Let’s talk AHA vs BHA for Acne treatment

Anyone who has explored solutions for acne has heard of chemical peels and skin care products which contain AHAs ( alpha-hydroxy acids) and or BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids). AHAs and BHAs are both exfoliants meaning that they peel, or increase skin cell turn over.  They are also both effective in acne treatment. In addition these ingredients make the skin smoother and more luminous in general.  AHAs and BHAs, however, are not exactly the same in how they work.


AHAs, such as glycolic acid (sugar or fruit acid), lactic acid (from milk), and tartric acid (from apples), are water soluble and primarily work by exfoliating superficial layers of skin.  This is why, in addition to their affect on acne, they are popular for anti-aging and sun damage. 


BHAs (salicylic acid) on the other hand, which also exfoliate,  are lipid soluble, so they tend to target the oily hair follicles where acne lesions form.  They are, therefore, preferred for exfoliation of very oily skin.  Salicylic acid is also thought to be especially helpful for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by acne as in addition to its exfoliating effects it is anti-inflammatory. It follows that salicylic acid peels are very popular for acne patients and especially those with darker skin that develop blemishes.

AHA vs BHA and Moisturzing

Although AHAs and BHAs can be an important part of acne treatment, it’s important to be careful with these ingredients if one is prone to seborrheic dermatitis, eczema or is using a topical retinoid which also exfoliates.  It’s also important to moisturize after using either ingredient.  If one has milder acne, or isn’t using a retinoid,  products such as SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser  can be an effective part of an acne regimin. If one is using any prescription acne treatment, always check with a board-certified dermatologist to make sure you don’t develop irritation by using products with these ingredients.

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Posted in: Cosmetic Dermatology, Facials, General Dermatology

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