AHA Versus BHA: Which One Is Right For Your Skin?

Unsure which exfoliating acid is right for your skin type? Or why you should be using them at all. Then this post is for you! Whether you're suffering from a dull lacklustre complexion, or you have surface-level skin concerns like acne scars or pigmentation marks that just won't budge exfoliating acids definitely need to be a step in your skincare routine.

Hydroxy Acids are split up into 3 groups -

  • Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

  • Beta-Hydroxy Acids BHAs)

  • Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs) - the relatively new kids on the block

These acids all have slightly different molecular sizes and functions within the skin. Therefore you need to understand which one is suitable for your skin type before you start using them.

Studies have shown the use of hydroxy acids has pretty impressive skn results, from;

  • Hydration

  • Reducing pigmentation marks and acne scars

  • Balancing oily skin/acne-prone skin type and clearing clogged pores

  • Stimulating collagen and cell turnover for a more youthful, plump and glowing appearance


First off, don't be scared by the word 'acid', because Hydroxy Acids are actually derived from fruits, vegetables or plants.

AHAs are a group of naturally occurring acids, derived from sugars in particular plants and fruit. For example; Glycol Acid (sugar cane), Lactic Acid (fermented milk, fruits), Citric Acid (citrus fruits), Mandelic Acid (bitter almonds), Tartaric Acid and Malic Acid (grapes, apples, pears and cherries).

Glycolic Acid facial peels in varying concentrations have been proven to greatly reduce melasma/hyperpigmentation and acne scarring.

Tartaric and Malic Acid is considered the more gentle and therefore better suited for sensitive skin types or beginners. It's best to start off at a low concentration and build up. Even for normal skin types.


Alpha-Hydroxy Acids get to work primarily on the surface of the skin dissolving the 'glue-like' cement that holds dead skin cells together accelerating the natural shedding process.

These dead skin cells that lay on the surface of our skin (especially when combined with dry, damaged or dehydrated skin) are the main cause of a dull complexion. It literally stops our skin from glowing.

*Suitable for dry, mature and oily/acne skin types.


BHA gives the same skin renewal and texture-improving results as AHAs, but this acid has a couple of extra benefits.

BHA can penetrate deeper into the skin and unlike its water-loving counterpart is an oil-loving molecule. Which means it is able to get deep inside blocked pores, dissolving oil, and dead skin cells that cause blackheads making it great for oily and acne-prone skin.

While AHA works on the surface of the skin BHA penetrates deeper into the epidermis. It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties making it a popular ingredient in acne treatments.

Salicylic Acid is a Beta-Hydroxy Acid used in lots of skincare products. It belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates, which are found naturally in plants such as willow bark and wintergreen leaves. They are thought to protect the plant against insect damage and disease.

Aspirin is a derivative of salicylic acid. Low dosages of salicylates are used primarily for mild to moderate pain relief or fever. High dosages are used for treating rheumatoid arthritis.

*Suitable for dry, mature and especially oily/acne skin types.

Poly-Hydroxy Acid (PHAs)

A new family of hydroxy Acids PHAs are very similar to AHAs in improving texture and skin tone. But, unlike AHAs and BHAs they’re way less irritating because they have a bigger molecular size. Making them gentle enough for sensitive skin.

Since they’re a relatively new find, there isn’t much information about them quite yet. What we do know is that PHAs are probably the most multi-tasking of all acids.

They protect the skin from free radicals, strengthen skin barrier function and protect against collagen and elastin degradation.

Gluconolactone, Lactobionic and Maltobionic are some examples of PHAs.

*Suitable for all skin types especially sensitive.


The Ordinary Peeling Solution contains 30% AHAs (Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric and Acids), and 2% BHA (Salicylic Acid). It also contains Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin B5, Black Carrot and Tasmanian Pepperberry which helps reduce irritation/stinging. Black Carrot acts as an antioxidant.

For more complex/scientific information on things like pH levels, which is really important when using acid peels, check out The Ordinary website.

It's one of my favourite AHA products and if you can commit to using it every week you will begin to see dark marks and scars lift for a brighter, smother complexion.

It does sting, but apparently the Tasmanian Pepperberry helps to combat this slightly, so keeping it on your face for ten minutes is definitely manageable.

It has improved the texture of my skin, and lightened my pigmentation marks a little. But I do it alongside my kojic acid serum and Facetheory Clarifying Cleanser.

Be sure to apply an spf after using this peel - or any skincare products containing AHAs, BHAs or PHAs.

*Please note that this is not a beginner’s product. It has a very high concentration of acids and it could potentially irritate sensitive skin types. If you’re new to exfoliating acids I would suggest starting with a lower concentration of acids.


Free Anti-Aging Skincare eBook

Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved The Rich Skin Club Ltd