Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are cosmeceutical skincare acids that exfoliate, brighten, and help retexture the skin. They can be found in a number of skincare products, ranging from moisturisers to cleansers and everything in between. Generally speaking, they need to be kept at concentrations of about 1-2% and a pH of 3-4 in order to be effective. This means that they’ll be at the bottom of the list of ingredients since they’re usually not the main base of the formula.
On top of all the beta-hydroxy acids benefits listed above, they also offer the advantage of providing effective exfoliation to the skin but can also provide additional antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory benefits. In general, the molecular structure of BHAs allows them to penetrate the skin well, and BHAs can release dead skin cells that clog pores and contribute to acne.
This means that BHAs are most useful to people who suffer from oily or combination skin since the ingredient will be able to clear up any excess sebum (oil) being secreted from the pores. On the topic of skin conditions, it’s also helpful for those affected by rosacea since it can help calm the skin and reduce redness.
It’s important to note, however, that BHAs are an acid (yes, it’s fairly obvious but it’s worth highlighting) which means that they can cause irritation or redness when overused. Therefore, it's best to proceed with caution. Start off by using BHAs every other day until your skin gets accustomed to the ingredient and then gradually work your way up to daily use. Just make sure that if you’re using AHAs alongside it you alternate between the two rather than layering them. Remember - overuse of acids is just asking for irritated, red skin.
You may have heard us mention AHAs before and that’s cause they’re a super important exfoliant in their own right. The main difference between the two ingredients is that AHAs are generally used for smoothing out wrinkles and brightening skin while BHAs are targeted towards acne and treating skin on a deeper level. That being said, both of these ingredients are miracle-workers when it comes to skincare so you really can’t go wrong with either one.
Back to BHAs though - their main source is salicylic acid which is found in willow bark. No doubt, this natural occurrence contributes to it being safe for just about every skin-type since it doesn’t need a high percentage to be effective. Essentially, this ingredient is perfect for those looking for a gentle but effective skincare silver bullet. It helps target your skin problems on a deeper level and allows for your pores to be healthy, while also contributing to evening out any wrinkles or uneven skin texture that you may have been struggling with.
Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are a class of skincare acids that are primarily use to exfoliate the skin and treat acne. They are usually derived from natural sources making them sustainable and a perfect addition to your skincare regime.
Before going into a detailed explanation of the ingredient, it’s worthwhile to take some time to explain why exfoliation is really important for your overall skin health. Basically, the outer layer of the skin, the skin barrier (the stratum corneum), is composed of dead skin cells called corneocytes. The skin naturally sheds its outer layer; however, it is common for dead skin cells to build on the surface of the skin leading to dullness, flaking, bumpy texture, and acne.
Exfoliation will release dead skin cells, promoting a smooth and clear complexion. This means that rather than sit on top of your skin collecting dust and oil, those dead skin cells get removed and make way for new ones. In turn, those new ones give you a brighter complexion by rejuvenating your skin.
How this ties in with BHAs is that they exfoliate the skin by loosening the bonds holding corneocytes together (desmosomes). This process releases the dead cells from the surface of the skin and is known as chemical exfoliation.¹ Chemical exfoliation has benefits over physical exfoliation (scrubbing) as it is common for harsh physical exfoliators to cause micro scratches and inflammation in the skin.
In contrast, chemical exfoliation - specifically by using BHAs - allows for your pores to be cleared internally which both prevents any superficial remnants of the act as well as providing a more thorough, deep cleanse. This is why BHAs are known for their ability to not only clear acne, but to prevent it. By using this ingredient regularly, you are essentially robbing any oils of the chance of building up.
This is helped, in no small part, by the fact that BHAs are oil-soluble molecules with good penetration into the skin. They are commonly used on those with oily skin and acne. The reason being that BHAs work to unclog skin cells that contribute to acne and blocked pores. Comparatively, AHAs are water-soluble meaning they can treat skin superficially, which has its own set of benefits. It all depends on what your unique skincare goals are.
Although BHAs have been proven to be extremely helpful for the skin, as with all skin products, there are a few points to note down before you start using them religiously. Firstly, much like AHAs, they increase sun-sensitivity in the skin. As a result, it’s important to be diligent with your sunscreen when using this ingredient.
Secondly, as mentioned previously, BHAs can cause irritation, dry skin or redness if used improperly so always be sure to keep an eye on how your skin is doing when you start using it.
All in all, BHAs are a great option for helping treat acne-prone skin. They’ll work internally to help rid your skin of all that unwanted oil and provide some stunning results. Not to mention, the only side effects that you will see, apart from clearer skin, will be brighter, more radiant skin since this ingredient is more or less irritating (of course, skin types vary meaning this will not be the case for everyone).
Not to mention, this ingredient has become widely available within a range of skincare products due to its popularisation among both skincare enthusiasts and experts in the field which means that you have to at least give it a try. After all, who are we to argue with qualified professionals?
1. Green B, Yu R, Van Scott E. Clinical and Cosmeceutical Uses of Hydroxyacids. Clinics in Dermatology. 2009;27(5):495-501.
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