You often come across special ingredients in your skincare products such as Vitamin C, Retinol, AHA and BHA. It is important to have a primary knowledge about these ingredients to know what they do to your skin. Two such ingredients are AHA & BHA that are commonly used in 10-step Korean skincare program used by many. However, not many know about how these ingredients really work on your skin. While Vitamin C and Retinol are commonly used for anti-aging and brightening of the skin, AHA & BHA are often confused about their roles.

AHA is alpha hydroxy acid, and BHA is beta hydroxy acid. They are chemical compounds that have carboxylic acid in them. They may occur naturally or make artificially for their use in the cosmetic industry. Both these acids are found in a variety of cosmetic products like cleansers, toners, and moisturizers.

AHA and BHA are popular in the cosmetic industryBoth these acids tend to exfoliate your skin thereby making your skin smoother, glowing, and healthy. The process of exfoliation is natural. You might be surprised to know that every day your skin sheds so many dead cells that its quantity is equivalent to ¾ of your household dust.

Even if the process of exfoliation is a natural one, but in the course of time this process of exfoliation slows down or stops completely. Many factors are responsible for this- it may be aging or too much exposure to the sun. Sometimes the result may be dreadful leaving a permanently dull, patchy, and dry skin.

How Do Both These Acids Work?

Both these acids are supposed to break the bond of the dead cells that prevents your natural, smooth, and young-looking skin from coming into the limelight.  Both AHA & BHA share the same benefits as they both

  • fade the fine lines and wrinkles seen in your skin
  • makes your skin look young and fresh due to the shedding of the dead cells.
  • makes your skin hydrated, and
  • gives your skin an even tone.

Now, you might wonder, if both these acids help in exfoliating your skin, then how they are different? They differ from because of their individual benefits, uses, and their source types. A lot of factors determine the major difference between both AHA & BHA. For a healthy and younger looking skin, it is up to you to choose the right option that suits your skin the best.

The major difference between AHA and BHA

AHA or alpha hydroxy acids can be obtained from natural sources like sugarcane, milk, and grapes. AHAs are tiny molecules of water-soluble acids. They work on the sun damaged and dry skin by breaking the intercellular glue present in the skin cells thereby shedding off the dull, dead skin present on the surface. Once these unwanted dead cells are shaded off, you can feel your beautiful, younger-looking, and wrinkle-free skin appearing once again.


It has been clinically proven that AHAs act surprisingly on skin affected by sunburn. As the AHA molecules are water-loving, they help to improve the moisture content of the skin. Its basic difference from BHA is that it doesn’t go deep into the skin, it acts on the surface of the skin.

BHA or beta hydroxy acids are oil-soluble, and so they work a miracle on oily skins which are damaged by acne. Too much oil is responsible for the blackheads and whiteheads. Excessive oil tends to clog the skin and creates acne and pimples which are the unwanted guests. The presence of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties in BHA helps to reduce the lining of the pores that are caused due to acne.

BHAs are also useful for those suffering from rosacea. If you are suffering from rosacea, then you will notice a prominent mark of redness on your cheeks, nose chin, and forehead. It can also affect your eyes by giving certain eye problems like redness, swelling, and pain. So, it is better to treat this dreadful disease by using a product rich in BHA. But, sometimes it is also found that not all the people suffering from rosacea can use the BHA product as their skin cannot withstand too much exfoliant. In such cases, it is better to use this product primarily on an experimental basis.

There is also a significant difference in the ingredients present in both AHA and BHA.

AHAs are mainly obtained from the botanical sources, so they are also known as fruit acids. There are mainly six different types of natural sources for AHAs, and they come from fruits, milk, and sugarcane. Here’s the list:

  • Glycolic acid: This acid is widely obtained from sugarcane. If the natural source is not available, it is also manufactured synthetically.
  • Lactic acid: This acid comes from milk and other dairy commodities. On the other hand, you can also get it from fermented vegetables and fruits.
  • Tartaric acid: this acid is common in unripe grapes.
  • Malic acid: this acid is mainly used for spicing up tablets, candies, and sweet beverages and it comes from cherries and apples.
  • Citric acid:  this acid is a great antioxidant and also acts as a natural preservative. It is found in almost every citric fruits like orange and lemon.
  • Mandelic acid: The mandelic acid is very useful as it treats infection and comes with antibacterial properties.

BHA is more like a hydroxy acid that is easily mixed with oil. Others commonly identify it as salicylic acid. Despite the fact that AHA only works on the uppermost layer of the skin, BHA penetrates deep into the layers cleaning your skin deep. BHA can be derived from mainly two types of acids, they are:

  • Salicylic acid: this is a common ingredient used for the acne treatment and skin exfoliation products. It naturally occurs in small amounts and is found in plants like wintergreen leaves and white willow bark.
  • Citric acid: it is obtained from all sorts of citric fruits. It is present in both AHA & BHA products.

Neither of these hydroxy acids surpasses the other in their benefits both are an equally important and effective method of deep exfoliation. The only difference lies in their application in different skin types. So, here are some tips of using both BHA and AHA.

  1. Before using any AHA or BHA product always wash your skin with a mild cleanser and let it dry completely. After that apply a toner and wait for few minutes and lastly apply the AHA or BHA products.
  2. If you are applying a serum, then apply it just after using the AHA exfoliant.
  3. For those with mixed skin, you can use both AHA & BHA alternatively either in the morning or at night.

Lastly, it is important to consult a dermatologist to find out the level of your skin damage and choose the right exfoliant for your skin.