BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid, an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that can deeply penetrate your pores to resurface the skin. People have used BHA for over 2,000 years to treat different skin imbalances. And we’re still using it today for the same reasons!
What else does BHA do for your skin? Let’s get into it.
What is BHA?
BHA is a type of hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin by dissolving dead skin cells to reveal healthy skin below. Because BHAs are oil-soluble, they can get at grime, like oil and dirt, deep inside your pores, making BHAs particularly beneficial for oily skin, combination skin, and acne-prone skin types — no harsh scrubbing required!
BHAs are oil-soluble, they can get at grime, like oil and dirt, deep inside your pores
The most common BHA is Salicylic Acid, a well-known ingredient in many acne skin care products.
If the word ‘acid’ makes you nervous — don’t worry, BHA won’t burn your skin. Skin care contains diluted BHA to prevent skin irritation. And chemical exfoliators, like BHA, are much gentler than mechanical ones, which can be highly irritating and create micro-tears.
Other types of BHAs include:
- Tropic Acid
- Trethocanic Acid
- Beta-Hydroxybutanoic Acid
AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) are another type of exfoliant that work a little differently than BHAs by promoting skin cell turnover. Some products contain both BHAs and AHAs. Alone, each provides skin health benefits, but together, they’re an even more powerful skin care duo.
What Does BHA Do for Your Skin?
Because BHAs can deeply penetrate the skin, they can unclog and reduce the appearance of pores. And by removing dead skin cells, BHA also helps even out skin tone and improve skin’s overall texture, making it look and feel smoother. Shedding dead skin cells also helps brighten skin.
A few other benefits of BHAs include:
- Taming inflammation that might trigger acne or rosacea.
- Having antibacterial properties that can help treat acne.
- Helping eliminate acne papules, small, raised bumps that leave skin with a rough feel.
- Getting rid of blackheads.
- Tending to be gentler than other physical and chemical exfoliants.
Regular use of BHAs can even reverse skin damage due to acne, aging, and sun exposure, by fading scars and sunspots.
BHAs are also particularly helpful if you have very oily skin because they can target excess oil build-up deep inside your pores.
Choosing the Right BHA Exfoliant for your Skin Care Needs
For a double dose of skin benefits, look for an exfoliant that contains both BHA and AHA.
It’s also a good idea to go with a product with a pH range of between 3 and 4. Anything outside this range might not work as effectively. That’s because your skin’s optimal pH is somewhere between 4 and 6. Products with a pH that’s too high can strip your skin of its natural oils and impact the skin barrier, making it more susceptible to bacteria. And having skin with a high pH can make you more likely to develop skin conditions like acne.
Go with a product with a pH range of between 3 and 4 - Anything outside this range might not work as effectively.
Acid Potion, our liquid exfoliator, which has a pH of 3.9, contains AHAs and BHAs like Lactic, Glycolic, and Salicylic Acid to help resurface skin, unclog pores, and stimulate collagen production. Niacinamide (B3) and adaptogenic Reishi mushrooms are the magic, helping to hydrate and restore the barrier while soothing skin irritation.
How Often Should You Use a BHA Exfoliant?
While there’s no concrete evidence that BHAs increase sun sensitivity, you should use an exfoliant like Acid Potion in the PM because AHAs can make you more vulnerable to sunburn.
Not sure how many nights a week to apply BHA? Assess your skin where it’s at. If it’s feeling sensitive, start with incorporating an acid 1 night per week, all while focusing on adding antioxidants and fats to your skin care routine to build skin health.
For healthy skin with a strong barrier, go for the acids a few nights a week. If you’re dealing with stubborn clogged pores that need a little extra TLC, try Acid Potion 3 nights in a row.
It’s also a good idea to avoid combining BHA treatments with retinoids. Instead, we recommend skin cycling — giving your skin a rest between using certain products helps prevent irritation and inflammation. So that means using Acid Potion on nights when you’re not applying retinoids and taking rest days, so your skin has a chance to recover.
And don’t forget to keep your skin safe from sun exposure. Hydroxy acids can make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s powerful rays.
- Alpha hydroxy acids. (2022). https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/alpha-hydroxy-acids
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- Beta hydroxy acids. (2022). https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/beta-hydroxy-acids
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- Kornhauser A, et al. (2009). The effects of topically applied glycolic acid and salicylic acid on ultraviolet radiation-induced erythema, DNA damage and sunburn cell formation in human skin. https://www.jdsjournal.com/article/S0923-1811(09)00099-1/fulltext
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- Salicylic acid. (n.d.). https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Salicylic-acid
- Zheng Y, et al. (2013). Clinical evidence on the efficacy and safety of an antioxidant optimized 1.5% salicylic acid (SA) cream in the treatment of facial acne: An open, baseline-controlled clinical study. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/srt.12022