AHA and BHA – What Exactly are They?

AHA and BHA are acids – a bit daunting right? But products that contain AHA or BHA can really turn your skin around when used properly. AHA and BHA are also known as chemical peels, which is basically their purpose – to exfoliate your skin. Many products that advertise as “peels” will contain some sort of acid in it.

In Your Routine:

Acids are a must in your skin regimen. Why? Because they exfoliate your skin! Exfoliating is one of the key steps for great skincare and maintaining glowing, fresh-looking skin while keeping dullness away. Acids are the only types of chemicals that I actually love using. Unlike a harsh facial scrub, they won’t scratch the surface of your skin but will work mildly on the surface when used moderately.

Now, if whenever you hear “exfoliation” and the first thing that comes to your mind is a facial scrub, then let’s please change your life for good. Facial scrubs, especially the ones containing beads or rough materials, should just disappear from the cosmetics counter because they can be more damaging than helpful. Please be cautious with a physical exfoliator. Never use an overly abrasive scrub on your face as this may result in compromising your skin’s natural defense barrier.

What is it?


AHA stands for alpha hydroxy-acid. AHAs are water soluble and are better for dry skin. Lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid, glycolic acid, tartaric acid fall under this group.

Lactic acid helps your skin’s outer layer resurface and is also a humectant that draws moisture to your skin. Lactic Acid naturally occurs in milk!

Citric acid reverses signs of photo damage. However, they are sometimes only used at the preservative level just so a brand can claim having it in its product on the label. Look for specific mentions of citric in the description on the packaging. If they’re not there, it’s probably only there as a preservative.

Glycolic acid, a popular AHA, contains the smallest molecules among AHAs. It can penetrate deeply and stimulate fibroblast cells to aid in collagen production. It exfoliates the skin by increasing cell turnover, evens skin tone, and builds the support structure in the dermal matrix, reducing wrinkles. It is the only acid that makes you sun sensitive. Applying a sunscreen is advised after using a product with glycolic acid.

Tartaric and aandelic acid are derived from fruits. They are more gentle and contain antioxidants.


BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid. There is only one BHA, which is salicylic acid. Since it is oil soluble, it can penetrate oily pores and help to exfoliate the pore itself. This is why salicylic acid can be easily found in products with acne solution claims being particularly helpful when used on oily and acnaic skins. Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark, so look out for willow bark extract on the product ingredient list.

Recommended Products:

When purchasing an AHA or BHA product, there are numerous choices. The first BHA product I ever used was Clinique’s Turnaround Serum because it was the only product I could find on the market at the time! Now AHA or BHA products are available in the form of toners, lotions, creams, peeling pads, facial masks, cleansers, you name it.

Soak Insider Tip:

Whatever you are considering, remember to keep in mind your skin’s sensitivity and check the strength of the acid in the product.


Image via Paula’s Choice

Paula’s Choice RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment 10% AHA 

Thankfully Paula has been recommending AHA and BHA products in her line for quite a long time. This much loved product has many reviews online about how it helped acne, reduced large pores, and improved uneven skin texture. It’s the strongest AHA product in her range and slightly more expensive at 43,000 KRW ($36.00 USD) for 60ml but still worth the try. There are also weaker strengths of AHA and BHA products in her line, and her website is always informative to read.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 12.49.02 AM
Image via Sidmool

Sidmool Dr. Troub Skin Returning AHA Mask

This product is a sheet mask, which can be used as a weekly treatment at a very affordable price (2,600 KRW or around $2.40 USD per sheet). It contains high strength 10% AHA with glycolic acid. It is recommended to leave it on for under 15 minutes. However, you can reduce the time if you feel any sensitivity. Sidmool also has a BHA mask.

Image via COSRX

COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad

COSRX’s best selling product, these BHA peel pads are quick and easy to use on a daily basis. At 17,000 KRW ($19.00 USD) for 70 pads, this product is quite affordable. These come in handy when I want to fix my makeup at the office as I can semi-cleanse my face of any excess oil or dirt before making any retouches. The affordable price and cute packaging is a plus! This contains salix alba (willow) bark water 85.92% and betaine salicylate 1%.

Image via The Ordinary

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

I love the Deciem company (they house the brand The Ordinary alongside other brands). Their packaging design is aesthetically pleasing and has a clear, concise message on what their products deliver. This product is a whopping 30% Glycolic acid, so it’s not for the novice acid user.  Recommended for use in the evening, leave it on for 10 minutes max and then wash your face. This is not for sensitive or compromised skin and remember to always use a sunscreen afterwards. The price is unbelievable at 7,500 KRW ($7.20 USD) for 30ml – there is no reason not to love this brand (or at least give it a try).

Featured Image via The Ordinary

Leave us a comment!