AHA vs BHA vs PHA: Exploring the ABCs of Skincare Acids

The three powerful ingredients AHA, BHA, and PHA have grabbed the beauty industry by storm. Each acid has unique and amazing benefits; by understanding their differences, you can easily choose the right one for your skin. In this blog post, we will decode the AHA, BHA, and PHA benefits and their differences and learn how to use these skincare products.

aha vs bha


What Is AHA?

AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid) is a water-soluble acid that is derived from natural sources like almonds, milk, sugar cane, and different fruits. The commonly used AHAs for skincare are Lactic acid and glycolic acid.

What is AHA in Skincare: 

AHA is essential in skincare. It breaks down dead skin cells and makes our skin smooth and wrinkle-free; moreover, it also minimizes the pores size of our skin. However, glycolic acids are potent, and they can be irritating to your skin. So, if you have sensitive skin, you may experience redness and itching. For people who are new to chemical peels, it is better for them to use gentle products like lactic acid and mandelic acid. AHAs are powerful moisturizers and they enhance the natural moisturizing factors of our skin.

 NOTE: AHAs are recommended for mature, sun-damaged, and normal to dry skin.

whats aha

Types Of AHA: 

The following are different AHA types.

  • Glycolic acid
  • Citric acid
  • Mandelic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Tartaric acid

Glycolic Acid:

Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane, and it is the most powerful form of AHA. It is a potent exfoliant and exfoliates dead skin cells and dark skin spots. Moreover, it reduces the appearance of acne scars, age spots, and hyperpigmentation.

Best for oily, normal, combination, and mature skin.

Citric Acid:

The sources of citric acid are citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemon, orange, and berries. Citric acid works as a superstar to lighten skin pigmentation, maintain the PH of the skin, and make skin texture smooth and silky. Moreover, it is a powerful burst of antioxidants and acts as a natural astringent. It clears the pores and removes excess oil from the skin.

 Citric acid is Safe for all skin types but especially beneficial for oily skin and clogged pores.

Mandelic Acid:

This Natuer’s gift is derived from bitter almonds. Due to the antibacterial properties of mandelic acid, it is effective for pigmentation and acne breakouts. It is a mild form of AHA. Its milder version is due to its large molecules and slow penetration, so it’s gentler for your skin.

 It is ideal for sensitive, dry, and acne-prone skin.

Lactic acid:

Lactic acid is derived from milk. Due to its large molecular size, it has less penetration in the skin, so it targets only the upper layer of the skin. Lactic acid enhances the skin’s moisturization factors and is suitable for all skin types.


Recommended for sensitive, dry, and mature skin.

Tartaric acid:

Tartaric acids are a rich source of antioxidants and are derived from grapefruits, tamarind, and grapes. It protects our skin from free radicals. Due to its powerful keratolytic and astringent properties, it hydrates the skin and reduces the visible aging signs.

 Suitable for all skin types.

AHA Benefits For Skin:

There are numerous AHA skin benefits.

  • It promotes brighter complexion by exfoliating dead skin cells.
  • Reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
  • Improves skin tone and texture.
  • Diminishes age spots and hyperpigmentation.
  • Increase collagen production.
  • Prevent acne and unclog pores.
  • Make skin radiant and youthful.
  • Boost the absorption of other skincare products.

 TIP: Start AHAs with lower concentration until you build up tolerance.

How To Use AHA?

  • Before application on the face, do a patch test and apply it on a small area of your skin to check sensitivity.
  • Use once or twice a week and gradually increase its frequency.
  • Apply AHA products in the evening because they increase the sensitivity to sunlight.
  • First, clean your face before applying AHA.
  • Apply a small amount of AHA on your face with your fingertips.
  • Try to avoid applying AHA near the eyes or delicate areas.
  • After the recommended time, rinse it with lukewarm water and apply a cleanser.
  • Always use sunscreen during the day when you are using AHA.

AHA-containing Skincare Products:

  1. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion
  2. Glytone Exfoliating Body Lotion
  3. Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
  4. Pixi Glow Tonic
  5. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

What Is BHA In Skin Care? BHA Skin Care

BHA: What is it? Beta Hydroxy Acid is a soluble acid. It is derived from willow bark or can be synthesized in a lab. Moreover, it penetrates deep into the pores and dissolves debris and bacteria. The best BHA exfoliants help to improve flaky, bumpy, and dry skin. BHA is ideal for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin. It also treats blackheads, whiteheads, and superficial acne.

Its active ingredient may irritate dry and eczema-prone skin.

Bha Vs AHa

Types of BHA:

The following are BHA types.

  • Salicylic acid ( the best chemical peel for oily, acne-prone skin)
  • Tropic acid
  • Beta hydroxybutyric acid
  • Trethocanic acid

Salicylic acid: The Best Chemical Peel For Oily, Acne Prone Skin

Salicylic acid is lipophilic and the most common beta-hydroxy acid. It helps to remove excess oil and regulate sebum production and also prevents acne and pimples. It belongs to salicylates, a class of drugs known as aspirin. So, it has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help acne, pimple, and inflamed skin.

 NOTE: If you are allergic to aspirin, try to avoid these products.

BHA Skin Benefits:

Following are the BHA benefits for the skin.

  • Unclogs pores and removes excess oil effectively.
  • Reduce acne-associated inflammation and redness.
  • Prevents the formation of blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Control sebum production.
  • Clear and minimize large pores.
  • Reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
  • It makes skin soft and supple.
  • Used as spot treatment.

  BHA vs AHA: BHA is more suitable for sensitive skin as compared to AHA. So, it’s a good choice for people with reactive skin type.

How To Use BHA?

  • Apply BHA products after cleaning and toning.
  • Focus on acne-prone areas.
  • Follow your daily skincare routine, including sunscreen.
  • Use BHA once a day or alternative days.
  • If there is any sign of irritation, adjust its usage accordingly.
  • Consult with a skincare specialist if you have concerns or questions about BHA.

BHA-containing Skincare Products:

  1. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash with 2% Salicylic Acid
  2. Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
  3. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  4. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser for Acne Prone Skin
  5. Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel

What Is A PHA?

PHA (Polyhydroxy acid) is a new generation of acids; it has the same benefits as AHAs, but it has a larger molecule size. Due to its large molecule size, it slowly penetrates the skin and performs gentle exfoliation. It means PHA is not as hard as glycolic acid—so it’s suitable for all types of skin, especially for sensitive skin.


PHA SkinCare:

PHA makes our skin texture smooth by removing dead skin cells and debris. Moreover, it boosts cell renewal and reduces the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, acne scars, and pigmentation. It not only works as an exfoliator but also acts as a humectant.

 Types of PHAs:

  • Galactose
  • Lactobionic acid
  • Gluconolactone


It is found in sugar present in dairy products. Galactose stimulates collagen synthesis. This energizing nutrient has antioxidant properties.

Lactobionic acid:

It is derived from milk, and it’s the oxidized form of lactose. It is non-irritating and has anti-aging properties.


Gluconolactone is naturally produced by mammals and corn. It is in the form of crystalline powder extracted from gluconic acid. It has powerful antioxidant and anti-microbial properties.

 PHA vs BHA vs AHA: PHA is mild skincare acid compared to AHAs and BHAs. So it’s ideal for sensitive skin. Due to its soft nature, it is suitable for people with skin conditions like eczema, sensitivity, and rosacea.

 PHA Benefits For Skin:

  • Provide deep hydration and moisture retention to dehydrated skin.
  • It is ideal for sensitive skin due to its large molecular size, so it’s less irritating.
  • Antioxidant properties protect the skin from environmental damage.
  • Gently exfoliate the dead skin cells.
  • Reduce the appearance of uneven skin.

How To Use PHA?

  • Clean your face.
  • Apply it on your face.
  • It is non-irritating and well-tolerated, so you can use it on a daily basis.

PHA-containing Skincare Products:

  1. Neogen Dermalogy Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
  2. Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner
  3. COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream
  4. The Inkey List Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA) Gentle Exfoliating Toner
  5. By Wishtrend Acid-Duo 2% Mild Gel Cleanser

aha bha pha benefits

 Choosing the Right Products: AHA, BHA, and PHA in Skincare:

  • Understand Your Skin Type: Determine if you have dry, oily, combination, or sensitive skin.
  • AHA for Surface Exfoliation: AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) is great for surface exfoliation, revealing smoother skin.
  • BHA for Deeper Pores: BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) penetrates pores, making it effective for oily and acne-prone skin.
  • PHA for Gentle Exfoliation: PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid) is a milder option suitable for sensitive skin.
  • Check Product Concentrations: Look for the percentage of AHA, BHA, or PHA in the product to match your skin’s needs.
  • Start Slowly: Introduce new products gradually to avoid irritation or sensitivity.
  • Patch Test New Products: Test a small amount on your skin to ensure compatibility.
  • Consider Formulations: Choose between cleansers, toners, serums, or creams based on your skincare routine.
  • Consult a Dermatologist: Seek professional advice, especially if you have specific skin concerns or conditions.

Expert Advice: Dermatologists’ Take on AHA, BHA, and PHA:

In the quest for radiant skin, dermatologists offer invaluable insights into the benefits and considerations of incorporating AHA, BHA, and PHA into your skincare routine.

1. Understanding Acid Types:

  • Dermatologists emphasize the importance of understanding the distinctions between AHA, BHA, and PHA.
  • AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) is praised for surface exfoliation, revealing smoother and brighter skin.
  • BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) is recommended for its ability to penetrate pores, making it effective for acne-prone and oily skin.
  • PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid) is highlighted as a gentler alternative suitable for individuals with sensitive skin.

2. Tailoring Acid Selection to Skin Type:

  • Dermatologists stress the significance of selecting acids based on individual skin types.
  • AHA might be favored for dry or sun-damaged skin, while BHA is often recommended for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
  • PHA, being less irritating, is suggested for individuals with sensitive skin or those new to chemical exfoliation.

3. Concentration Matters:

  • Dermatologists advise paying attention to the concentration of acids in skincare products.
  • Higher concentrations may deliver more intense results but could also increase the risk of irritation.
  • Beginners are often encouraged to start with lower concentrations and gradually increase as the skin builds tolerance.

4. Cautionary Notes and Precautions:

  • Dermatologists highlight the importance of patch-testing new products containing AHA, BHA, or PHA.
  • Sun protection is stressed, especially when using exfoliating acids, as they can increase sensitivity to UV rays.
  • Individuals with certain skin conditions, such as rosacea or eczema, may need to approach acid use cautiously or consult a dermatologist.

5. Integration into Skincare Routine:

  • Dermatologists provide insights on how to incorporate AHA, BHA, and PHA into a comprehensive skincare routine.
  • Recommendations may include using acids at night, avoiding concurrent use of multiple acids, and pairing them with hydrating and soothing products.

6. Professional Guidance:

  • Dermatologists emphasize the value of seeking professional advice for personalized skincare.
  • Individuals with specific skin concerns or those on prescription medications should consult a dermatologist before introducing acids.

7. Monitoring and Adjusting:

  • Dermatologists stress the need for regular monitoring of skin reactions.
  • Adjustments in product usage or concentration may be necessary based on how the skin responds over time.

Potential Risks Of AHA, BHA, PHA:

1. Skin Irritation:

  • All three acids have the potential to cause skin irritation, especially in individuals with sensitive skin.
  • Overuse or using products with high concentrations may lead to redness, burning sensations, or peeling.

2. Sun Sensitivity:

  • AHA, BHA, and PHA can increase sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Without proper sun protection, using these acids may heighten the risk of sunburn and sun damage.

3. Dryness and Flakiness:

  • Exfoliating acids can contribute to dryness, flakiness, or an overly stripped skin barrier.
  • Adequate moisturization is crucial to counteract potential dryness.

4. Compatibility Issues:

  • Some individuals may experience compatibility issues with other skincare ingredients, leading to adverse reactions.
  • It’s essential to be cautious when combining AHA, BHA, or PHA with certain prescription medications or other active ingredients.

5. Initial Breakouts:

  • When starting with BHA, some individuals may experience an initial breakout as the acid works to unclog pores.
  • This is often a temporary phase as the skin adjusts.

6. Allergic Reactions:

  • Individuals with known allergies or sensitivities should be cautious and patch test before using products containing these acids.
  • Allergic reactions may include itching, swelling, or rash.

7. Not Suitable for All Skin Types:

  • While AHA, BHA, and PHA can benefit many skin types, they may not be suitable for everyone.
  • Individuals with certain skin conditions like eczema or rosacea should consult a dermatologist before use.

8. Pregnancy and Nursing:

  • Some dermatologists advise caution during pregnancy and nursing, as there may be limited studies on the safety of these acids in these situations.
  • It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using such products during these periods.

9. Chemical Sensitivity:

  • Individuals with a history of chemical sensitivity or reactions may need to exercise extra caution when incorporating AHA, BHA, or PHA.

10. Excessive Exfoliation:

  • Overuse of exfoliating acids can lead to excessive exfoliation, compromising the skin barrier and potentially causing more harm than benefit.

Scientific Research Behind AHA, BHA, PHA:

Do you want to know how these skincare acids enhance the skin’s health? What’s their mechanism of action?

  • According to the study, AHA reduces the calcium ion concentration in the epidermis(the upper layer of skin), which leads to a breakdown of the cellular structure of the skin that causes exfoliation. Calcium ions are responsible for the bonding between cells.
  • According to another study, salicylic acid (a type of BHA) provides protection from UV rays.


Can I use AHA BHA on wet skin?

Wash your face and let your skin dry before applying skincare acids to your skin. Because if we apply acid to wet skin, it can cause irritation.

Can I use BHA and AHA together?

Yes, you can use BHA and AHA together. Both are exfoliants and perform different functions. But remember, while applying these, use sunscreen before going outside.

Can I use Niacinamide with AHA or BHA peel?

You can use niacinamide with serums, creams, retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid AHAs and BHAs. The best method to apply them is to use them at different times of the day. Use one in the morning and the other in the night.

Does AHA help acne?

AHA can be beneficial for acne-prone skin. But BHA is more effective in unclogging the pores and preventing acne breakout. At the same time, AHA is effective for dry skin.

Can I use Hyaluronic acid with AHA and BHA?

Yes, you can use hyaluronic acid with AHA and BHA because hyaluronic acid has hydrating properties, and it provides better hydration and nourishment when used in combination with AHA and BHA.


In the beauty world of skincare acids, AHA, BHA, and PHA each have different properties and unique benefits.

  • AHAs are water-soluble, have hydrating and moisturizing properties, and are best for dry skin.
  • BHAs are oil-soluble, contain anti-inflammatory properties, and help to reduce acne and inflammation.
  • PHAs are also water-soluble, have anti-aging properties, and reduce the signs of aging, ideal for sensitive skin.
  • The penetration of AHA is more in the epidermis; BHA penetrates in the pores and PHA has less penetration due to its large molecular size, so it stays on the skin’s surface.
  • AHA increases sun sensitivity as compared to BHA and PHA.

Remember, Skincare acids and peels are beneficial for our skin, but it is very important to use these acids wisely to achieve optimal results.






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