If scrubs aren’t an ideal option for exfoliation, what should you use? Without question, almost everyone can beneft from daily use of a well-formulated leave-on AHA (alpha hydroxy acid, such as glycolic and lactic acids) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid, also known as salicylic acid) exfoliant.


These work far differently from a scrub or Clarisonic brush. A gentle leave-on exfoliant picks up the slack where natural exfoliation should be taking place but has become faulty. This type of exfoliation provides multiple benefits, including fighting signs of aging and alleviating uneven skin tone, dullness, and breakouts, so don’t let the “acid” in the name of these amazing ingredients scare you.
Your skin naturally sheds millions of skin cells every day, but this shedding process can slow or stop due to sun damage, dry skin, oily skin, genetics, or various skin disorders that can cause a buildup of dead skin cells or affect how cells move through the pore lining. The not-too-pretty results are unmistakable: dull, dry, or flaky skin; clogged, enlarged pores; blackheads; white bumps (milia); wrinkles; loss of frmness; and uneven skin tone.
Adding a well-formulated exfoliant to your routine helps put everything in balance again. When you gently get rid of the buildup of skin cells, you can
  unclog pores, stop breakouts, smooth wrinkles, and even make dry, dull skin a thing of the past!

OK, so what’s the difference between AHA and BHA exfoliants? When properly formulated, both AHAs and BHA are brilliant options for exfoliating the surface layers of skin. Both AHAs and BHA have a lot in common when it comes to improving hydration, reducing wrinkles, stimulating collagen production, and frming skin. Both can also reduce discolorations from sun damage and the visible marks left after a breakout is gone. But, each also has unique qualities you’ll want to consider when deciding which one to use:

what’s the difference between AHA and BHA exfoliants

  • AHAs are preferred for those whose chief concerns are sun damage and dry skin because they exfoliate primarily on the top layers of skin.They do not cut through oil so they are less compatible for those with oily/combination skin.
  • BHA is preferred for oily, acne-prone skin and for treating blackheads, enlarged pores, and white bumps because BHA can penetrate the oil that’s clogging your pores, thus normalizing the lining of the misshapen pore that contributes to acne and clogs.
  •  BHA has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action.That’s two more reasons to use a BHA exfoliant if you have acne or sensitive, reddened skin.
  • BHA is preferred for those struggling with rosacea. Not everyone with rosacea can tolerate an exfoliant; however, given the multiple benefits of BHA, it’s wise to experiment with a BHA product to see how your skin responds. Due to the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of BHA, it’s likely you’ll see reduced redness and smoother, more even skin with fewer red bumps and fewer acne breakouts. (The antimicrobial action also may benefit rosacea because there is some research suggesting that certain microbes on skin may be causing or contributing to
    the disorder.)

If your skin is sun damaged and you’re also struggling with acne or clogged pores, add a BHA product to your routine. If you want to use an AHA and BHA at the same time, that is an option. Some people fnd they work well when applied at the same time; others have better results if they apply one in the morning and the other in the evening. You can also alternate days, applying AHA one day, BHA the next. It takes experimentation to see what works best for you, but, for most of us, using one or the other is usually enough to get and maintain positive results. You don’t have to use both kinds, but there’s no harm in trying both and seeing which you prefer.

Note: Those allergic to aspirin shouldn’t use a BHA exfoliant because of aspirin’s close relationship to BHA: BHA is salicylic acid, while aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid.

Tips on Getting the Most from Your AHA or BHA Exfoliant:

  • Experiment with different strengths of AHA and BHA to see which concentration gives you the best results without any signs of irritation.
  • You can apply an AHA or BHA product once or twice per day.
  • You can apply either type of exfoliant in the eye area, but not on the eyelid
    or directly under the eye (along the lower lash line).
  • Apply the AHA or BHA product after your face is cleansed and after your
    toner has dried.
  •  Once the AHA or BHA product has been absorbed, you can apply any other
    product in your routine, such as moisturizer, serum, eye cream, sunscreen,
    and/or foundation.
  • If you’re using a topical prescription product such as Renova, other retinoids, or any of the topical prescription products for rosacea or acne, apply the AHA or BHA exfoliant frst, and then follow with your medications from lightest to heaviest texture. Some people will fnd their skin doesn’t tolerate a topical retinoid along with a AHA or BHA, but it can provide brilliant results for others, so it’s defnitely worth seeing if this combination works for you.

It’s important to understand that exfoliating with an AHA or BHA does not negatively affect how healthy skin cells are generated in the lower layers of the skin. That’s because AHA and BHA ingredients do not penetrate that deep below the surface layers of skin or beyond the inside of the pore. Exfoliating these dead skin cells can improve collagen production, increase skin’s ability to hold moisture, and allow pores to function normally! Contrary to myth, AHA and BHA exfoliants do not thin the skin.
Wondering if you can just use a rinse-off scrub or a Clarisonic device instead of an AHA or BHA? We discussed this earlier in the chapter, but it bears repeating: The benefts of manual exfoliation are not even remotely the same as the benefts from a well-formulated, leave-on AHA (glycolic or lactic acid) or BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant. These chemical physical-type exfoliants are best thought of as an extra-cleansing step (much like using a soft washcloth or Clarisonic brush) to boost the results from your cleanser.



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