Here’s your complete guide to beta hydroxy acid (BHA) for skin care.
You’ve reached the exfoliating step of your Korean skin care routine, but it can get confusing when 2 different exfoliating terms appear – chemical and physical exfoliation.
So, what on earth is the difference?
Essentially, chemical exfoliation is the preferred method as it tends to be more gentle – and you can build up to doing it daily (the key phrase here being ‘build up’!). But more on that later.
Physical exfoliators have a granular, rough textured scrub. They’re great to use a couple of times a month, but we gravitate towards chemical exfoliating products containing AHA and BHA that are more gentle and effective.
But what exactly is BHA, what products is this ingredient in, and why is an ‘acid’ being recommended to me?
These are very normal questions and we’re going to take you through it step-by-step.
For now, let’s get into understanding BHA for your skin.
BHA vs AHA: What’s The Difference?
To start, both BHAs and AHAs are active ingredients, meaning they have direct active action on the skin. Other actives include Vitamin C or retinoids and retinol. Check out our guide and a detailed comparison of these 2 acids here.
BHA is more commonly known as salicylic acid, so look out for that on your product bottles. BHAs are good for acne-prone and oily skin because they can get rid of dirt, oil and dead skin cells and have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
BHA is oil-soluble, meaning it penetrates beneath our skin’s surface, cleaning out excess sebum from the pores and minimizing oiliness. Essentially, if you have acne or blemish-prone skin, this is going to help.
Where Do I Find Beta Hydroxy Acid Ingredients In Skincare?
Commonly people use BHAs as an exfoliant and then choose other skin care products that don’t contain hydroxy acids to reduce the likelihood of skin irritation.
Nevertheless, you can find BHAs in many products including:
- Exfoliator products
In the beauty world, salicylic acid is the main BHA, but also on the label look for:
- Betaine salicylate
- Beta hydroxybutanoic acid
- Salix nigra bark extract
- Sodium salicylate
- Trethocanic acid
- Tropic acid
- Willow bark extract
A salicylic acid treatment product will typically contain between a 0.25-2.0% concentration of salicylic acid.
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Should I Use A BHA Exfoliator?
Consider AHA, or BHA if you’re needing help with:
- Oily, acne-prone skin: BHA
- Blackheads and whiteheads: BHA
- Unclogging pores: BHA
- Breakouts: BHA, AHA
- Aging signs including crow’s feet, fine lines and wrinkles: AHA
- Sun damage: AHA, L-ascorbic acid
- Hyperpigmentation: AHA, L-ascorbic acid
- Aging signs including crow’s feet, fine lines and wrinkles: AHA, L-ascorbic acid
Salicylic acid is a salicylate so it belongs to the same ingredient family as aspirin. People with salicylate allergies should avoid salicylic acid.
Beside retinoids, which may be a bit too much for some, the most intense actives available without a prescription are L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and AHA and BHA chemical exfoliants.
If you’re using a topical prescription product, consult with your doctor before applying either AHA or BHA.
Where Does A BHA Product Fit In My Routine?
For your skin care routine, cleanse and use toner as normal. After toning, use your BHA first, then your AHA in that order. That way, the BHA can get deeper into blocked pores as well as prepare the skin for the AHA product.
BHAs can be used in the morning or evening, but if possible, use it in the evening to avoid the sun’s UV rays.
Tip 1: Start with the lowest concentration possible and work your way up.
Tip 2: Avoid using other exfoliants at the same time.
Tip 3: Wait about 20 minutes before applying any other products on top (Don’t wash off the acid.)
Tip 4: Don’t start using both AHA and BHA products at the same time. Don’t use them every day until you know you won’t react badly. Build up to using both.
Tip 5: Only use it on the problem areas, so if you see large, clogged pores, apply it directly on that area on your nose and chin, for example.
Tip 6: Do a patch test to see how your skin will respond.
Tip 7: Apply moisturizer and SPF every day.
What Your Skin Care Routine Might Look Like
For your Korean skin care routine, products should be applied from the lightest to thickest consistency.
So, this will be a little different depending on how many products you are using, but one skin care routine could look like this:
- Oil-based cleanser
- Water-based/foaming cleanser
- BHA exfoliant
- AHA exfoliant
- Eye cream
You may even have more steps included, like Vitamin C treatments, eye cream or say, sheet masks, but the main point is that you use a BHA before the AHA, and AFTER double-cleansing and immediately after toning.
And please – always lock everything in and avoid drying out with moisturizer and sunscreen.
Ready To Use Beta Hydroxy Acid In Your Routine?
The golden rules are to not start using both at the same time, or every day. Be careful with your skin, don’t just slather new products all across your face because that will only lead to irritation.
We hope you notice a difference with BHA which should penetrate your skin, dissolve dead skin cells and leave your skin clean and radiant!
Let’s keep in touch? @kiseu