Chemical Exfoliation

The ever discussed wonders of chemical exfoliation, also knows as AHA’s and BHA’s; what is the difference, what do they do, & how do you know which to use, when?

What's the difference between a BHA and an AHA?

Alpha Hydroxy's (AHA)
ie: glycolic, lactic, tartaric
Used to preventing pre-mature signs of aging, fine-lines, and sun damage.

+ water soluble
+ peels away top layer of skin
+ stimulates cell turnover to lighten hyperpigmentation
+ tightens pores
+ treats sun damage
+ prevents fine lines

Beta Hydroxy's (BHA) 
ie: salicylic, citric
Used to clean out pores, preventing inflammatory acne and controlling oil production.

+ oil soluble
+ goes deeper to remove dead cells/sebum unclogging pores
+ acne prevention
+ dries out excess oil
+ redness / inflammation control
+ improves collagen production

How do I use acids?

You'll notice these ingredients across a vast array of products including cleansers, toners, lotions, spot treatments, and masques. Most commonly salycylic acid (BHA) between 0.5 - 2.0%, and glycolic acid (AHA) up to 7%.

With so many products to choose from, how do we incorporate the right one? No two people have the same skin, and will react the same to specific ingredients; so its very much trial and error, good judgment, and listening to your skin! My personal approach is to use a hydrating cleanser/lotion, adding in 'actives' in the form of a nightly spot treatments and weekly masques as to not compromise healthy skin.

Rules while using acids:

Don't overdo it: don't douse your skin in product, a little goes a long way; use once daily, no more!

Don't mix actives: benzoyl peroxide, azeleic acid, retinol, are all irritating agents that when used simultaneously will disrupt your skins barrier causing inflammation; use one at a time, avoiding mixing or layering.

Don't apply to inflamed breakouts: these ingredients (in my opinion) work inherently as preventative agents. once your skin is irritated, applying an acidic compound directly will cause more harm than good. instead stick to a hydrating routine with plenty of hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, and humicants to promote speedy healing; only re-introducing acids when your spots are fully healed.

Product Recommendations:


Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA ($30): a cult-favorite toner, use after cleansing, prior to serums, lotions, and face oils.

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution ($9): on the higher end of the spectrum of glycolic toners available, leaves your skin warm and tingly; use after cleansing, prior to serums, lotions, and face oils.


M-61 Powerspot Blemish Lotion ($16): similar to Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, minus the artificial fragrance, plus soothing cucumber and aloe to counter act the irritation that can occur when using acids; my go-to spot treatment.


Drunk Elephant Baby Facial ($80): this is a 25% AHA, 2% BHA (dominant in glycolic acid) along with several antioxidants and fatty omega acids acting as one of the highest grade at-home peels on the market. Used once weekly for twenty minutes; an investment in vibrant, glowing skin to say the least. *note: never use on inflamed or compromised skin

The Ordinary Peeling Solution ($7): a rival to Drunk Elephants baby facial (for a fraction of the price) includes a slightly higher dilution at 30% AHA, and 2% BHA, minus the antioxidant feature instead including hydrating glycerin and fruit extracts.


Acids are excellent when used consistently and properly at keeping your skin healthy, glowing and vibrant! Check your label to see what % of each ingredient you're using, paying close attention to how your skin reacts at every level. Happy Investigating! 

Have questions? Message me on Instagram @katherinemenna