Feature Image by Drunk Elephant

You might have seen AHA or BHA on the labels of various skin care products lately — but what exactly are they?

Well, for starters, they’re both chemical exfoliants that help with slowing down the aging process by gently polishing away any buildup on the skin’s surface. However, there are also a few differences between AHAs and BHAs. Below, we break down the two ingredients along with a few of our fave products.

What is AHA?
AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acids and is derived from natural substances including lactic acid from milk, glycolic acid from sugar cane, malic acid from pears and apples, and citric acid from oranges and lemons. These acids help exfoliate your skin by shedding off the uppermost layer of your skin, which then helps active ingredients in other skin care products penetrate deeper into your skin to be more effective. Unlike physical exfoliants like grains and harsh beads that can dry out your skin, AHAs are ideal for sun-damaged and dry skin since they only exfoliate the skin’s surface, thus boosting its moisture levels. Not only that, AHAs help with rejuvenating the skin and don’t tend to penetrate as deep as the BHAs do. Here are some AHA products we love.

Skinceuticals C + AHA $135

This product contains a 10 percent concentration of both glycolic and lactic acids that protect against damaging sun rays, prevent signs of premature aging, and stimulate collagen production while sloughing off the outer layer of skin. As a result, you’re left with more youthful, radiant skin.

Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment $158

This product is a top seller and serves as a clarifying and line-smoothing treatment with its high potency, purified grade lactic acid. Clinical test results show that 100 percent of women felt their skin was significantly smoother and more radiant with visibly reduced lines and wrinkles.

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads $30

First Aid Beauty is making it easy to effectively exfoliate, tone, and brighten sensitive skin. These pads are doused with just the right amount of lactic and glycolic acids, which can be used right after cleansing for flawless makeup application.

What is BHA?
BHA often serves as AHA’s counterpart in several products, but it can also be found alone, as it is a powerful exfoliant on its own. The most common BHA is salicylic acid, which is derived from willow bark. It’s ideal for oily or blemish-prone skin since those generally need further penetration in order to shed that top layer. It’s also great for those who experience blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. Here are some BHA products we love.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting BHA Liquid Exfoliant $29

This is an award-winning treatment for both combination and oily skin with a two percent concentration of salicylic acid. It’s a leave-on formula that absorbs rapidly and helps to exfoliate the surface layer of your skin, dissolve dead skin cells, and unclog pores.

Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil $80

Clogged pores will be a thing of the past with this face oil. It features 1.5 percent salicylic acid to clear acne and blackhead-causing buildup and debris from congested bores. It also has tea tree oil and black cumin seed oil (popular naturally-derived acne-fighting ingredients) to help support clear skin and prevent future breakouts.

Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask $58

Achieve an instantly radiant complexion just after one use with this antioxidant-rich mask. This award-winning glow mask is formulated with two natural sources of salicylic acid (willow bark and meadowsweet) which cleanse skin and refine pores for a more vibrant and hydrated complexion.

What’s the difference?
As mentioned earlier, the main difference is what skin type each of these acids is intended for, but, sometimes, they’re even paired together in products for maximum results. Here are some products that contain both AHAs and BHAs. Keep in mind that whichever one you decide to use, it’s important to wear sunscreen to protect your newly exfoliated skin!

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial $80

This stuff has received insane reviews from so many bloggers and celebrities alike and for good reason. It contains 25 percent AHA (glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acid) and 2 percent BHA (salicylic acid) to gently but efficiently exfoliate dead skin cells by breaking down the substance that holds them to the surface. Just as the name suggests, this product is intended to leave your skin feeling baby-soft.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Peel $16

If wrinkles and breakouts are your main concerns, you’ll love these presoaked peels. The patented two-step formula contains seven acids (both AHA and BHA) to dramatically improve the overall texture of your skin while diminishing fine lines and wrinkles.

Herbivore Blue Tansy Mask $48

It doesn’t get as natural as this cruelty-free and vegan mask. Not only does this mask contain AHAs and BHAs, but it also features blue tansy oil, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that soothes irritated skin and reduces redness.

What’s your go-to chemical exfoliant? Let us know in the comments below!

xx, The FabFitFun Team