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AHA and BHA Combinations: Everything You Need to Know About Using These Products

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Photo by Beauty Agent Studio/Getty Images

If you deal with unexpected breakouts or blackheads and whiteheads lingering around your pores, chances are you’ve discovered or at least have heard of AHA and BHA products. AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid, which are water-soluble acids that remove dead skin cells, while BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid, which are oil-soluble and regulate oil production, according to Cynthia Rivas, an esthetician and skin care expert based in New York City. 

Both AHAs and BHAs exfoliate the skin and are both on the ingredients list of many exfoliating products on the market today. “In general, they are safe to use for everyone, but sensitive skin types should look for products with a low concentration of BHA and higher AHA which is more gentle on the skin,” explains Rivas. Using a product that has AHA and BHA combination ingredients can help revive dull skin, exfoliate dead cells and even help stave off acne and future breakouts. Here are our picks for the best AHA and BHA combination products to try.


About the Expert:

Cynthia Rivas is an esthetician and skin care expert based in New York City.

1. iS CLINICAL Active Serum

iS CLINICAL Active Serum
Courtesy of iS CLINICAL

This is Rivas’ top pick for a serum that uses both AHAs and BHAs to clear out dead, dull skin cells. “It’s a  great acne treatment that also reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as even skin tone,” says Rivas. It’s made with natural AHA exfoliants like bilberry extract and white willow bark (BHA) to deeply exfoliate the pores with minimal irritation left behind. 

2. VERSED Doctor’s Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask

VERSED Doctor’s Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask
Courtesy of VERSED

This is a powerful formula with a not-so scary price tag. This resurfacing mask uses a combination of lactic acid and glycolic acid (both AHAs) to remove dead skin and salicylic acid to actually go in and clear out the gunk in pores. This mask is so powerful, you shouldn’t leave it on for more than three minutes. Yup, that’s all it takes to get glowing, soft skin in a flash.

3. GOOD MOLECULES Overnight Exfoliating Treatment

GOOD MOLECULES Overnight Exfoliating Treatment
Courtesy of GOOD MOLECULES

Glycolic and lactic acid not only help slough off dead skin cells, but they help to diminish signs of aging by revealing brighter skin after you use them to exfoliate. This includes the softening of fine lines, removal of discoloration and more. This serum does it all and will even help reduce further breakouts thanks to 0.10 percent salicylic acid. 

4. PETER THOMAS ROTH Goodbye Acne AHA/BHA Clearing Acne Gel

PETER THOMAS ROTH Goodbye Acne AHA/BHA Clearing Acne Gel
Courtesy of PETER THOMAS ROTH

This is both a face and body spot-treatment gel for those struggling with acne and who want to use BHAs/AHAs to target zits. If you’re seriously suffering from breakouts, pick up this maximum strength formula. It’s made with two percent salicylic acid and 10 percent glycolic acid to minimize the appearance of pores, reduce future breakouts, and reveal overall clearer, brighter skin.

5. SKINFIX AHA/BHA Niacinamide Exfoliating Pads

SKINFIX AHA/BHA Niacinamide Exfoliating Pads
Courtesy of SKINFIX

You can use these alcohol-free pads anywhere on the face or body, or keep them in your gym bag to wipe off bacteria and other gunk on-the-go, before you can hit the showers. The AHA/BHA niacinamide complex that the wipes apply don’t have to be washed off, though. The leave-on formula targets overactive pores and even keratosis pilaris on inflamed skin.

6. COSRX Clarifying Treatment Toner

COSRX Clarifying Treatment Toner
Courtesy of COSRX

Using a spray toner allows you to skip the use of cotton-pad waste and apply the toner directly to your face or onto your hands to gently pat in. This COSRX toner includes glycolic acid, betaine salicylate and willow bark water to help reduce discoloration caused by former acne spots. Spray this on and clear congested pores to prevent new zits from zapping,

7. BLISS PRO 11.8% AHA, BHA, PHA Liquid Exfoliant

BLISS PRO 11.8% AHA, BHA, PHA Liquid Exfoliant
Courtesy of BLISS PRO

PHAs or polyhydroxy acids are considered the chemical-exfoliant cousin of AHAs. They are larger than AHAs and BHAs in composition, so cannot penetrate the skin as well as BHA and AHAs. But this also means they are less irritating than BHAs and AHAs, so if you find yourself sensitive to those, you might want to try a product that only has PHAs. But! If sensitivity isn’t an issue for you, pick up this superhero exfoliant that contains all three types of acids to reveal clearer skin from more stubborn, larger pores. 

8. THE ORDINARY AHA BHA Peeling Solution

THE ORDINARY AHA BHA Peeling Solution
Courtesy of THE ORDINARY

With a powerful blend of 30 percent AHAs and two percent BHAs, this peel gets to work fast without irritation, thanks to the inclusion of a Tasmanian pepperberry derivative, which has been shown in studies to reduce irritation caused by acid use in skincare.

You might want to start out using this extremely potent formula once a week or do a patch test on your skin before committing to a full face, because yeah, it’s that good.

9. GLOW RECIPE Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum

GLOW RECIPE Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum
Courtesy of GLOW RECIPE

This GLOW RECIPE formula has a 10 percent acid complex that includes two percent salicylic acid and mandelic acid, which exfoliates with minimal irritation. The addition of strawberry, a natural exfoliant, also helps reduce and control excess oil on the skin’s surface. Of course, this serum adds in hyaluronic acid for even more hydration once you’ve sloughed off all the dead, gunky skin you’ve been toting around for way too long.

10. HERBIVORE Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial

HERBIVORE Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial
Courtesy of HERBIVORE

This weekly facial will keep your skin in check and help keep you in an AHA + BHA routine that’s easy to manage. This mask is perfect for people who run hot or for use in the summer time since its cooling, jelly-like formula adds instant relief and relaxation as it gets to work clearing out pores. 

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About the author
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Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated December 16, 2022 12:00 AM