AHA vs BHA vs PHA: What’s The Difference?

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AHA vs BHA vs PHA: What Is The Difference Between AHA BHA and PHA?

It’s no secret that chemical exfoliants can do wonders for your skin, but if you’re new to skincare, it can be so confusing to pick out the right exfoliant for your needs. While there are many different types of chemical exfoliators, AHA, BHA and PHA’s are some of the most common (and most effective). So what’s the difference between AHA vs BHA vs PHA and how do you pick out which one your skin needs?

This guide will go over in detail what these chemical exfoliants do, their benefits, pros and cons and help guide you to pick out the best one for your skin type and skin concerns.

Why You Should Exfoliate Your Skin

You may be wondering why you even need to exfoliate your skin in the first place. What does exfoliation do, anyway? Your skin sheds cells all the time, but as you age that shedding can become irregular. As a result, dead skin cells build up on your face, leaving it dull and lifeless. Buildup of dead skin cells can also lead to acne, clogged pores, uneven skin texture and more.

In order to keep your skin healthy, you need to get rid of all those dead skin cells. And although our skin is usually pretty good at removing them, sometimes your skin can use a little help. And that’s where exfoliants come in.

As mentioned above, as we age our skin shedding can slow down, but other factors can affect shedding as well. If you have dehydrated or dry skin, you will be more prone to build up of dead skin cells. Environmental factors can play a part, too, so it’s very important to use a chemical exfoliant regularly in your skincare routine.

What Is A Chemical Exfoliant

aha bha pha difference

If you’re brand new to skincare, you may not even know what a chemical exfoliant does. A chemical exfoliant removes dead cells from the surface of the epidermis (outermost layer of skin). These cells can build up on the top layers of our skin which cause it to look dull and lifeless. Chemical exfoliants work by breaking down these dead cells so they are easier for our body to remove through natural cell turnover.

Chemical exfoliants are a type of skincare product that removes dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. These cells can build up on top layers of your skin, making it look dull and lifeless. Chemical exfoliants work by breaking down these dead cells so they are easier for your body to remove through natural cell turnover.

Chemical Exfoliants: What They Do And Benefits Of Using Them

There are different types of chemical exfoliants, but we’re going to focus on 3 of the most popular: AHA, BHA and PHA’s. All three do essentially the same thing–they break down the buildup of dead skin cells so they’re easier for you to get rid off naturally–but there are some differences between them as well, which we will get into later. Here are some benefits of using chemical exfoliants in your skincare routine:

  • Evens out skin tone
  • Smooths out skin texture
  • Fades acne scars, hyperpigmentation and sun spots
  • Diminishes fine lines and wrinkles
  • Unclogs pores
  • Treats and prevents acne
  • Anti-aging
  • Regulates oil production
  • Minimizes pores

Although some chemical exfoliators are better at some things than others, we’ll get into the details of what chemical exfoliant does what best, which will help you pick out the right one for your skin.

What is AHA vs BHA vs PHA?

Now lets’s dive into what the differences are between AHA, BHA and PHA’s. They all work a little differently and have different benefits, so it’s important to distinguish which ones do what so you can find the right exfoliant that works for your skin type and concerns.

What Is AHA: Alpha Hydroxy Acid?

AHA stands for alpha-hydroxyl acid. AHAs are probably the most popular type of chemical exfoliant because they’re gentle on skin, but still give you great results. AHAs are derived from plants and fruit (for example: glycolic acid which is found in sugar cane). They work by breaking down the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, so they are shed more easily and don’t build up on the skin.

There are a few different types of AHA’s:

  • glycolic acid
  • lactic acid
  • mandelic acid
  • malic acid
  • tartaric acid
  • citric acid

Benefits of AHA’s

AHA’s have many different benefits and can work well for a variety of skin issues and concerns. Some of the benefits of using AHA’s include:

Gentle on the skin

AHA’s are larger molecules, which means they do not penetrate the skin as easily, making them more gentle. So they’re great for sensitive and dry skin types.

Evens out skin tone

AHA’s help make the top layers of skin brighter and more even-toned. This happens because dead skin cells are shed much more easily when using an AHA product, so there is less build up on the surface of your skin.

Smooths out rough texture

AHA’s work to make skin feel smoother and more even-textured. This is because dead cells are removed much more easily, getting rid of dead skin cell build up which can cause rough texture. In addition AHA’s help with rough texture caused by acne, closed comedones, etc.

Creates a healthy glow

Think of AHA’s as a vitamin for skin. They help add a healthy, radiant glow to the surface of your skin because they speed up natural cell turnover which allows dead skin cells to be removed faster. Less buildup on the surface means more radiance!

Treats acne and hyperpigmentation

AHA’s help to speed up cell turnover so dead skin cells don’t get trapped in your pores and lead to acne. They also help fade hyperpigmentation and acne scars.

Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

AHA’s can help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles because they exfoliate the skin and speed up cell turnover as well as stimulate collagen production.This helps skin produce new cells more easily, which keeps your skin looking healthy and plump.

Hydrate skin

AHA’s have humectant properties to help draw moisture into the skin, making them great for drier skin types. However, oily skin types can use AHA’s too!

What Is BHA: Beta Hydroxy Acid?

BHA stands for beta-hydroxy acid. BHAs are oil soluble, which means they’re great for cleansing and clearing out pores because they can penetrate into the oil that sits in your pores to clean out any dirt and grime that clogs them. The most popular BHA is salicylic acid , which is derived from willow bark (a type of plant).

Like AHA’s, there are a few different types of BHA’s as well:

Benefits of BHA’s

BHA’s are special in that they are oil soluble, so they work a little differently than AHA’s and PHA’s. Since they’re oil soluble, they’re best for oily, acne prone skin. However, dry and sensitive skin types can use BHA too!

The benefits of using a BHA exfoliant are:

Clears out clogged pores

BHAs work to penetrate into pores, clearing out dirt and grime which can cause acne. In addition they help to clear out blackheads and help with sebaceous filaments.

Treats acne

BHA’s are antibacterial, which means they can kill acne causing bacteria in the pores and on the surface of the skin. No bacteria = no acne!

Regulates oil production

BHAs are oil-soluble which means they can penetrate into the oil that causes acne and help to control how much oil your skin is producing. Bye-bye oily skin!

Decreases inflammation

BHAs are also anti-inflammatory, so they help decrease redness, swelling, and irritation caused by acne and blemishes which makes them great for anyone with active acne.

Minimizes pores

By helping clear out clogged pores and decreasing oil production, BHAs help make your pores appear smaller. In addition they are great for preventing blackheads from forming!

Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

BHA’s also have anti-aging benefits since they work to exfoliate the skin, getting rid of dead skin cells so skin appears plump and smooth.

What Is PHA: Poly Hydroxy Acid?

PHAs stand for poly hydroxy acid. They are a second-generation AHA, so think of them like a sister to AHA because they do act similarly. PHA’s are larger in size than AHA and BHA, so they are more gentle and do not penetrate the skin as deep.

Like AHA’s and BHAs, there are a few different types of PHA:

  • Gluconolactone
  • Galactose oxidase
  • Lactobionic acid

Benefits of PHAs  

While anyone can use PHA’s, they’re especially great for those with sensitive and dry skin types, and those that find BHA’s and AHA’s too harsh and irritating. One study showed that PHA’s not only provided anti-aging benefits, but also were less irritating than AHAs.

Gently Exfoliates

PHAs work to exfoliate the skin without causing irritation. Since PHAs are larger in size than AHA’s and BHAs, they don’t penetrate as deep into pores which makes them perfect for sensitive skin types. However, those with oily or acne prone skin can use them too!

Acts as an antioxidant

PHAs have free radical fighting abilities, which means they can fight environmental stressors that damage skin and lead to aging. This makes them great for anti-aging!

Hydrates skin

Just like AHA’s, PHAs draw moisture into the skin making them great for dry or dehydrated skin types.

Minimizes pores

PHAs help clear out pores just like AHA’s do! They work to exfoliate dead skin cells and unclog clogged pores, leaving the surface of the skin smooth so there is no pore-clogging debris left behind.

Acts as an anti-inflammatory

PHAs are anti-inflammatory, so they help to fight against redness and inflammation on the skin which makes them great for acne or sensitive skin types.

Supports collagen production

PHAs work to increase collagen production which acts as a support structure for skin tissue. In addition, collagen gives skin elasticity and keeps it smooth!  


So now that you know everything about the different types of chemical exfoliants, which should you use: AHA vs BHA vs PHA? It really depends on your skin type and needs.

For those with dry skin , AHA’s are a great option since they help to hydrate skin more than BHAs do. But those with sensitive or acne prone skin can benefit from PHA’s. If you struggle with acne or super oily skin, BHA’s will help you the most.

Can I Use AHA, BHA and PHA Together?

aha bha pha for skin

Now that you know of all the amazing things AHA, BHA and PHA can do for your skin, you may be wondering “can I use AHA, BHA and PHA together?” And yes you absolutely can! In fact, there are many products that have all three together in the same formula so you get all the different benefits of each of these chemical exfoliants in one single product.

However, you can also use these separately. For example, you can use a toner that has PHA and a serum with BHA, etc.

Related Post: Micellar Water Vs Toner: What’s The Difference?

It’s important to note that if you’ve never used a chemical exfoliant before, you should not dive right into a product that has 3 different types of exfoliants in it, as it may be a little harsh. There’s usually an adjustment period when it comes to starting chemical exfoliation. So

If you’ve never used them before, start with the lowest percentage and gradually increase over time.

If you’re unsure of how your skin will react to starting chemical exfoliation, patch test the product for a few days just like when you are using a new skincare product. And always make sure to use at least an SPF 30.

When To Use AHA, BHA, PHA In Your Routine

When using chemical exfoliants in your routine, it all depends on what product you are using. For example, AHA and PHA’s can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s best to use those at night. BHA’s, however, can be used either in the morning or in the evening.

Now exactly where do these products go in your routine? Again, it all depends on the type of product. When in comes to layering skincare products, in general you want to follow the thinnest to thickest rule. Meaning, whatever product has the thinnest consistency goes first and then use the second thickest and so on.

Here’s an example routine for clarification:

Cleanser > BHA Toner > Hyaluronic Acid Serum > AHA Moisturizer

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    Does AHA, BHA or PHA Cause Purging?

    As with any type of chemical exfoliation, you should expect some purging or at least an adjustment phase, particularly if you’ve never used chemical exfoliants before. Chemical exfoliants help to unclog your pores, so they are bringing all that up to the surface which can lead to acne. No, it’s not pleasant, but it’s just part of the process.

    The purge can start pretty quickly after beginning chemical exfoliation and can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. How bad your purging will be will simply depend on your skin.

    Can I Use AHA BHA and PHA Everday?

    alpha hydroxy acid beta hydroxy acid poly hydroxy acid

    It’s recommended to only use chemical exfoliants every other day or even every few days. Using them everyday can cause your skin to become sensitive and irritated, especially if you’re a beginner. So it’s important that you listen to your skin! If you find your skin is becoming dry, flaky, red and irritated, stop using the exfoliants so often.

    However, if you think your skin can handle it, try using the exfoliants more often to see how your skin tolerates it. It’ll take a little experimenting to find the routine that works best for you.

    Can I use AHA BHA PHA with Niacinamide?

    You can absolutely use AHA, BHA and PHA together with any products that contain niacinamide. In fact, some people even recommend using the two together to help fight dark spots, uneven skin tone and acne.

    AHA BHA, PHA Benefits

    Although they are all different, AHA, BHA and PHA’s can help to smooth skin texture, brighten the skin, and help with aging. AHA and PHA’s are more hydrating and best for dry skin, whereas BHA’s are better for oily and acne-prone skin.

    When it comes to AHA vs BHA vs PHA, it all depends on your skin type and skin concerns.

    AHA, BHA, PHA Side Effects

    Any type of chemical exfoliant can come along with side effects and these are no different. In general, you may experience, irritation, dryness, flaking skin and redness. Although it may take a few weeks, your skin should get used to the exfoliation and get back to normal. If it doesn’t it’s a sign that the product or ingredient is not right for you.

    Best AHA BHA PHA Products

    Not only can using a combination product help keep your routine down to minimal steps, but they can also do wonders for your skin because they can target so many different skin concerns. If you’re looking for the best products with AHA, BHA and PHA, look no further than these gems! Some By Mi has an incredible AHA BHA PHA 30 Day Miracle line with cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers and spot treatments and I’ve mention some of their best products in the line below.

    SOME BY MI AHA-BHA-PHA 30Days Miracle Toner

    Tone up your complexion with this multi-tasking toner that boasts three types of chemical exfoliants (AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs) plus papaya and witch hazel extracts to speed up skin cell turnover for radiant, smooth skin. With one bottle sold every 3 seconds worldwide you can be sure that it will work wonders on your face!

    And don’t forget about the soothing effects from tea tree water extract which helps calm inflammation along with adenosine & niacinamide to target wrinkles & dullness in your complexion. It’s not only effective but gentle enough for even sensitive skin too! So what are you waiting for? This AHA, BHA and PHA exfoliator is one of the best on the market.

    Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30Days Miracle Serum

    Do you have redness, acne, or sensitive skin? It can be hard to find a product that works for your skin type and doesn’t irritate it further. But we know how frustrating it is when nothing seems to work! This serum has 10,000ppm tea tree leaf water and 14.5% centella asiatica to help calm redness, inflammation and irritation.

    The formula also includes AHAs, BHAs and PHAs to gently exfoliate the skin to target an array of skin concerns like acne, lines and wrinkles, clogged pores and more. Plus Sweet Almond Oil and Meadowfoam Seed Oil to keep the skin hydrated and the skin barrier strong. This serum is a great option for those with more sensitive skin types, but still want to use something to help exfoliate the skin.

    Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Acne Clear Body Cleanser

    Do you have body acne? You’re not alone. Over 50 million people in the US suffer from body acne, and it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with. If you want to get rid of your body acne once and for all, then body cleanser is what you need!

    It contains AHA and PHA micro bubbles as well as salicylic acid (BHA) to deeply cleanse the skin while also gently exfoliating dead skin cells so they don’t clog pores or cause breakouts anymore. Truecica and houttuynia cordata extract work together with these active ingredients to calm inflammation and irritation while strengthening the skin’s natural barrier against bacteria—so no more redness or dryness! Plus, this cleanser has an amazing pH level of ~5.5 which means it’s the ideal pH for healthy skin. And if all that wasn’t enough…it smells great too!

    Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA Real Cica 92% Cool Calming Soothing Gel

    Do you want to simplify your skincare routine? This cooling gel is a multi-purpose product that can be used on the face or body.You don’t have to worry about spending hours in front of the mirror anymore because this product will help clear up those pesky skin issues! With just one step, you can get rid of dryness, sunburns, acne scars – all without irritating your skin further!

    With a combination of AHA, BHA, and PHA, this product targets dead skin cells, clogged pores, acne and so much more. Three different types of hyaluronic acid draw moisture deep into the skin to keep it plump and hydrated while 92% cica calms redness, irritation, sensitivity.

    Glossier Solution Exfoliating Skin Perfector

    With a 10% blend of chemical exfoliants to “unglue” and get rid of dead skin cells. A blend of AHA, BHA and PHA’s help to improve the acne, fine lines, pores, regulate oil production, smooth skin texture and even skin tone. This product will help you achieve a more youthful and glowing looking complexion overtime. Plus Glossier’s “anti-stress complex” which features glycerin, niacinamide and aloe to hydrate, calm and soothe skin.

    I DEW CARE Smooth Shot I Resurfacing Triple Acids Serum 

    Say good-bye to uneven and dull-looking skin with this Triple Acid (AHA, BHA, PHA) serum, which helps improve the look of uneven skin tone as well as revealing smoother-looking skin. Taurin is used to soothe and strengthen your skin barrier, while 3 Mineral Energy Complex (Zinc, Magnesium and Copper) provide skin with vital nutrients and lots of moisture.

    Mizon AHA BHA PHA Clear Face Pads

    This 3 in 1 pad does it all – complete cleansing by wiping away makeup and cleanser residue and impurities. Plus, it’s got AHA+BHA+PHA to help dead skin cells and acne.

    The best part about this toning pad is that it has everything you need in one product – toner, exfoliant and hydrator all in one! Three types of hyaluronic acid draw moisture deep into the skin to hydrate and pump while keeping the skin barrier strong and healthy.

    AHA BHA PHA: Wrap Up

    Chemical exfoliants are an important part of any skincare routine for many reasons. First, they help to cleanse the skin of dead cells that can lead to acne or clogged pores. Second, chemical exfoliants also regulate oil production which helps keep your face from getting too oily in areas where you might break out more often like on your forehead and chin area. Third, because chemical exfoliation leads to a smoother complexion with less visible pores, it is ideal if you want younger-looking skin or have fine lines around the mouth and eyes – not only does this make makeup look better but you’ll likely find you can go without makeup! When it comes to AHA vs BHA vs PHA, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for your skin. This guide will help you pick out the right ingredient for your skin type and concerns.

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