AHAs and BHAs: what is the difference?

AHAs and BHAs: what is the difference?

Do you have blackheads plaguing your pores or wrinkles creeping up on you and are confused between opting for an AHA or a BHA to solve the problem? Well, you’re not alone! 

Just like the rest of us, you’ve probably heard of the terms AHAs and BHAs being tossed around, and the amazing skin benefits they offer but aren’t exactly clear on which one tackles which skin issue! Well, wonder no more because in this post, we’ll break down the difference between these two powerhouses to help you choose the right one for YOU. 

We’ll share what skin conditions like acne, dullness, and signs of aging each of these ingredients targets as well as how they do their magic so that you’ll learn exactly when to pull out your AHA or BHA products so you can get glowing, youthful-looking skin. 

So whether you're trying to smoothen texture, fade dark spots, zap zits, or erase fine lines, we’ve got you covered. Read on to become a true skincare ingredient expert!

Understanding AHAs and BHAs 

Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids are popular skincare ingredients used to treat a variety of skin concerns. AHAs, like glycolic acid, work by removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, helping to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, lighten blemishes and spots and help improve skin texture. BHAs on the other hand, like salicylic acid, are oil soluble which means they can penetrate deeper into the pores to clean out the gunk, making them great for treating acne and blackheads.

AHAs are best for:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles: By removing dead skin cells, AHAs promote cell turnover and collagen production to reduce signs of aging.
  • Uneven skin tone: AHAs remove pigmented and sun-damaged skin cells, helping to brighten skin and lighten dark spots.
  • Clogged pores: AHAs remove dead skin cells and debris that can clog pores and lead to blackheads.  

BHAs are best for:

  • Acne and blackhead; BHAs can penetrate into pores to unclog them and remove blackheads. Salicylic acid, a popular BHA, is an effective acne fighter.
  • Oily skin: BHAs help control oil production and also help reduce shine. They are able to absorb oil and remove excess sebum from the pores.
  • Skin texture: Like AHAs, BHAs promote cell turnover to improve skin texture, smoothness and softness.  

For the best results, you may want to incorporate both ingredients into your routine. Just start slowly by using one product at a time, 2-3 times a week, and gradually build up as your skin adjusts. Be patient through the process, as it can take several weeks of regular use to see the full benefits. 

When to use AHAs: Treating sun damage, wrinkles, and dry skin

If you're dealing with sun-damaged or aging skin, AHAs can help improve the skin's texture and tone. Glycolic and lactic, both AHAs work by exfoliating the outer layer of your skin to reveal fresher, smoother skin underneath. 

Sun damages 

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic and lactic acids, play a vital role in addressing sun damage as effective exfoliants. These ingredients work to eliminate the outer layer of dead skin cells, promoting cell turnover and revealing a smoother and fresher complexion. 

Sun-damaged skin often exhibits uneven texture, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines, all of which AHAs effectively target. Additionally, AHAs stimulate collagen production, enhancing skin elasticity and firmness. Regular use of AHA-containing products contributes to a radiant complexion and gradual fading of sun-induced discolorations, aiding in the overall restoration of sun-damaged skin. It's crucial to pair AHAs with sunscreen to prevent further sun damage and maximize their benefits.

Fine lines and wrinkles

As we age, our skin cell turnover slows down, causing dead skin cells to build up and fine lines to form. AHAs boost collagen production and cell regeneration to soften lines and wrinkles. For anti-aging, glycolic acid and lactic acid can work wonders. Lactic acid specifically is a great pick as it is a hydrating exfoliant, which means it won't dry out the skin in its process of exfoliating it and will instead lend hydration to it, making it a great pick for all skin types including dry and sensitive skin. 

Dry and flaky skin

AHAs can be beneficial for dry and flaky skin by promoting exfoliation. These acids, such as glycolic and lactic acids, work to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells, encouraging cell turnover. This exfoliation helps to unclog pores, allowing moisturizers to penetrate more effectively and hydrate the skin. Additionally, AHAs stimulate the production of hyaluronic acid and other natural moisturizing factors, enhancing the skin's ability to retain moisture. Regular use of AHA-containing products can contribute to a smoother and more hydrated complexion, reducing dryness and flakiness over time. 


When to use BHAs: clearing acne, blackheads, and whiteheads

If you're struggling with acne, blackheads or whiteheads, it's time to bring in the big tunes: beta hydroxy acids or BHAs like salicylic acid. These acids can penetrate deeper into the pores to clear out the dead skin cells, excess oil, and other gunk that leads to breakouts. 

BHAs work by exfoliating the outer layer of skin and unclogging pores. They help loosen the bonds between dead skin cells to remove them from the surface of the skin. By removing this dead layer of skin, BHAs stimulate new cell turnover and reduce pore blockages. This helps to prevent blackheads and whiteheads from forming and clears up existing ones. 

Other skin conditions BHAs and AHAs can treat 

AHAs and BHAs can improve a variety of other skin conditions besides those mentioned above: 

Keratosis Pilaris

Also known as chicken skin, it causes rough, bumpy patches and is soft on the skin. It’s caused by a buildup of keratin, a protein found in the skin, hair and nails. Glycolic acid, an AHA, helps exfoliate the skin and reduce the keratin buildup. Using a cleanser or cream with glycolic acid can help smooth the skin and reduce the appearance of chicken skin bumps.


This is often caused by excess production of melanin; the pigment that gives skin its brown color. Both AHAs and BHAs help fade hyperpigmentation by speeding up cell turnover and exfoliating the outer layer of skin cells. 

Seborrheic dermatitis

This leads to red, scaly patches on the skin, often on the scalp, face and body. It’s linked to excess oil production and a yeast called malassezia. Salicylic acid, a BHA, helps dry excess oil, reduce inflammation, and exfoliate flaky skin cells. Using a shampoo, facial cleanser or lotion containing salicylic acid 2-3 times a week can help clear seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups and prevent recurrence. 

If the benefits of AHAs and BHAs have fascinated you and you can't wait to get your hands on them to reap them, we recommend the Leovard Multicleanser which contains both. Its exceptional formulation contains the AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid, as well as the BHA salicylic acid, making it a great pick to combat a huge array of skin concerns like acne, pigmentation as well as aging. 


In summary, understanding the roles of AHAs (like glycolic acid) and BHAs (such as salicylic acid) is key for effective skincare. AHAs work well for issues like sun damage and fine lines, promoting a fresh complexion, while BHAs are excellent for handling acne and oily skin by diving deep into pores. Incorporating both gradually into your routine can provide a holistic solution for various skin concerns. Whether you're aiming for a smoother texture or targeting specific conditions like hyperpigmentation, these acids can be valuable allies. 

Just remember to be patient and consistent on your skincare journey,and adjusting your routine as needed for optimal results.

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