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  • Exfoliating your skin is so important in keeping it young and healthy looking. Getting rid of dead skin cells unclogs pores and helps with breakouts. It stimulates collagen, helps smooth wrinkles and sloughs off dry skin, revealing the clearer, fresher skin below. Everyone can benefit by using a good AHA or BHA product. So what exactly is the difference between AHA’s and BHA and which one should you choose?

    Both AHA’s and BHA are great for exfoliating the skin. The main difference between alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acid is their lipid (oil) solubility. Alpha hydroxy acids are water soluble only, while beta hydroxy is oil soluble. Both AHA and BHA have a rejuvenating effect on the skin, and can help to reduce wrinkles and improve skin tone and firmness.


    These are a group of natural acids found in foods. The three most widely used for anti-aging are citric acid, found in citrus fruits, glycolic acid found in sugar cane, and lactic acid which is found in sour milk. Alpha hydroxy acids are water soluble only and work by removing the top layers of dead skin cells. They can help with fine lines and wrinkles, irregular pigmentation and sun spots. They can also increase the thickness of deeper layers of skin, promoting firmness. This makes them perfect for improving photo-aged skin damaged by the sun. Alpha hydroxy acids in various concentrations are used in chemical peels. Doctors and cosmetologists can use a much higher concentration than what is available over the counter. Over the counter products usually contain 10% or less. Some popular treatments to try:

  • AHA+: Especially formulated for acne and breakouts, this moderately priced, high quality product is completely non-comedogenic,10% Glycolic Acid in a light feeling lotion which goes on clear and spreads easily. It also contains licochalcone, a molecule isolated from licorice root that helps calm acne-prone skin.

    Alpha Hydrox Enhanced Lotion 10% Glycolic: This is another popular, reasonably priced lotion which contains 10% alpha-hydroxy acid. It removes dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, allowing the antioxidants, vitamins and hydro-emollients to smooth, firm, and nourish the healthy skin that lies beneath.

    Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir: This non-greasy, fast absorbing formula with glycolic acid works over the normal sleep cycle to exfoliate while antioxidants and moisturizers provide soothing hydration to help tighten skins surface.

    Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic 10% Moisturizer: This luxurious facial cream features a gentle, patented time-release form of glycolic acid. This advanced deep skin formula supports natural cell turnover and helps diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging. It helps clarify the skin and smooth rough texture.

  • Peter Thomas Roth Unwrinkle Peel Pads: I’ve talked about this product before. It’s one of my favorites. This daily hydroxy acid and peptide facial peel works wonderfully to reveal clearer more radiant skin. It gently exfoliates skin to support natural cell turnover, while protecting skin from environmental damage and boosting moisture. The pads are formulated with alpha, beta, and gamma hydroxy acids (which act as exfoliators) and amino acids (the building blocks of peptides).

    Tracie Martyn Enzyme Exfoliant: This formula combines powerful enzymes with botanical skin brighteners to refine and revive dry, dull or sun-damaged complexions while drawing out impurities, minimizing the appearance of pores, preventing breakouts and combating wrinkles. Re-texturizing alpha-beta hydroxy acids exfoliate without causing irritation. Makes a wonderful weekly mask.

    St. Ives Exfoliating Pads: This is an affordable, effective exfoliant for all skin types. Each non abrasive pad is soaked in a lactic acid solution to help remove dull skin and impurities, revealing healthy, fresh skin. Contains fruit extracts and vitamin E. A real bargain at under $10.


    The only beta hydroxy acid is Salicylic Acid. Salicylic acid is an organic acid that is either biosynthesized or extracted from the bark of a willow tree. It is a derivative of aspirin. Beta hydroxy acid is oil soluble, which means that it is able to penetrate into the pore which contains the sebum and exfoliate the dead skin cells. It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action. This makes it perfect for use on oily skin. It helps in treating acne, blackheads and whiteheads.

  • LaRoche-Posay Effaclar K: Effaclar K is formulated with 1.5% salicylic acid to treat acne, 0.3% LHA to micro exfoliate the skin and stimulate cell renewal and 0.05% retinyl linoleate for cell turnover. Treats clogged pores, whiteheads, blackheads and skin impurites. Lightweight non greasy formula.

    Murad Anti/Aging Acne products: Murad has a full line of anti/aging/acne products. They can be bought separately or in kits. This kits contains some of their most popular items.This 0.5% salicylic acid regime fights acne while making fine lines and wrinkles less visible for skin that is clearer, smoother and younger looking.

    Philosophy Clear Days Ahead: This lightweight acne treatment and moisturizer contains 1% salicylic acid to help control future outbreaks and restore a healthy complexion. This refreshing treatment also improves skintone and texture and provides oil control for a matte finish.



    1. Alpha hydroxy acids work best in a concentration of 5% to 8% and at a pH of 3 to 4. Beta hydroxy works well at a lower concentration of 1 to 2% and may be better for those with sensitive skin. Cosmetic manufacturers are not required to provide concentration information on the label. As a general rule of thumb, having the hydroxy acid listed as the second or third ingredient on the list makes it more likely it contains the proper concentration.

    2. They can be used daily, but as with retinol, it is best to start slowly using a few times a week, then every other day until your skin is used to the product and showing no adverse reactions.

    3. Don’t apply to the eyelid or directly under the eye.

    3. Removing dead skin cells makes you more sensitive to the sun. Sunscreen MUST be applied when using an hydroxy acid product. Use one with a SPF of at least 20 which also contains titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for both UVA and UVB protection.

    3. Apply your product to a cleansed face. Apply added moisturizers or serums afterwards.

    4. You can use both a AHA and a BHA product together. If you have sun damaged skin and clogged pores or breakouts, you could use one in the AM and the other before bed or alternate days.

  • Since both Alpha and Beta do essentially the same thing, which to use if a matter of what works well for your skin type. A general rules of thumb suggests using beta hydroxy for oily skin and breakouts, and alpha hydroxy for sun damaged skin. Experimenting is the only way to find out what works best for you. If your skin is red and irritated ease up on your treatment products and for special skin problems always consult your dermatologist.

  • Photos: Mona Johannesson by Mikael Schulz from Fashion Gone Rogue


  1. sasa says:

    I want to try all these:P

    Shall We Sasa

  2. Manda says:

    Shea, I am actually eternally grateful to you. Over the past couple years, after reading and following the information you’ve provided, I’ve not only learned how to take care of my skin, but I’ve actually transformed it. It’s soft, supple, and youthful again. I had some pretty nasty sun damage on my forehead, which is finally almost gone! I’ve definitely had to spend some money, but it’s 100% worth it. The health of your skin is everything – something I really didn’t understand before. Just wanted you to know that you’re really making a difference in peoples lives – so thank you so much!! :)


    Manda xx

  3. Keri says:

    Great post! I think it’s great to be proactive while you are still young!

  4. Jackie says:

    I’ve had success just using my Clarisonic for exfoliation. Dr Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta peels also seem to work quite nicely for removing dead skin.

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