What Is The Difference Between AHA BHA and PHA?

Which acid is right for your skin types? How to choose those chemical exfoliants for your skin types and skin problems?

AHA BHA PHA glycolic acid skin exfoliating brightening lactic acid Salicylic acid Chemical Exfoliators For Oily Skin

AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)

AHAs are water soluble components that are derived from natural substances like sugar cane, almonds, milk, grapes, and citrus fruits. AHA works to peel away the surface of the skin to target, roughness, uneven skin texture, visible signs of sun damage, winkles, and enlarged pores.

Glycolic acid is one of the most effective alpha hydroxy acids for the skin due to its small molecular size, which allows it to easily penetrate into the skin.

Although glycolic acid is the strongest which helps yield the most dramatic results, it also has the potential to be the most irritating. This means if you have sensitive skin or new to chemical exfoliators, it can cause reactions like redness, irritation, or stinging.

For those with those concerns, it may be better to use a gentler alternative containing lactic acid or mandelic acid.

AHAs are recommended for normal to dry, mature, and sun-damaged skin as they’re strong humectants which have the ability to enhance the skin’s natural moisturizing factors within the skin. 

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is the most powerful form of AHA and derived from sugarcane and effective for unblocking pores and controlling sebum production. Ideal for mature skin types.

Lactic acid

Derived from milk and sugarcane. Lactic acid helps to keep the skin moisturized and feeling less dry. Ideal for dry, sensitive skin types.

Mandelic acid

Derived from bitter almonds and contains antibacterial properties. Mandelic acid is a gentler version of AHAs (ex. glycolic acid) due to its larger molecule. Helps improve pigmentation, signs of aging, and acne. Best for sensitive skin types.

Tartaric acid

Derived from grapes and tamarinds. You can find tartaric acid in wine too and it has antioxidants, which help protect skin from free radicals.

Citric acid

Derived from citrus fruits. Citric acid helps adjust pH level and alleviate signs of aging, acne scars and uneven skin tone and texture. Mainly used for its skin lightening and astringent properties. 

BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)

BHAs are oil-soluble acids that work on skin’s surface and deeper parts of the skin to dissolve the mixture of excess sebum and dead skin cells while decongesting pores.

Salicylic acid is the most common beta hydroxy acid and it is most beneficial to oily, combination skin and those who are prone to whiteheads, blackheads, breakouts, and enlarged pores.

Salicylic acid is well known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help combat spots, acne, red and inflamed skin.

A soothing leave-on BHA exfoliant may be effective for rosacea as it helps reduce redness and dry, flaky skin; however, slowly test it on your skin and see if your skin can tolerate the new ingredient. Patch testing is quite important for testing new chemical exfoliants!

BHA Exfoliators For Acne-Prone Skin Types

Salicylic acid has powerful acne-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties that helps soothe redness, inflammation and prevent future comedones, making it excellent for blemish-prone skin. 

Chemical Exfoliators For Oily Skin Types

Salicylic acid controls oil production and reduces sebum secretion, helping balance between oil and moisture.

*Do NOT use it if you are allergic to aspirin. 

PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid)

PHAs have a larger molecular size than AHAs which makes them penetrate the skin more slowly. It means that it doesn’t exfoliate as hard as AHAs and cause less irritation and redness than AHAs, making it great for all skin types, especially those with sensitive skin.

PHAs exfoliates dead skin cells and excess debris on the surface, resulting in an evener skin tone and texture. It helps reduce fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, and acne scarring while hydrating the skin, increasing cell renewal and locking moisture.

Lactobionic acid

Derived from plant extract, lactose in cow’s milk. Lactobionic acid is a strong humectant and antioxidant that retains moisture within the skin. It increases cellular turnover, leaving the skin plump and firm. It helps smooth the skin and reduce the appearance of pigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, and scarring.


Found in lactose or milk sugars. Galactose is an energy-providing nutrient that helps aid healing by stimulating collagen synthesis.

Gluconic acid 

Naturally occurring in human cells. Gluconic acid helps reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by promoting cellular regeneration.

AHA BHA PHA Skincare Korean Beauty Benefits Acne Brightening Hyperpigmentation  Anti-Aging K Beauty World

Benefits of AHA BHA PHA

You can start experiencing their remarkable benefits by adding an AHA, BHA, PHA exfoliant to your skincare routine.

  • Calm and heal active acne and even prevent future breakouts
  • Softens blackheads, making them easier to extract
  • Diminish the look of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Brighten skin and improve the look of hyperpigmentation.
  • Make skin look and feel firmer, clear
  • Smooth and hydrate skin
  • Improve the appearance of the dull, rough complexion
  • Minimize the appearance of pore size
  • Unclog excess debris and dead skin cells
  • Help promote collagen production ad inhibit melanin synthesis

How do you know if you need AHA, BHA, PHA?

First of all, analyze your type type and current skin issues— if you have dry skin and you’re stressed about surface skin concerns like acne scars, dark spots, sun damage, dullness, shop for an AHA exfoliant.

BHAs are best for oily and acne-prone skin with deep, clogged pores whilst PHAs may be suitable for all skin types, especially for dry sensitive skin, including those with rosacea and eczema, who can’t tolerate AHAs and BHAs.

Still not sure which acid to use? Don’t worry you can use a product which made use of both AHAs, BHAs (and PHAs) to work along with your skin problems together, from hyperpigmentation, flaky patches, to cystic acne.

Please note that AHAs does increase sun sensitivity (compared to BHAs and PHAs)—you should wear always sunscreen after exfoliating to prevent further sun damage.

In addition, they are both humectants, which draw moisture from within and this can cause the skin to dry out if overused. Do not use it in your daily regimen.

Best Korean AHA BHA PHA Products

SOME BY MI AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle toner serum cream cleanser set acne k beauty world

Now that you know how to AHA, BHA, PHA like a pro, here are high-rated Korean beauty products that will reveal brighter and firmer-feeling skin. 

SOME BY MI AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Set is one of the best-selling Korean skincare routines for acne-prone, oily, irritation-prone skin. This Beauty kit has 4-step skin care routine products - Some By Mi AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner, 30 Days Miracle Cream, Serum, and cleansing bar.

Cosrx is a classic cult-favorite Korean skin care brand that has many high-raved beauty products. COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is a gentle chemical exfoliator that removes dead skin cells and excess sebum from pores to eliminate whiteheads and blackheads.

COSRX One Step Green Hero Calming Pad is formulated with PHAs with 75% green tea water which makes gentle on the skin.It also helps calm irritation, redness, and breakouts while soothing and hydrating with witch hazel. 

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser is powered by BHAs, tea tree, and willow bark water to exfoliate the skin with bubbly microfoams. If you're interested in Korean toners with BHAs, Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, and BENTON Aloe BHA Skin Toner are great options.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Best Sellers