If you want radiant, glowing skin, then exfoliating should be a part of your skincare routine. However, you don’t always have to use scrubs and gritty formulas to get rid of dead skin cells.
In fact, there are two forms of exfoliating acids that can help us achieve a brighter complexion fast. They’re not other than AHAs and BHAs. While neither acid is better than the other, they target different needs and skin types. Plus, many exfoliants often combine both ingredients, allowing you to tackle multiple concerns at once.
Ahead, we’ll give you the lowdown on everything AHA and BHA, as well as our top product picks.
What are AHAs and BHAs?
AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid. They are derived from sugar cane or other plant sources, which is why they are often referred to as fruit acids. Some of the most popular AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and malic acid. These acids are water-soluble, so they work by shedding dead skill cells on the surface of your skin.
AHAs are generally recommended for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, thanks to their ability to enhance natural moisturising factors within the skin. They also help stimulate collagen production, which makes it ideal for those who seek to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
BHA, on the other hand, stands for beta-hydroxy acid. When it comes to BHAs, there is only salicylic acid, a popular acne-busting ingredient that works on the skin’s surface and deep inside the pore. They are oil-soluble, so they’re able to dive past sebum to exfoliate deep within the pores. This is why they’re preferred for oilier skin that’s prone to bumps, congestion, blemishes, and enlarged pores.
Salicylic acid is known to fight bacteria and can be used to treat calluses and other areas of dry skin. In higher concentrations, it can even be used to treat warts.
Beginner-friendly tips when using AHA and BHA
1. Perform a patch test first
Before you start slathering on AHAs and BHAs, perform a patch test on a small part of your chin, neck, or along your jawline to see if it’s suitable for your skin.
2. Start slow
Try not to use an AHA or BHA every day, twice a day right away. Ease them into your routine by using them once or twice a week first and monitor your skin. If your skin tolerates it well, you can start bumping up your usage to three to four times a week and so on.
3. Don’t mix or layer them if you have sensitive skin
Chemical exfoliants can be really harsh on sensitive skin, so it’s best to use either one of them first to see which works best for you. If you mix or layer AHAs and BHAs, you run the risk of causing irritation, redness, and severe breakouts.
4. Sunscreen is a must
After using an AHA or BHA, your skin will become slightly more prone to UV damage because the top layer of your skin is exfoliated and vulnerable. Reach for sunscreen during the day and reapply if you’re sitting by a window all day or out in the sun.
5. Stick to it for at least 4 to 6 weeks
When you’re starting out with AHAs and BHAs, your skin might go through a purging phase – one that’s similar to breakouts. This is actually normal for the first three to four weeks, and your skin should clear up after that period.
The best products containing AHA BHA
Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Acne Clear Foam
With a combination of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs, you’ll be seeing a clearer complexion within the next few days (or 30 days as written in the packaging) once you start using it. The formula is also enriched with calming ingredients such as centella extract, artemisia princeps leaf extract, and tea tree leaf water.
Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Acne Clear Foam (100ml) retails for RM68 at Zalora.
Hada Labo AHA/BHA Face Wash – Oil Control
This face wash effectively removes whiteheads, blackheads, and any excess oil produced by your skin. The Alpine Plant Extract in the formula controls sebum production while bentonite clay removes any excess impurities or dirt.
Hada Labo AHA/BHA Face Wash – Oil Control (130g) retails for RM30.52 at Watsons.
Murad AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Brighten your skin with this AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser from Murad. Packed with glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids, the formula gently exfoliates your skin, making it look younger and less dull. Plus, the jojoba beads buffs away any debris or roughness while sodium PCA retains the skin’s moisture for a healthier barrier.
Murad AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser (200ml) retails for RM218 at Zalora.
Tarte Knockout Daily Exfoliating Cleanser
Say goodbye to rough, bumpy skin with this cleanser. It contains an AHA and BHA acid complex, including lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid, which helps to even out the texture of your skin. It is also formulated with soothing ingredients, namely eucalyptus leaves and peppermint.
Tarte Knockout Daily Exfoliating Cleanser (124ml) retails for RM115 at Sephora.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Leave it on your skin for just 10 minutes, and you’ll be blown away by how much of a difference it makes. Bear in mind, this solution is quite strong as it has 30% AHA (tartaric, citric, lactic,and glycolic acids) as well as 2% BHA, so you’re not supposed to use it too often or leave it on for too long. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to avoid this.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (30ml) retails for RM99 at Zalora.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
Made with seven acids, this AHA and BHA peel does wonders for your skin by making it glow, as mentioned by many users. Not only does it combat acne and blemishes, but it also contains anti-ageing properties that reduce wrinkles or fine lines.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel (30 applications) retails for RM380 at Sephora.
Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Tried and tested by many, the BHA Liquid Exfoliant effectively cleans out pores and gives you an afterglow. It’ll unclog your pores and reduce blemishes for a clearer complexion, so it’s best for those with oily, acne-prone skin.
Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (118ml) retails for RM123.25 at Paula’s Choice Official Website.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum
The Framboos™ AHA blend helps to gently exfoliate your skin, whereas the BHA unclogs pores and soothes the skin at the same time. There’s also antioxidant-rich raspberry fruit extract in the formula to soothe and hydrate the skin.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum (50ml) retails for RM578 at Sephora.
COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
Besides unclogging congestion, the COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner sloughs away dead skin cells and dry flakes too. Using this toner helps to prep for the next steps of your skincare routine as well.
COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner (150ml) retails for RM56 at Watsons.
SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF
Though it is a vitamin C serum, the SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF also contains salicylic acid to combat acne. Your skin will be less oily as it helps to control sebum production too. On top of that, users have said it brightens and evens out skin tone as well.
SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF (30ml) retails for RM978 at Shopee.
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Daily Scrub Cleanser
Glycolic acid, the product’s main ingredient, does wonders to your skin by making it less dull. With the help of micro-pearls, the formula buffs away dead skin cells to reveal fresh, radiant skin. Users said this cleanser has helped to reduce their acne scars as well.
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Daily Scrub Cleanser (150ml) retails for RM71 at Desertcart.
Kiehl’s Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner
Containing lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) derived from salicylic acid, this toner helped numerous users achieve soft, clear, and hydrated skin. It’s made of 23% emollients, together with almond milk, providing soothing relief for all skin types.
Kiehl’s Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner (200ml) retails for RM242 at Kiehl’s.
Lancôme Clarifique Face Essence
Infused with salicylic and glycolic acids, this essence leaves your skin smooth as it reduces the size of your pores. The nourishing ingredients, grapeseed and sunflower seed oil, leaves your skin hydrated after each use.
Lancôme Clarifique Face Essence (150ml) retails for RM115 at Sephora.
REN Skincare Wake Wonderful Night-Time Facial
Smooth out the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with the help of glycolic and lactic acids in this formula. The natural oils and minerals found in this product also help to repair and nourish your skin, while sodium lactate leaves it hydrated so you could wake up to a fresh, plump, radiant skin.
REN Skincare Wake Wonderful Night-Time Facial (40ml) retails for RM148.50 at Lazada.
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask
Glow Recipe’s popular Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask needs no introduction. This mask works by exfoliating your skin with the assistance of AHAs, while sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid draw ample moisture to the skin. Apart from gently removing dead skin cells, it also ensures your skin gets the right vitamins with watermelon extract.
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask (80ml) retails for RM210 at Sephora.