What’s the difference between AHA and BHA?

They’re similar, but definitely not the same.

Not all acids are created equal, and that’s especially the case when it comes to your skincare routine. Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) are two of the best known (and most commonly used) acids in the skincare world, so there’s ample research to back up their efficacy as chemical exfoliants, which smooth skin and remove dead skin cells. But the two work in very different ways. The good news: You can (and should!) pair them to make the most of their benefits.

Alpha hydroxy acids
Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of various acids, some of which you might already recognize — think glycolic, lactic, pyruvic, malic, and tartaric acids. These are water-soluble, so they can’t easily pass through the lipid barrier of your skin. Instead, they tend to stick closer to the surface, where they dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells together — ultimately ungluing them so that those dead cells can be rinsed away. Once they’re gone, you can see the new, healthy cells underneath.

Some of these AHAs can be more powerful than others, especially in high concentrations. We use acids from hibiscus flowers in AHA jelly cleanser. Hibiscus flower is naturally rich in gentler AHAs like citric, malic, and tartaric acids. They also contain pyruvic acid, an alpha keto acid, that the skin converts into lactic acid. Think of this conversion as a speed-bump in the process. It slows down absorption, allowing for more gentle exfoliation — and, bonus, can also stimulate collagen production, too.

Beta hydroxy acids
If you’ve ever used a product with salicylic acid, then you’ve used beta hydroxy acid — they’re one and the same. BHA differs from AHA largely in that it’s oil-soluble, meaning it can easily penetrate oils, such as lipids and sebum. That means it can do a deep dive into pores and clear clogs from the inside out (which is why it’s the star of the probiotic acne serum). 
Got questions about AHAs, BHA, or both? Drop them below and we’ll answer!