Bellagena is a skin care studio and med spa located in Bradenton, Florida
How AHAs and BHAs Work for You and Your Skin

How AHAs and BHAs Work for You and Your Skin

Written by:

Julia Padilla - Carr

Julia had the vision of creating a clinical skin care studio with the traditional spa atmosphere for many years. Julia is a Licensed Aesthetician, Licensed Electrologist, and Certified Laser Hair Removal Technician in the State of Florida.

Skincare is healthcare. And we know that healthcare “medical speak” can sound like alphabet soup.

In the medspa industry, there are countless acronyms and abbreviations for substances, conditions, treatments and procedures. All of those letters can get confusing. And we never want that confusion to get in between you and the treatment that will work best for your skin and your lifestyle.

Getting the alphabet right can make a huge difference in your skin’s health.

So, as your friendly Bradenton skincare experts, we’re always here to give you the ABCs of medspa terms. Today we’re tackling AHAs and BHAs—the literal “alpha” and “beta” of our exfoliation alphabet.

What are AHAs and BHAs?

You’ll see AHA and BHA just about everywhere in the skincare industry. These two acronyms refer to Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), two relatively mild, naturally occurring acids that have been used in skincare for thousands of years. (However, while AHAs and BHAs both occur in nature, the hydroxy acids used in your skincare products were most likely created in a laboratory.)

In skincare, hydroxy acids are often used as chemical exfoliants—that is, substances for removing dead skin cells and other unwanted debris from your skin. Exfoliation is what lets your healthiest skin cells shine. Hydroxy acids occupy a sweet spot for chemical exfoliants because they’re effective while causing minimal irritation to the skin itself.

And because these acids can gently but effectively remove intrusive contaminants from your skin’s surface and your pores, they can also have anti-inflammatory properties if used properly. That means they can also reduce redness, swelling, and other unsightly properties that can cause skin issues.

What’s the difference between AHAs and BHAs?

Still, AHAs and BHAs each have distinct chemical structures that set them apart.

Most notably, AHAs are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. They are also considered the stronger of the two hydroxy acids. Lactic acid and glycolic acid are two common AHAs.

But BHAs are oil-soluble, which means they hold up in water but break down in oil. Also, BHAs are considered the gentler of the two options. Those two properties make BHA a common ingredient when dealing with conditions causing redness and irritation, among other issues.

Salicylic acid is the most common type of BHA used in skincare.

When should we use AHAs vs BHAs? And for what?

To put it very simply:

As the stronger, water-soluble hydroxy acids, AHAs are great at surface-level exfoliation but can irritate dry or sensitive skin. They clear out dead skin cells and minimize mild skin discoloration, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and evening skin tone.

The gentler, oil-soluble BHAs are able to penetrate clogged pores and break up the oil-based obstructions. BHAs therefore are used to clear up acne and breakouts, and to remove excess oil in oily skin types in order to prevent problems before they start.

The Hydroxy Acid Breakdown


  • Include lactic acid and glycolic acid
  • Water soluble
  • Stronger
  • Used for surface-level exfoliation
  • Can replenish the skin’s protective barrier and encourage moisture retention
  • Higher chance of irritation



  • Include salicylic acid
  • Oil soluble
  • Gentler
  • Used to unclog pores and remove oil
  • Can prevent breakouts and smooth bumpy skin


Bellagena’s Final Word

While AHAs and BHAs are two great chemical exfoliants that have been developed into specialized roles, skincare is rarely black and white. It may still be hard to determine which of these hydroxy acids would work best for your skin—and in fact, both or neither may be appropriate.

Still, this is a great place to start. Check the ingredients list on your skincare products, and talk to your friendly Bradenton skincare experts at Bellagena for more tips. We can help make sure you’re getting the right part of the medspa alphabet soup.

Don't Get Left Out!

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