YOUR K- BEAUTY GUIDE: To Support Your Skin Care Journey!

AHA versus BHA: What’s the difference?

AHA versus BHA: What’s the difference?

creative image of AHA versus BHA

Question: Have you ever tried exfoliating with an AHA or BHA?

Chances are, if you haven’t started using an exfoliator yet, your skin may be showing signs that you need to start one now. 

AHA and BHA –  you probably heard of these two terms before or maybe not. Either way, these two actives are super popular K-Beauty ingredients that can help you to regain youthful looking and plump skin in a nutshell.

Here’s a quick context on what will be covered in this article:

  • What is an AHA?
  • What is a BHA?
  • Can you use AHA and BHA everyday?
  • Pairing Vitamin with AHA or BHA.
  • Do you need both AHA and BHA?
  • How to use AHAs and BHAs.

So without further delay, let’s dive into what AHAs and BHAs are and how you can use these actives to treat your skin concerns.

What is an AHA?

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) are chemical compounds or acids that can be found in certain foods like fruits, sugarcane, and dairy produce such as milk.

These acids are used as skincare ingredients because of its exfoliating properties which target skin concerns on the surface such as aging signs and hyperpigmentation.

Face illustration of skin concerns that AHA can target
Illustration of skin concerns that AHA can help to treat


Here are some skin concerns that AHAs can target:
 Rough skin texture and flakiness
 Whiteheads.
 Aging signs – wrinkles & fine lines.
 Hyperpigmentation – dark spots and uneven skin tone.

There are different types of AHAs that are incorporated in skincare having slightly different properties based on the size of their molecules. Additionally, alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble.

Have a look at some of the commonly used alpha hydroxy acids used in skincare:
 Mandelic Acid,
 Glycolic Acid,
 Lactic Acid,
 Citric Acid and,
 Tartaric acid.

What is a BHA?

BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), like AHAs, are acids that are extracted from plant sources such as the willow bark.

These chemical compounds are used in skincare also for their exfoliating properties which target skin concerns rooted deeper in your pores.

face illustration of skin concerns that BHA can treat
Illustration of skin concerns that BHA can help to treat


BHAs can be used to treat the following skin concerns –
 Acne breakouts and blackheads.
 Excess sebum production (oiliness)
 Rough skin texture.

Now, unlike AHAs, there is only one commonly used type of BHA which is incorporated in skincare products. This type of BHA is known as salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is a BHA that is commonly used in skincare products like cleansers, serums, toners, and exfoliators to name a few.

Additionally, BHAs are not water-soluble but are instead oil-soluble.

Is it safe to use AHA or BHA every day?

Both AHAs and BHAs are strong exfoliating acids that are either derived from plant or dairy sources. Since both actives are used for exfoliating dead skin cells, dermatologists advise that using AHA or BHA everyday can damage your skin due to over-exfoliation.

Moving forward, it is recommended that if you are new to AHAs or BHAs, it is ideal to start in lower concentrations and limit the usage to once per week to allow your skin to build tolerance. As your skin starts to build tolerance, you can gradually start increasing it up to two to three times per week.

There is, however, the case if your skin barrier is compromised, it is better to avoid these actives as it may cause irritation and worsen sensitivity.

Can you use Vitamin C with AHA or BHA?

This is a commonly asked question, and the idea of a combination of these actives may sound interesting. However, the fact is – vitamin C is an active ingredient like AHAs and BHAs. Using two actives at the same time may not be the best idea as it may irritate your skin if you are either new to actives or have a sensitive skin.

However, if you have a healthy, strong skin barrier and are not prone to irritation and sensitivity, you can try using a mild concentration of the three. COSRX offers a combo of the three in one bottle – the COSRX AHA BHA Vitamin C Toner or the ABC toner as most people like to call it. The toner treats dryness, flaky skin, uneven skin tone, blackheads, whiteheads, dullness, acne scars and blemishes and can be used daily.

Do I need both AHA and BHA?

This can depend on what concerns your skin is going through.


Basically, if you have the dry or combination skin type with concerns such as whiteheads, hyperpigmentation, scars, and rough skin texture, AHAs are the ideal actives to use. AHAs are recommended for the dry and combo skin types because these actives are water-soluble.

AHAs work by exfoliating the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin and helps to improve the skin cell turnover. This helps to target multiple concerns that are mentioned above.

Now, you have to know that – when there is a build-up of dead skin cells on your skin, it can get a little nasty. It can contribute to pore clogging which causes whiteheads, flaky skin and makes your skin look dull and exhausted.

Here are some AHA-based K-Beauty skincare products you can try:


COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid placed in white background

By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid

By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Prep Water placed in a white background


Check out other AHA-based skincare products here.


Now, if you have the oily skin type, BHAs are the actives for your skin. Since BHAs are oil-soluble, the molecules are able to penetrate deep within your pores and clear the gunk out. BHAs are popularly known to reduce acne breakouts and blackheads with it’s antibacterial properties.

BHAs work by breaking down excess sebum, exfoliating dead skin cells, bacteria and other factors that cause acne concerns within your pores. BHAs are also considered to be less aggressive when compared to AHAs. Additionally, these actives can also help with reducing aging signs and help improve the texture of your skin. When used correctly, BHAs can also help fortify your skin’s barrier against UV damage.

Have a look at some of the best BHA-based K-Beauty products you can try for your acne prone skin:


COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid placed in white background

Isntree Chestnut BHA 2% Clear Liquid

Isntree Chestnut BHA 2% Clear Liquid


Check out all other BHA-based products here.

Using AHA and BHA together

Can you apply AHAs and BHAs together? This one question seems to cause a little confusion every now and then.

The good news is – you can. In small concentrations for starters, that is.

But who needs a combination of AHA and BHA?

Basically, AHA and BHA can be used if you have most of these skin concerns – rough and flaky skin texture, oily skin, clogged pores, and minimal to moderate acne breakouts.

We would recommend going for a beginner friendly AHA and BHA product like the COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner which has a gentle concentration of both actives.

The combination helps to exfoliate the surface of your skin helping to smoothen and soften your skin. It penetrates into your pores to clear out the gunk and also balances the excess sebum.

Check out all AHA and BHA based skincare here.

How to use AHA or BHA?

Now that you know what exfoliators like AHAs and BHAs can do for your skin, let’s review on how to use these actives the right way.

Here’s how to incorporate AHA or BHA in your skincare routine:

(Important: We do not recommend using AHAs and BHAs if you have a damaged skin barrier (sensitive and easily irritated skin). This may likely worsen your skin sensitivity and cause skin concerns)

1. After your cleanser and toner steps, pump or add an adequate amount of the active onto a soft cotton pad and wipe gently across your face.

2. Give it 3-5 minutes before you continue with your remaining skincare steps.

3. It is recommended by skincare experts to start with just once per week if you are new to these actives. Once your skin builds tolerance, you can start twice per week if you feel your skin can handle it.

4. Both AHA and BHA exfoliators are to be used in your PM routine as it may cause your skin to become sensitive during the day.

5. If you are a beginner, we recommend you to skip other actives like Vitamin C while using either AHA or BHA.

In conclusion, we hope this helps you to understand what AHAs and BHAs are and how you can use to target multiple skin concerns that you may have.

Written By

Beauty Editorial Team




Subscribe to our Email Newsletter

We promise no spam. You can unsubscribe at any time.


You may also like

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Send this to a friend