The difference between Alpha/AHAs and Beta/BHA

August 21, 2008 at 7:20 am 1 comment

Paula Begoun released a video that accurately describes the difference between AHA’s and BHA and which one is best for your specific skin type.  Not all women can tolerate these acid exfoliants, but if you can, these acids can benefit your skin.  BTW, no I am not endorsing Paula’s Choice skincare line, but you must admit, Paula’s skin looks incredible in this video.  Obviously she is doing something right! 

Paula on The Truth About Exfoliants:

The bottom line is that for most skin types exfoliation is a good thing. No question about it. Dead skin cells make your skin feel rough, and if you are over the age of 20 (given the number of adults who have sun damage, clogged pores and dry skin), you would most likely benefit from exfoliation. There are two types of exfoliates : mechanical (or manual) exfoliation, and alphahydroxy acids and betahydroxy acids. The former you have to manually move around your face. They are pretty much ’80s-style exfoliates. I think that form of exfoliation is dated, and I don’t think there is anything in a scrub that can’t be replaced by a washcloth. What does make a difference is a well-formulated betahydroxy or alphahydroxy product. There aren’t many of them around because they are tricky to make and there is a risk of irritation. But much of the objective research out there suggests that exfoliation is good for most skin types.

So as a rule of thumb, AHA’s (which are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid) are for aging, sun damaged skin.  BHA or Saylicylic Acid is better for blemish prone, oily or combinaton skin.

Cleansers that contain AHA’s or BHA are generally not ideal because they are quickly washed off the skin and the skin needs to be able to absorb these acids to be effective.  The best form of AHA’s or BHA’s would be in the form of a moisturizer, treatment, or a masque/peel where it is allowed to penetrate the skin. 

Paula’s Choice is offering 10% off all her AHA and BHA exfoliants through the month of August at her website:  Paula’

Side effects can include irritation, redness and itching, and increased sensitivity to the sun.  So while using any of these treatments you should take precautions by using a good sunscreen and avoiding prolonged sun exposure.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mo  |  August 21, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I’m so glad you posted this Jen, I’ve been thinking about posting the same thing! One thing I really appreciate about Paula is that she talks about what an effective concentration is so that people don’t throw their money at something with too low of a concentration to do any good. I’ve found that benzoyl peroxide works best for my acne prone skin. While it’s not a BHA it is very similar and can be more effective than salicylic acid in some cases.


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