If you opened this article and you’ve been using a physical scrub with microbeads to exfoliate your face, this is a sign from the skincare gods to stop. If you’re a noob, that’s totally fine; but it’s never too late to learn about the beauty of chemical exfoliators. It’s one of the most important skincare steps to get brighter and smoother skin!
Skincare is a science but this is not going to be overcomplicated, we promise! We’re no team of experts or dermatologists by any means, so this ‘crash course’ is just a quick rundown of what we know as skincare enthusiasts. We’re huge fans of exfoliation and it has changed our lives for the better so hopefully, it changes yours too.
What are they?
AHA or Alpha Hydroxy Acid are acids derived from sugarcane or sugary fruits like apples. These are water-soluble acids which is why they only work on the outermost layer of your skin.
BHA, also known as Beta Hydroxy Acid are acids from citrus fruits and willow bark trees. They are oil-soluble and not only do they work on the surface of your skin, they also penetrate deep into the nooks and corners of your pores.
How do they work?
AHA dissolves or “unglues” dead skin from the surface of your face. Just to disclaim, this isn’t the same as dermaplaning or shaving a thin layer of skin off your face (in any case, don’t DIY that). AHAs disrupt the bonds between cells and the epidermis (outer layer) to shed off dead skin cells from the surface.
BHA on the other hand, goes deep inside the pores dissolving stubborn sebum, getting rid of hair follicles of dead skin, and basically just “de-gunks” the interior of your pores. So it’s kind of like a thorough housekeeping of your pores.
What do they do exactly?
Because AHAs work on the surface exclusively, they are great at helping minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation, scars, sun damage, and fine lines. Though it’s recommended for all skin types, AHAs are mostly recommended for those who have sun-damaged skin.
BHA is the boss when it comes to declogging pores so they’re excellent at getting rid of blackheads, whiteheads, excess sebum, and ingrown hair. BHA is also a pro at combating bacteria and has anti-inflammatory properties to boot, which is why BHA is recommended for those with oily and acne-prone skin.
Are there any risks?
AHA and BHA are superficial exfoliants that shed off dead skin and usually come in high concentrations so you’re prone to UV damage or photosensitivity. We don’t need to remind you, but it’s a must to wear sunscreen or SPF daily especially when using exfoliants.
If you’re trying AHA/BHA products for the first time, expect it to lightly sting or cause some mild redness. It can even be drying to the point of flakiness but it should clear up in a couple weeks.
Just keep in mind that a lot of AHA/BHA products aren’t recommended for daily use, so our advice is to exfoliate 2 times a week if you’re a newbie and observe its effects on your skin first before proceeding to use it more frequently. Remember, if the redness doesn’t go away or irritation doesn’t die down, stop using it immediately and consult with a dermatologist on what acids work for you.