AHA and BHA: Exfoliating acids for a healthy glowing skin

It is quite probable that you are feeling a little shocked or even taken aback to read that acids can help you look gorgeous. But what may surprise you, even more, is that your skin is inherently slightly acidic. With a pH of around 4.7-5.37, this acidity is imperative to protect your skin from pathogens such as bacteria, viruses or even contaminants which can destroy your beauty.

But when you are stressed or suffering from some other health ailment or even with age, this acidic barrier diminishes. It not only allows these pathogens to enter your body and wreak havoc, but it also makes your skin dull, dry and even lose its natural lustre. For people who are facing these issues, the cosmetic industry has discovered a solution, and that is the use of exfoliating acids, such as AHA and BHA.


What is AHA and BHA?

AHA are alpha-hydroxy acids which are soluble in water, whereas BHA are beta-hydroxy acids which are oil soluble. The solubility is their key difference which makes their use in cosmetic formulations very specific. It means that you’ll find AHA predominantly in products which have higher water content such as lotions. On the other hand, BHA will be actively present in products such as oil-based creams. This oil solubility of BHA also makes it more prone to getting absorbed on your skin, which is rich in oily sebum.


Purpose of AHA and BHA

  • Generally, your skin naturally sheds your dead skin, but due to underlying conditions or as you age, this process slows down and your skin is not able to get rid of this as rapid as it used to. This is where these acids come in. 
  • The primary role that these acids play is in breaking the bonds that let dead skin adhere to the surface of your new skin. 
  • These exfoliate your skin and release dirt and grime along with your dead skin cells.
  • These also help re-balance the pH of your skin.
  • Routine usage of these will help you get rid of crow’s feet as well as visible signs of ageing
  • It assists in making your skin more supple and youthful.
  • One of the additional benefits of the usage of AHA or BHA-based products is that it will even your skin layer and simultaneously even out your skin tone.


While both acids work wonderfully on the skin, each one has specific purposes as well.


Benefits of AHA

  • Being water-soluble, these work only on the surface on the skin and does not get absorbed. 
  • It is perfect for all normal skin type and people who are mild dry skin
  • The reason for this is because AHA allows these skin types to retain moisture and stay hydrated. 
  • It can effectively reduce mild hyperpigmentation and visible signs of ageing.
  • It is also able to tighten your skin and thus reduce enlarged pores.
  • People who have sensitive skin should be careful while using products that contain AHA.


How to use AHA?

  • When you buy a cosmetic product, you might see AHA in the ingredient list as it is. That’s because AHA is only an umbrella term for many others. These include some prevalent acids such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and many others.
  • Glycolic acid, which is naturally derived from sugarcane, is excellent is clearing acne and preventing it. Usage a glycolic acid-based peel can assist in removing dead skin cells as well.
  • Lactic acid is a milk acid and is gaining rapid popularity, particularly in Korean skincare market as it is known not just to cleanse the skin but also lighten it while making it more youthful. Lactic acid-containing toners are great for treating your skin before going to bed. 
  • Citric acid is extremely popular in sunscreen products because they help in preventing your skin from getting tanned. This is also an AHA which helps in re-balancing the skin pH while protecting your skin from harmful sunrays.  
  • Something vital to note is that when you use products that have AHA, you must use sunscreen in the morning before stepping out. This protects your skin from further damage as your new skin is more sensitive to such damages.


Benefits of BHA

  • These are highly efficient in treating skin conditions for people with oily and combination skin type.
  • Being oil-soluble, they get absorbed into the deeper layers of skin and can work from the inside out
  • This is the reason why it is effective for treating acne
  • It is also suitable for treating sun-damaged skin and assists in treating hyperpigmentation.
  • It’s ability to soothe your skin naturally makes it an excellent choice for people with sensitive skin as well.


How to use BHA?

  • Because this is very good in treating acne and cleansing your skin from deep within, use of BHA based facewash after coming back from outside is perfect in getting rid of the dirt and grime.
  • Because it penetrates your skin, it also works well if left on your skin for a longer time. Thus, you can apply a BHA containing cream and go to bed. 
  • A popular acid that comes under this category is salicylic acid.
  • Salicylic acid is well known for its ability to treat acne and pimples. It helps reduce inflammation and prevents hyperpigmentation.
  • Use of a salicylic acid-based moisturizer not only lets your skin stay hydrated, but it also can control the sebum secretion in your skin. 
  • Unlike AHA, BHA does not make your skin sensitive. But it is still recommended that you use a sunscreen before stepping out as it is generally a good practice to prevent sun damage.


Can it be used in combination?

While there is no hard and fast rule to follow, it is a good habit not to overdo with the products that you apply to your skin. You can alternate between the use of a BHA and an AHA containing product, or you could choose between one of them, depending on which one suits your skin better. A patch test is generally recommended to find out which one causes skin irritation.

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