AHAs and BHAs for Acne-Prone Skin: Which Ones to Use

Hearing "Acids are good for your skin" may sound odd, but in the skincare world, they are something that you must get your hands on. Acids in skincare are chemical exfoliants that react with the skin to remove the layers of dead cells and excess sebum that may lead to dullness, blemishes, or clogged pores. These acids exfoliate the top layer of the skin and result in skin regeneration, smoother and clearer skin that glows from within. 

Exfoliation is an essential part of a skincare routine. It helps slough off dead skin, promotes new cell turnover, keeps pores clean, promotes blood flow, and boosts collagen production. 

Acids in skincare can be found in over-the-counter products like cleansers, scrubs, masks, moisturizers of toners. Despite their names - acids, most of these are derived from the sources found commonly in nature. 

There are mainly three types of acids (chemical exfoliants) in skincare: AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs. But AHAs and BHAs have gained wide recognition and are often used. 

Let us tell you how to use AHAs and BHAs for acne-prone skin. But first, let's learn in detail about AHAs and BHAs.

What are AHAs: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) are those acids derived from natural substances like sugar cane, almonds, milk, or grapes and have the ability to dissolve in water. These acids work by breaking the glue holding your skin cells together, promoting the natural shedding process of the skin. AHA's effects can be felt on the surface of the skin. If you have skin concerns like post-acne scars or hyperpigmentation, then AHAs help in constant sloughing off of the dead dull skin cells and diminish the marks. They retain skin's lost moisture, increase cell turnover, and encourage the production of new collagen. 

They are very gentle on the skin, thus a suitable choice for dry or sensitive skin. 

What are BHAs: Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) are oil-soluble which means they penetrate deeper into the skin. They not only exfoliate the top layer of the skin but also target sebaceous glands in the pores and clear them off of any whiteheads or blackheads that may potentially form. They have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties thus they keep acne and breakouts at bay. 

BHAs work best for those with acne-prone skin or oily acne-prone skin.

AHAs and BHAs for acne-prone skin - Common benefits

Both AHAs and BHAs can:

  • deep clean pores, and unclog them to prevent acne
  • decrease the appearance of large and open pores
  • even out the skin tone
  • improve overall skin texture and decrease surface wrinkles
  • deep exfoliation to remove dead skin cells
  • decrease inflammation (which causes acne, rosacea, and other skin concerns

Let's see how you can use both exfoliants AHAs and BHAs for acne-prone skin: 

AHAs and BHAs for acne-prone skin:

Salicylic Acid - BHA

Skin concerns: Acne, clogged pores, blackheads, and excessive oiliness

It is one of the most common BHAs that works well with oily, combination, and acne-prone skin. It is used as a basic formulation in products like cleansers, spot gel, exfoliators, serums, and peels. Sometimes it is found in makeup products like foundations and concealers because it can dissolve excess sebum in the pores and reduce oiliness. It has the ability to bust breakouts, and blemishes, relieve clogged pores, and shed dead skin cells, and acne-causing bacteria. 

Glycolic Acid - AHA

Skin concerns: Acne scars, pigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles.

It is a common AHA that works well on oily and acne-prone skin. It sloughs off dead skin cells on the skin's surface to reveal an even and smooth texture, thus helping in post-acne scars. It is gentle on the skin and even has several anti-aging benefits. It boosts collagen production and softens wrinkles and fine lines. 

Lactic Acid - AHA

Skin concerns: Hyperpigmentation, age spots, dull and uneven skin complexion

Lactic acid is even gentler on the skin than Glycolic acid. Along with exfoliating properties, it also has moisturizing benefits. It helps in reducing post-acne hyperpigmentation and speeds ups the cell regeneration process. It also has anti-aging benefits and is usually used with other skincare acids to maximize its efficiency in achieving a brighter and even toned complexion. 

Mandelic Acid - AHA

Skin concerns: Signs of aging, acne, enlarged pores, and hyperpigmentation

It works well for sensitive, oily, and acne-prone skin. Since it is gentle on the skin, it reduces the risk of skin irritation. It treats acne, blackheads, and enlarged pores and balances oil production. Mandelic acid is often combined with Salicylic, Lactic, or Glycolic acid to maximize its efficiency. 

Citric acid - AHA/BHA

Skin concern: Excessive oiliness, clogged pores, and acne

It is primarily classified as an AHA, but some of the formulations of citric acid are BHAs too. It is used to dry out excess sebum and deep clean the pores and clear out dead skin cells. 

Can we combine AHAs and BHAs?

Since both AHAs and BHAs are chemical exfoliants, when used together can be very irritating to the skin. Try only one exfoliant at a time and see if your skin is reacting to it or not.