Updated: Jul 23
In this article, we'll explore the world of AHA, BHA, and PHA, three powerful ingredients that have gained popularity in skincare routines. Let's delve into what they are, their benefits, differences, recommended products, potential side effects, and their efficacy in treating acne. As a dermatologist, I use these products on myself and my patients on a daily basis. So, I can provide some insights based on my personal experiences too.
Table of Contents
What is the full form of AHA BHA PHA?
AHA, BHA, and PHA are abbreviations for different types of exfoliating acids used in skincare. These acronyms stand for Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), and Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA), respectively.
AHA, BHA, PHA Benefits: Are They Good for the Skin?
These are great for the skin. However, the degree of how much one acid is better than the other depends on the specific acids you are comparing. AHAs are effective for surface exfoliation and addressing hyperpigmentation. BHAs excel in treating acne and pore congestion. PHAs offer gentle exfoliation and are ideal for sensitive skin. To summarize their benefits:
Exfoliation: AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are excellent exfoliants that help remove dead skin cells, revealing a smoother and more radiant complexion.
Brightening: These acids aid in reducing discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots, giving your skin a brighter and more even tone.
Anti-Aging: AHAs and PHAs can stimulate collagen production, improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time.
Acne Treatment: BHAs, such as salicylic acid, penetrate deep into the pores, helping to unclog them and prevent acne breakouts.
AHA BHA PHA Difference:
AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)
PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid)
Deeper into pores
Surface to medium
Suitable for most skin types, including normal, dry, and sun-damaged skin
Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin
Ideal for sensitive skin
Can cause mild irritation, especially in higher concentrations or sensitive skin
Can cause mild irritation, but less likely than AHAs
Minimal irritation potential
Helps with mild acne, exfoliates skin surface
Highly effective for acne treatment, penetrates into pores to unclog them
Gentle exfoliation can aid in acne treatment
Helps reduce discoloration and dark spots
May help with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Helps reduce hyperpigmentation
Stimulates collagen production, improving fine lines and wrinkles
Can help with fine lines and wrinkles
Provides some anti-aging benefits
Can increase sun sensitivity, making sunscreen essential
No significant increase in sun sensitivity
Minimal increase in sun sensitivity
Usually low pH (around 3-4)
Usually low pH (around 3-4)
Usually higher pH (around 3.5-4.5)
Sugarcane (glycolic acid), fruits (e.g., citrus), milk (lactic acid), bitter almonds (mandelic acid), etc.
Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark
Lactobionic acid is derived from milk
Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, Mandelic Acid
Gluconolactone, Lactobionic acid, Galactose-containing acids
Best AHA BHA PHA products
The "best" choice may vary depending on individual skin concerns, tolerance, and preferences. However, based on their effectiveness here are the best acids in each category:
Best AHA: Glycolic Acid is often considered one of the most effective AHAs due to its small molecular size, allowing it to penetrate the skin deeply and provide significant exfoliation. It helps improve skin texture, tone, and appearance, making it a popular choice in many skincare products. Other popular AHAs include mandelic acid and lactic acid.
Best BHA: Salicylic Acid is widely regarded as the top BHA for its exceptional ability to penetrate the pores and target acne and blemishes at the source. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce redness and inflammation while effectively unclogging pores and controlling oil production.
Best PHA: Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs) have gained recognition for their gentle yet effective exfoliation and skin-rejuvenating properties. Gluconolactone and Lactobionic Acid are two notable PHAs known for their ability to hydrate, improve skin texture, and provide anti-aging benefits. They are particularly suitable for individuals with sensitive skin due to their gentle nature.
AHA, BHA, PHA Side Effects:
While these acids offer numerous benefits, they can cause side effects if not used properly. Common side effects include mild redness, dryness, or sensitivity. Introduce these acids gradually into your routine, starting with lower concentrations and frequency. If you experience persistent or severe irritation, discontinue use and consult with a dermatologist.
Can I Use AHA, BHA, and PHA every day?
The frequency of using AHA, BHA, and PHA products depends on your skin's tolerance and the concentration of the acid used. It is generally recommended to start with 1-2 times per week and gradually increase as tolerated. However, follow the instructions provided by the product manufacturer or consult with a dermatologist for personalized advice.
AHA BHA PHA Serum
Serums containing AHA, BHA, or PHA can be a great addition to your skincare routine. They provide targeted treatment, enhanced absorption and can address specific concerns such as uneven skin tone, acne, or signs of aging. Look for serums with optimal concentrations of these acids suitable for your skin type.
AHA BHA PHA for Acne:
BHAs, such as salicylic acid, are particularly effective for treating acne. They penetrate the pores, removing excess oil, dead skin cells and reducing inflammation. AHAs and PHAs can also aid in reducing acne marks and promoting a clearer complexion. However, choosing the right products and consulting a dermatologist for personalized advice is crucial, especially if you have severe or persistent acne.
It's a Wrap
AHA, BHA, and PHA are potent ingredients that offer a range of benefits for your skin, from exfoliation and brightening to anti-aging and acne treatment. Incorporating these acids into your skincare routine can yield positive results when used appropriately. Remember to start slowly, choose products suitable for your skin type, and be mindful of potential side effects. If you have any concerns or specific skin conditions, it's always best to consult a dermatologist for personalized guidance.