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The Difference Between AHAs and BHAs

By Taylor Bryant, she/her

Acids can be an intimidating skincare category to branch into, but they don't have to be. The process can be seamless if you’re equipped with a little education, which we’re here to provide. 

So, first, what are acids? Well, they’re basically chemical exfoliants that “unglue” the bonds holding dull, dead skin on the surface or within a pore. Once those bonds are broken, the skin naturally sloughs the dead, dull cells and sweeps them away. This encourages new cells to form, and allows your other skincare products to penetrate deeper and work better,” says Krystin Phillips, Youth To The People’s Director of Customer Experience. Incorporating exfoliating products can be especially helpful when the dead skin cells’ natural shedding process is uneven and the dead skin is trapped in pores—creating blackheads and congestion, accentuating lines, or creating a rough texture and dullness.  

There are two different categories of acids to familiarize yourself with. First up, BHAs, or beta hydroxy acids, which are great for acne-prone skin types or those that suffer from congestion and excess oil production. The most common BHA is the oil-soluble salicylic acid. 

“It’s all about helping to encourage the natural skin cell turnover cycle,” Phillips explains. “They also have antibacterial qualities as well as help to exfoliate not just the surface of the skin but the inside of the pore. It’s gentle but packs a powerful punch.” 

The second are water-soluble AHAs which are ideal  for dry skin types because they can be hydrating while also exfoliating. Some examples include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and ascorbic acid, all of which help to exfoliate the surface skin and keep the skin moisturized and plump. 

“As we get older, the collagen molecule development slows down and skin starts to lose its elasticity and doesn’t bounce back as quickly,” Phillips explains. “AHAs help to build collagen within the skin which makes it tight and taut.”

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the AHAs that, when combined (like in Youth To The People’s Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner), pack a powerful punch.

“Glycolic is the true dead skin sweeper,” Phillips says. “Where the lactic will break it up, the glycolic really helps to move it along so that you're truly getting that exfoliation.” For that reason, it’s important to wear sunscreen when using AHAs during the day. 

“Glycolic is the one, when it comes to sun sensitivity, that you really have to be the most mindful of to wear SPF during the day because it will wipe the slate clean when it comes to your skin and expose new cells,” Phillips says. 

Overall, acids are safe and beneficial for all skin types. But, they should be used mindfully.

“Incorporate AHAs and BHAs as an overall preventative measure to keep dead skin from building up too much on the surface,” advises Phillips. But there can be too much of a good thing…

“At night when we go to sleep, our skin cells are regenerating and rejuvenating themselves and when you're over-exfoliating you're not allowing your skin cells to do that. So in turn your cells just throw their hands up and kind of give up,” says Phillips. She advises two to three times a week as the Goldilocks number: not too much, not too little, but just right.

Whether you choose to incorporate AHAs, BHAs, or both into your personalized skincare routine, know that the right combination for you will keep you exfoliated and glowing. It doesn’t need to be January to lean into the idea of getting rid of the old and welcoming in the new.

To learn more about a personalized routine that’s best for you, schedule a free 15-minute skincare consultation with one of our skincare experts here.

Written by Taylor Bryant for Youth To The People