How to Use AHAs and BHAs in Your Skincare Routine Feb 28, 2017 by Sarah (Day Styles)

When you have so many options, it’s hard to know exactly what type of skincare products you need for your skin type. Are you acne-prone? Are you starting to see fine lines and wrinkles? Is your skin dry? And, once you narrow down your concern, you have to find the right product, and some issues could benefit from a chemical exfoliator. AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) are super important to use as part of your skincare routine, but you have to make sure you get the right one for you.

The Basics

Chemical exfoliators help to remove dead skin cells off of the surface of your skin. These dead cells can clog pores and lead to breakouts. AHAs and BHAs can help enhance the health of your skin, get rid of the dead skin cells, and smooth out the appearance of fine lines. Here are some things to know before diving into chemical exfoliators.

They Won’t Wash Off

AHAs and BHAs need time to absorb into the skin, so it’s best to use them at night before going to bed after you cleanse your face. If you do use them in the morning look for gels that aren't going to wipe off before applying your makeup or day cream. You don’t want to waste money on a product that’s going to slide right off when you moisturize.


When you start using chemical exfoliators, your skin will become more sensitive to sunlight. This is another reason to apply AHAs and BHAs at night since you won’t be exposed to direct sunlight! Sunscreen should already be a part of your everyday skincare routine, but it’s a must if you start to use AHAs and BHAs at any time, day or night.

AHAs for Dry Skin

If you have dry skin, AHAs will be better for you than BHAs will. AHAs have properties that help to hold moisture in the skin, so it will help rehydrate your dry skin and refresh your face. If you have dry skin but find that you still suffer from acne, try using mandelic acid specifically. There is less risk of causing hyperpigmentation, and it has anti-bacterial properties.

BHAs for Oily Skin

BHAs are really great acids to penetrate deep into the skin and clean the pores out, helping to reduce acne and acne flare-ups. Staying away from sunlight isn’t as big of a concern if you’re just using BHAs, but if you use BHAs too often they can dry your skin out very quickly! So use them in moderation, or you’ll enter a vicious cycle of skin problems!

Start Low, Work High

Chemical exfoliators come with different levels of strength, and if you start using one with a higher concentration too frequently, your skin can become irritated or inflamed. Start with a lower concentration and slowly work up to the most effective level. Your skin will get used to whatever level you start with, so when you notice that it’s not working as well as it used to, it could be time to increase the concentration. If your skin is oily, you’ll be able to handle a higher concentration than people who have sensitive or dry skin.

Limit the Number of Products You Use

Like we mentioned above, people will have a different tolerance level when it comes to AHAs and BHAs. Keep in mind that using multiple products that include the acids won’t necessarily give you better results. If you use it too often, it can irritate your skin, so stock a maximum of two different products that contain these acids and leave the rest alone.

Aim for 8% - 10% AHAs

For those of you that have never used a chemical exfoliator before, find an AHA product that is less than 8% concentration as your starting point. Once you’ve built up your tolerance to the product, you can move into the 8% - 10% range, where AHAs are most effective.

Aim for 1% - 2% BHAs

If you’re trying to fight minor breakouts, blackheads or clogged pores, 1% BHA is probably going to work just fine for you. If you suffer from some hyperpigmentation and breakouts more often, try 2%, and that should work better. Again, don’t use a higher concentration that you need or you risk doing more harm than good. But in the right hands, AHAs and BHAs can be a great component of an effective skincare routine!



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