What are AHAs and BHAs?

Although our skin naturally breaks down dead skin cells every day, there are two acids that you should familiarise yourself with to aid the exfoliating process. These are called Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). The names alone might intimidate some, but they’re a valuable ingredient in peels, exfoliants and scrubs.

They have a lot in common. Both exfoliate and remove dead skin cells, calm inflammation and unclog pores to help prevent acne developing. However, AHAs are water-soluble, made from sugary fruits, whereas BHAs are oil-soluble. This means they’re able to sink deeper into your skin to unclog pores and get rid of dead skin

What does an AHA do?

AHAs work mainly on the skin’s surface, sinking into the top layer and helping remove dead skin cells to leave your skin feeling reinvigorated. There are several types of AHA: glycolic, lactic, citric, mandelic, malic are the acids we use in our products. Their benefits, and most importantly strength, differ and we advise those with sensitive skin to start with milder acids to build up a tolerance and avoid irritation. Milder acids like mandelic, malic and lactic acid are more suited to more sensitive skin, while glycolic acid is among the strongest, penetrating deeply into your skin.

AHAs are most commonly used to help remove fine lines and surface wrinkles, even out skin tones and large pores. It also helps with hyperpigmentation – where excess melanin has caused dark patches to appear on the skin. That can be caused by sun damage, acne scarring or inflammation. As with any exfoliator, exposing the new layer of skin will make you more sensitive to the sun. Make sure you remember to wear SPF to protect yourself!

What does a BHA do?

BHAs are oil-soluble, which means they can sink deep into your skin to effectively unclog pores and slough away dead skin. If you’re prone to oily or have combination skin, BHAs could be the most effective exfoliator to help you avoid regular breakouts. The main BHA we use is salicylic acid. Although they might not make your skin as sensitive to the elements as AHAs do – as they work on a deeper level – it’s always advised to wear SPF to prevent any sun damage on freshly exfoliated skin.

When should I use them?

It depends on your skin’s needs. If you’re struggling with bad acne, then BHAs might be your best bet and using them every day would be completely fine. If you just need to get rid of a top layer of dead skin, however, AHAs are probably for you. We advise that you gradually build your tolerance to the acids, starting with a lower % acid, like lactic, or opt for a blend of acids to help your skin adjust. Be cautious when using other treatments like retinol or Vitamin C alongside, as they could decrease the effectiveness or cause irritation. And use your stronger acids at night – this will help reduce the risk of sun damage.

What Botanical Lab Products contain acids?