What are AHA-BHA-PHA differences

What are AHA-BHA-PHA differences

Just like how dust accumulates in our home, dead skin cells build up on our skin’s surface over time. Our skin shed dead cells naturally, but the shedding process slows down as we age. That’s why a bit of external help to clear up the dead skin cells is needed. Exfoliation is an essential step in your beauty routine if you want clear, smooth skin.

Exfoliating is the key to achieving a clear, youthful, glowing complexion.

There are 2 methods for exfoliation: Physical and chemical.

Physical method is exfoliating by using scrub products or brushes. Whereas, chemical method is by using chemical exfoliants such as AHA, BHA, PHA.


microbeads pollution scrubs chemical exfoliants

These days, the beauty industry has given physical exfoliator, particularly scrub with microbeads a bad reputation as they can harm the marine environment. Soon after, the three-letter acronyms: AHA, BHA and PHA started roaming around. Putting acid on your skin is just as interesting as confusing it could be. So, you are in the right entry to find out everything you need to know about the popular ingredients – AHA, BHA and PHA.


AHA-BHA-PHA-chemical-exfoliation-imageWhat are AHA-BHA-PHA differences

First, let’s start with a simple definition. AHA, BHA and PHA are leave-on, acid-based chemical exfoliants. The words “acid” and “chemical” may sound scary, but they are totally safe and derived from natural substances, trust us, they do wonders on your skin. Their main functions are to remove dead skin cells, smooth skin texture, even out skin tone, and improve the ability of the skin to absorb moisture. Unlike scrubbing which works by physically removing dead skin, these acids work by dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, allowing the skin to naturally shed those stubborn dead cells, bringing the new and healthier lower-level cells to the surface. By using acid to exfoliate, the skin cellular turnover process is accelerated which means skin will appear younger, brighter and healthier.


Let’s take a look at these 3 chemical exfoliants and how do they differ?


AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)

AHA is a water-soluble acid. AHA is found mostly in fruit’s natural sugar but also derived from milk or fermented plant-based ingredients. It works on skin’s surface and has the ability to unglue the dead skin cells that makes the skin looks dull. That’s why AHA is good for treating scars and mild hyperpigmentation such as age spot and melasma. It also has anti-aging properties. So, AHA can improve fine lines and surface wrinkles. Dry skin favors AHA the most as it is a good humectant which attract water towards the skin and retain them.

BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)

BHA is an oil-soluble acid. BHA can penetrate deep into the pores and dissolve sebum and dead skin. That’s why BHA is good for removing blackheads and whiteheads while preventing clogged pores. BHA also has anti-inflammatory & antibacterial properties that benefit oily and acne prone skin.

PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acid)

PHA is a new generation of AHA. The two acids have similar qualities but PHA has much larger molecules. PHA is the most gentle acid among all, since it cannot penetrate into the epidermis but instead exfoliate exclusively on the skin’s surface at a slower rate, it causes almost none irritation. It can be used by people with sensitive skin, extremely dry skin or even skin with extreme conditions like rosacea.

We prepared a simplified table below for you to understand these acids better.

AHA BHA PHA comparison table

It is very important to know your skin type and skin condition when it comes to choosing the right acid. There are several example of acids in AHA, BHA and PHA that can be found in beauty products nowadays. Each acid addresses different skin concern. We concluded them in a table below for you.

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?

By now, we hope you have an overall picture of what AHA, BHA & PHA are. It is time to check out some example of these acids on a products level. Some of these products utilized more that one acid which is not a scary thing. We put short details of the main acids used in the product for your convenient. If you are intrigue, click on the link for more info. Check out what Major B have in store!

1. COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

(7% Glycolic Acid)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


2. MAMONDE Aqua Peel Toner Trial Size

(Tartaric Acid)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


3. INNISFREE Bija Trouble Facial Foam

(Salicylic Acid)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


4. COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

(Salicylic Acid)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


5. COSRX Low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser

(Mild Salicylic Acid with pH that similar to skin)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?

6. COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad

(Betaine Salicylate, Willow Bark Water)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


7. COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

(4% Betaine Salicylate, Willow Bark Water)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


8. COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

(4% natural BHA)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


9. COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner

(10% Willow Bark Water, 10% Apple Fruit Water, 0.1% Glycolic Acid, 0.1% Betaine Salicylate)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


10. MEDICUBE Zero Pore Pad

(Salicylic Acid, AHA Fruits Complex)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


11. SOME BY MI AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner

(AHA Fruits Complex, Salicylic Acid, Lactobionic Acid)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


12. INNISFREE Skin-Reset Peeling Mask

(2-steps mask, in 3 variants: AHA/BHA/PHA)

What are AHA, BHA & PHA? What are the differences?


Everyone skin is different. No matter what your skin type is, always start with low percentage first and never skip your sunscreen! Patch test in a small area will be a wise action for sensitive skin. Also, be generous with your moisturizer as some acid might cause dryness. Despite what the brand suggest, you can always works with the best step in application or method that works well for your preference and skin, of course.

We encourage people to be adventurous with their routine without sacrificing their skin condition. So, take this as a signal to start using exfoliating acids that sound so intimidating yet interesting. Leave us a comment if you have any question. We are here to help you with your skincare journey.

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