In the skincare world, AHA’s and BHA’s are frequently touted for their many benefits, but are often confused with one another. Although each is a type of hydroxy acid, alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids are composed differently and therefore function differently on your skin. Both AHA’s and BHA’s can be beneficial for different skin types and conditions, but it is important to understand the differences between them so that you can choose which one (or both) is the best choice for your specific skincare needs.
What Are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)?
Alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble substances that act as chemical, as opposed to physical, exfoliants. They aid in the process of shedding old skin cells, which are replaced by new, fresh ones. For this reason, AHA’s are excellent ingredients for those with dry, dull or uneven complexions, as well as aged or sun-damaged skin (Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology).
These ingredients can also help to increase the effectiveness of other skincare products that you use because exfoliating away the buildup of skin cells, dirt, oil and other debris makes it easier for products to reach the skin where it can benefit the most.
Some of the most common alpha hydroxy acids include lactic acid and glycolic acid. Skinbetter science has combined lactic acid with a retinoid in the revolutionary AlphaRet™ formula to achieve a smoothing effect on the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles without causing irritation*. AlphaRet™ Overnight Cream FACE and AlphaRet™ Intensive Overnight Cream FACE also contain glycolic acid, with a higher concentration available in AlphaRet™ Intensive Overnight Cream FACE for an even greater exfoliating effect.
What Are Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)?
Beta hydroxy acids are lipid-soluble substances, meaning that they are able to penetrate the skin through sebaceous glands. This characteristic makes BHA’s appropriate ingredients for those with oily skin types, which is why salicylic acid, the most common BHA in skincare, is often used to treat acne. Unlike AHA’s, BHA’s are typically more beneficial when present in lower concentrations in skincare products, so seeing salicylic acid listed toward the middle or end of the ingredient list on your acne cream is normal and even preferred.
How to Choose the Best Ingredients for Your Skin
While both AHA’s and BHA’s can be useful in skincare, the general rule of thumb to follow is that you want to use an AHA in order to:
- Help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Improve the appearance of skin tone and texture
- Revitalize the appearance of dull, lackluster skin
BHA’s, on the other hand, typically work well to help balance the oil content on your skin, as well as treat acne, blackheads and whiteheads. If severe or persistent acne is a concern for you, talk with your dermatologist about prescription creams and serums that may contain BHA’s, AHA’s or both to help manage symptoms.
It’s also important to keep in mind that both AHA’s and BHA’s can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so remember to use sunscreen on a daily basis to help prevent sun damage.
The Bottom Line
While alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids have some similarities, each has distinct purposes in skincare. Try an anti-aging cream specifically formulated with AHA’s to help reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles while also aiding in skin re-texturization. For oily and acne-prone skin types, use a product with salicylic acid, a BHA, to help balance oil and control acne.
If you’re still not sure about which type of hydroxy acid could be best for your skin, find a professional in your area who can provide an accurate assessment of your skin condition and recommend the most appropriate products for you.
* Individual results may vary.