What to Know, According to Dermatologists

When it comes to building a balanced and healthy skincare routine, acids are pretty much non-negotiable. In fact, incorporating active acids into your regimen—many of which fall into three categories: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs)—means your skin will be dewy, glowing, clear, and radiant.

Acids, though they may sound scary, are really pretty user-friendly when used correctly. They help to gently exfoliate the skin, getting rid of dry, dead skin and while also clearing the pores of impurities.

AHAs and BHAs aren’t created equal but truthfully, one isn’t necessarily preferred over another—they simply do different things and address different skin concerns, so if you’re choosing an acid to add to your routine, the first step is figuring out which one is best for you and your skin type.

BHAs, for instance, are looked at as oil-fighting, acne-busting acids that can be used on pretty much any skin type. (Salicylic acid is probably the most popular acid in this category.) Before using a BHA, it’s important to understand what it is, what it does, and why you’re even putting it on your face in the first place.

We tapped a board-certified dermatologist and a cosmetic chemist to get the scoop on BHAs and everything you need to know before your first use. Read ahead to find out more.

What are BHAs?

As mentioned earlier, BHA is short for betahydroxy acid.

“BHAs are a group of naturally-derived acids that help chemically exfoliate the skin,” says Dr. Tiffany Jow Libby, MD. Don’t let the chemical exfoliation part scare you. It simply means that these acids use a chemical compound to gently slough away dead skin, clear pores, and rid skin of dirt and grime. If used correctly, BHAs shouldn’t cause any irritation or inflammation.

BHAs are also oil-soluble, which means they can dive deep into pores and help to rid the skin of dirt, debris and bacteria. Hence, why these are typically go-tos for clearing…

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