AHA/BHA for the Curious Skincare Lover

By Michelle Eshaghain PA-C | October 20, 2021

Exfoliation is a long-time secret to clear, glowing skin. Exfoliating helps improve the appearance and health of your skin by removing dead cells, sebum, and debris from the skin surface and pores. In the past, it was thought that physical exfoliants were good for the skin (i.e. the infamous orange St. Ives exfoliating scrub). But in reality, physical exfoliants are too rough and remove healthy skin tissue, leaving behind dry, damaged, thin skin. Chemical exfoliants are preferred as they are able to remove dead skin cells without damaging healthy skin tissue. 


AHAs and BHAs (alpha- and beta- hydroxy acids) are hallmark chemical exfoliants. They exfoliate, brighten, fade hyperpigmentation, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, hydrate the skin, and clear acne (yes, they can do ALL of that). Read below to find more about AHAs, BHAs, and our favorite products. 


Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs are water soluble acids that are derived from sugarcane and other plant sources. They work by loosening the bonds of dead skin cells on the surface to increase their shedding. AHAs can also stimulate collagen production over time by increasing fibroblast synthesis, a precursor to collagen. AHAs work more superficially compared to BHAs. 


Types of AHAs


Glycolic Acid 

Glycolic acid is hands down our favorite AHA. It is derived from sugar cane. Glycolic is the strongest AHA and causes the most significant exfoliation in its class. Glycolic acid also has antimicrobial properties, which helps kill acne causing bacteria. 


Lactic acid

Lactic acid is generated from milk. It is more gentle than glycolic acid, but still provides significant exfoliative and anti-aging properties. If you have more sensitive skin, lactic acid is the right choice for you. 


Mandelic acid 

Mandelic acid is derived from almond extracts. It helps to improve skin texture and pore size over time. 



Tartaric acid 

Tartaric acid is derived from grape extract. It is generally used to stabilize the pH of the skin and neutralize other AHAs. Tartaric acid can be used to treat sun damage and acne. 


Citric acid 

Citric acid is derived from fruit extracts (...citrus fruits to be exact). Like tartaric acid, citric acid neutralizes skin pH. It also helps smooth out rough areas of the skin. 


Malic acid 

Malic acid is derived from apples. It is a crossover AHA-BHA product, but isn’t great as a solo product. 


Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

BHAs are oil-soluble acids. Compared to AHAs, they are able to penetrate deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells, excess debris, and unclog pores. Due to their oil-soluble properties, BHAs are able to work both deep and superficial. 


Salicylic Acid 


Salicylic acid is the primary BHA. Its natural form, salix alba, is derived from willow bark. Salicylic acid is one of the most important ingredients in any skincare regimen as it helps to reduce/treat acne, reduce hyperpigmentation, and clear pores. 


Our Favorites 

Brightening pads

Raoof MD brightening pads are the perfect AHA/BHA duo. This superstar product contains 2% Salicylic Acid, 5% Glycolic Acid, and 5% Lactic Acid. This micro-peel exfoliates, treats acne, and prevents future breakouts. 


GA-15

GA-15 contains 15% glycolic acid! This high potency AHA brightens, smooths, and evens out of the skin. This product also improves complexion and smooths out fine lines and wrinkles. GA-15 also contains green tea leaf extract to help combat any irritation caused by glycolic acid.


Pore Refining Toning Mist

This RAOOF MD product is the game-changer toner. It contains 2% Salicylic Acid to not only clean dead skin cells, but also to control excess oil and treat acne. This BHA toner also helps to tighten and smooth pores over time.  


Clarifying Cleanser 

Raoof MD Clarifying Cleanser contains 2% Salicylic Acid which penetrates deep into the pores to exfoliate dead skin cells, clean the pores, and fight acne-causing bacteria. 


Fruit Enzyme Cleanser 

If you have more sensitive skin, but still want the effects of a great BHA cleanser, our Fruit Enzyme Cleanser is for you. It contains 0.4% salicylic acid to provide mild exfoliation and cleansing without leaving the skin too dry. 


Acne Control Serum 

This ground-breaking acne serum contains 5% glycolic acid and 5% micronized benzoyl peroxide. It exfoliates while killing and preventing growth of acne-causing bacteria.


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