In 2018 I decided to refocus and recenter Something Blissful back to what I love most… Beauty products. 2017 was A LOT of travel (since I studied abroad) and now that I’m back in the states, and back near amazing beauty stores and brands, beauty has been on my mind.
Since a lot of my posts have been and will be focused around beauty, I thought opening the doors for two big players in the beauty scene would be kind of necessary with this transition back. What I’m talking about are AHAs and BHAs.
AHAs and BHAs are in most products that I try out and want to try out now-a-days. But they feel like “that” ingredient which is highlighted but you’re not quite sure what it is or does. So this post should clear the air so AHAs and BHAs are known and are ready to be incorporated into beauty routines.
(PSA: there is a AHA vs BHA video at the bottom.)
Let’s start with AHAs.
AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid which are organic compounds that are mainly derived from food products. Glycolic acid (from sugar cane), lactic acid (from sour milk), malic acid (from apples), citric acid (from citrus fruits but also can be a BHA), mandelic acid (from bitter almonds), and tartaric acid (from grape wine) are all AHAs. The most popular ones you will see are glycolic and lactic acid.
A quick definition for the next part: Bioavailibility: (when talking about skincare) means the ability for the active ingredient (the acids) to perform its function at the site intended in the skin for optimal effect. So Glycolic in particular, has the smallest molecular size so it penetrates the skin most easily. AHAs with greater bioavailability have deeper dermal effects (aka it works deeper in your skin, not just the top layer).
Science is fun, right?
Glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid, on topical application to skin, have been shown to produce increased amounts of collagen, increase skin thickness (so you skin looks more plump), increases skin barrier function (keeping nasties out and moisture in), and you won’t get any skin inflammation.
Glycolic acid is one of the most popular AHAs in the beauty scene. It reduces cell adhesion (the glue that holds cells together) in the epidermis (aka outer layer of skin) which is a form of exfoliation. AHAs are also water soluble acids that are also water loving acids.
Chemical exfoliation with AHAs is very popular since it has numerous skin benefits. Lower percent concentrations (5-10%) of AHAs used everyday help combat acne, environmental damage, wrinkling, melasma/pigmentation, all while exfoliating those dead skin cells away to reveal glowing skin. Higher percent concentrations (10-50%) of AHAs must be used occasionally, NOT everyday, but give same benefits just a more increased appearance. They also can help skin prepare for the highest percent concentrations (50-70%) of AHAs which are usually applied for just a few minutes under supervision (for a peel, esthetician, dermatologic appointment, physician).
So why should you choose AHAs? AHAs are preferred for sun-damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate the skin’s surface and improve moisture content. But they don’t penetrate as deep as BHA.
I love this article all about the different AHAs by Into the Gloss!
Let’s move onto BHAs.
BHA stands for, you guessed it, Beta Hydroxy Acid. Usually in cosmetics when BHAs are used, it means salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is mainly used for treating acne and sometimes is used in anti-aging products.
BHAs are an oil loving acid, so this makes it the preferred choice for combination, oily skin types. Acne prone skin types, rejoice. BHAs are great at treating white heads and black heads. BHAs get through the oil that clogs pores and helps to normalize the lining of the pore that contributes to acne. Surprisingly BHAs are typically less irritating to the skin, so BHAs might be a better choice for sensitive skin people.BHAs have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties (also perfect for breakout acne sufferers). BHAs are sometimes preferred for those struggling with rosacea. However, not everyone with rosacea can tolerate an exfoliant. If you have rosacea, patch test a BHA product to see how your rosacea responds. But if BHAs work for you and your roseate, you will most likely see less redness, smoother even skin with fewer breakouts.
The one acid that plays for both teams? Citric Acid, and it is all based on its formulation.
Some basic rules you NEED to follow to protect your skin while using AHAs/BHAs or both are…
ONE// wear sunscreen! With potential daily exfoliation, you are taking off the top skin layer and exposing the next layer to the sun which damages your skin. So when you chemical exfoliate please wear sunscreen!
TWO// you can apply AHAs or BHAs once or twice a day! I usually put mine on at night. Just make sure to wear sunscreen if you use them in the morning.
THREE // Use your AHAs/BHAs after you wash your face but before your serums and moisturizers, oils etc.
FOUR // if you’re using prescription skin products or retinoids, research and ask your doctor about using AHAs/BHAs along side that product.
Lastly, for my favorite AHA and BHA products…
Drunk Elephant Sukari Babyfacial — glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acid.
Deciem The Ordinary AHA 30% and BHA 2% Peeling Solution (post here and here) — lactic, salicylic, tartaric, and citric acid.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads — glycolic, salicylic, mandelic and citric acid.