You may have come across these before if you’ve ever tried to research ways to clear up your skin. AHA and BHA are chemical exfoliators (different to physical exfoliators like scrubs). If you have sensitive or acne prone skin you may have found that physical exfoliators just irritate and damage your skin and don’t actually help with your blemishes and blackheads. While they may sound a little daunting chemical exfoliators are actually more gentle for the skin.
AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and works on the surface of the skin, smoothing it and helping to encourage cell regeneration, which can clean up the blemishes from your skin. Products like this Soap & Glory AHA Scrub Your Nose Into It (Boots, £9.00) are good non-Korean options. Do note though that non-Korean products tend to contain higher percentages of acids. When introducing your skin to these acids it’s best to do so slowly. I often dilute my products with a cleanser or even just water. Start by using them once a week and work your way up as your skin becomes more used to them. While this might sound a bit scary it really is better in the longer term (and to be honest the shorter too) than using physical exfoliators.
BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid and the most common form you will see this in is probably salicylic acid. If you look at the ingredients list of gentle face cleansers increasingly salicylic acid is being used (like this Una Brennan cleansing wash, £5.33 [Boots]). BHA gets into your pores and so is great for clearing your skin of blackheads and whiteheads. Often blackhead pore strips only tackle the surface of the skin rather than what’s underneath so can’t fix the blackheads in the long term. Like with AHA it’s best to introduce your skin to this slowly. You may find you get breakouts at first as your skin purges itself but that’s completely normal.
As with most things there are a couple of rules with using these products. The first and probably most important is not to use this alongside strong acne medication. It will end up over-exfoliating and drying out the skin. If you are on acne medication and have a dermatologist you can talk to they may be able to suggest how to combine them but I wouldn’t recommend trying it otherwise.
The second is not to use them together. You can get products that combine the two like this COSRX AHA/BHA toner (Yesstyle, £28.62). Just don’t try and combine them yourself using separate products because you might end up mixing two high concentrations or something similar.
You can use AHA and BHA with vitamin C but because of the pH that vitamin C works best at it’ll make vitamin C products less effective.
So that is all for AHA and BHA. If you have found that your skin won’t clear up no matter what you try, or that your usual products are just irritating your skin then do give AHA and BHA a try. It’s not as scary as it sounds, I promise.