Prevents acne by decongesting clogged pores

Differences between AHA & BHA

Even when AHA & BHA have a lot in common, they have some very important differences as well:

  • AHAs being water-soluble only exfoliates the skin's surface. BHAs are oil-soluble, hence they can penetrate through sebum, deeper into the skin.
  • BHAs reduce sebum secretion but AHAs do not have any such effect on sebum.
  • Although both AHA & BHA are effective on mild acne, BHAs being oil-soluble, it deep cleanses the pores that help clear our and prevent acne long-term.
  • BHAs are gentler than AHAs and are less irritating.