Skip to content


Your cart is empty

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


What Is The Difference Between AHA BHA and PHA?

Curious about the buzz surrounding chemical peels? These acids have taken the skincare world by storm, but what exactly are they and which one is right for you? Today we're going to take a deep dive into the world of exfoliating acids, so grab your skincare toolkit and get started!

Difference Between AHA BHA and PHA exfoliating skin care benefits anti-aging acne pimples hyperpigmentation dull skin wrinkles dry oily skin K Beauty World

The ultimate guide of : Benefits, Uses, Compatibility

If you've dipped your toe into the world of skincare, you may have come across the terms AHA, BHA and PHA. These powerful exfoliating acids offer a multitude of benefits for your skin, but it's important to understand how to use them and whether they can be combined with other ingredients.

In this comprehensive blog post, we'll answer all your burning questions about AHA, BHA, and PHA and help you determine which is best for your skin type and concerns. Let's dive in!

What is AHA and why is it important?

Alpha Hydroxy Acid is a water-soluble acid derived from natural sources such as sugar cane, almonds, milk, grapes, and citrus fruits. AHAs work by loosening the top layer of old skin cells by breaking down the sticky substance that holds skin cells together. It helps improve rough, uneven skin texture and reduce the appearance of sun damage, wrinkles and enlarged pores.

While glycolic acid is the most potent and produces the most dramatic results, it also has the potential to be the most irritating. That is, if you have sensitive skin or are new to chemical peels, you may experience reactions such as redness, irritation, or stinging.

For those with these concerns, it may be better to use a gentler alternative that contains lactic acid or mandelic acid. AHAs are recommended for normal to dry, mature, and sun-damaged skin because they are powerful moisturizers that can enhance the skin's natural moisturizing factors.

What are examples of AHAs?

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid, the most potent form of AHA, is derived from sugar cane and is effective at exfoliating the skin's surface and removing darker, melanin-stained, dead skin cells.

This powerful acid also reduces the appearance of acne scars, age spots, sun damage and other forms of hyperpigmentation. Ideal for normal, combination, oily and mature skin types.

Lactic Acid

Derived from milk and sugar cane. Lactic acid helps to refresh the skin and relieve congestion, but due to its larger molecule size and targeting only the top layer of skin, it also helps to increase the skin's natural moisturizing factors. Lactic acid works on all skin types, but is especially beneficial for sensitive, dry and mature skin.

Mandelic Acid

Naturally derived from bitter almonds, mandelic acid contains antibacterial properties that have been shown to be effective in balancing pigmentation, treating existing inflammatory acne and preventing future breakouts.

Mandelic acid is a milder version of AHAs due to its larger molecule and slower penetration into the skin, which means it is gentler on your skin. Ideal for dry, sensitive and acne-prone skin types.

Tartaric Acid

Found naturally in many plants and fruits, including grapes and tamarind, tartaric acid contains antioxidants that protect the skin from the harmful ravages of free radicals.

With its keratolytic and astringent properties, this powerhouse helps hydrate skin, improve texture and reduce the visible signs of aging. Great for almost all skin types.

Citric Acid

True to its name, it's found in citrus fruits - oranges, lemons, grapefruit - as well as berries. Citric acid helps regulate pH levels and works to lighten uneven pigmentation and smooth skin texture.

Citric acid is a very powerful antioxidant and a natural astringent that helps to dry out excess oil and clear pores. Citric acid is generally considered safe for all skin types, but is especially beneficial for those with oily skin and congested pores.

What are the skin benefits of AHA?

  • Exfoliates the surface of the skin
  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Brightens the skin
  • Reduces visible sun damage
  • Improves skin texture
  • Improves hyperpigmentation, dark spots
  • Boosts collagen production
  • Promotes radiance
  • Corrects skin discoloration

How to use AHA?

Start by incorporating AHA products into your skincare routine 2-3 times per week, gradually increasing the frequency as your skin adjusts. Apply after cleansing and toning, followed by moisturizer and sunscreen.

Can I use AHA with retinol?

It can be effective to use AHA and retinol together for hyperpigmentation. However, dermatologists recommend introducing them slowly to avoid sensitivity. It is best to start using them on alternate nights and monitor your skin's response.

Some by Mi Pyunkang Yul AHA BHA  PHA exfoliating toner serum moisturizer cleanser anti-aging acne blackheads K Beauty World

What is BHA in skin care?

Beta Hydroxy Acid is an oil-soluble acid that penetrates deep into your pores to dissolve keratin clogs, bacteria and debris. A soothing leave-on BHA exfoliant helps minimize psoriasis flakes and improve the feel of rough, dry, bumpy skin.

BHA is most beneficial for oily, combination, acne-prone skin and those looking to treat superficial acne, such as whiteheads, blackheads, blemishes and small redheads. For those with dry, eczema-prone or sensitive skin, the active ingredient may be too harsh and cause irritation.

Just be aware that patch testing is very important when using strong acids. You should test your skin slowly to see if your skin can tolerate the new chemical peel.

The best chemical peel for oily, acne-prone skin

Salicylic acid is the most common beta-hydroxy acid and is lipophilic, which means it can break down fatty compounds that help remove excess oil and reduce sebum levels, thereby preventing pimples and blemishes.

It also belongs to a class of drugs known as aspirin (salicylates), which have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help soothe pimples, inflamed skin, and prevent future comedones.

** Please avoid products containing salicylic acid if you are allergic to aspirin.

What are the skin benefits of BHA?

  • Penetrates pores to exfoliate
  • Clears clogged pores
  • Smoothes and evens out skin tone
  • Dissolves excess oil and sebum
  • Reduces breakouts, blackheads and whiteheads
  • Improves skin texture
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

How do I use BHA?

Apply BHA products after cleansing and toning, focusing on breakout-prone areas. Follow with the rest of your skin care routine, including moisturizer and sunscreen. Start by using BHA once a day or every other day and adjust as your skin needs.

Can I use Vitamin C Serum with BHA?

Yes, you can use Vitamin C serum with BHA. However, it's best to alternate using one in the morning and the other in the evening to avoid potential irritation.

Can I use AHA BHA every day?

It's generally recommended to use AHA every other day or a few times a week, especially if you're just starting out with it, to avoid over-exfoliation and potential irritation.

Is AHA or BHA better for acne?

Both AHA and BHA can be beneficial for acne-prone skin, but BHA is particularly effective at unclogging pores and reducing breakouts. It penetrates deeper into the skin and is oil soluble, making it ideal for oily and acne-prone skin, while AHAs are better for dry skin.

Can I use an AHA or BHA with niacinamide?

These exfoliants and niacinamide can be used together without any problems if used correctly. The best way to use them is to apply them at different times of the day, one in the morning and one at night. Or at least 30 minutes apart.

Here is why: acids typically have a pH between 3.0 and 4.0, while niacinamide is around 5.0 to 7.0. When you mix them together, the niacinamide will raise the pH of the acid. The problem is that when the pH is high, the skin absorbs less acid, which means you're missing out on all the benefits your acid has to offer.

Can I use AHA BHA with hyaluronic acid?

Absolutely! Hyaluronic acid is a hydrating ingredient that can be used in conjunction with AHA or BHA to provide great hydration and nourishment to the skin, keeping it hydrated and reversing any signs of irritation, redness and dryness.

What is PHA in skin care?

Polyhydroxy Acid, or PHA, is AHA's little sister with a larger molecular size. This means it doesn't exfoliate as hard as glycolic acid and causes less irritation and redness than AHAs, making it suitable for all skin types, especially sensitive skin.

PHAs remove dead skin cells and excess surface debris, resulting in a more even skin tone and texture. It also helps reduce fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and acne scars while increasing cell renewal. Not only is it an exfoliator, it is also a humectant, also known as an ingredient that attracts water to the skin.

What are examples of PHAs?

Lactobionic Acid

Lactobionic acid is an oxidized form of lactose, which is derived from milk, and acts as an antioxidant, humectant, and also has anti-aging properties. Safer and better tolerated than its better-known cousin, glycolic acid, lactobionic acid is effective in reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation, including post-spot marks and sun spots.

This non-irritating acid may be ideal for those with more sensitive skin types who are prone to irritation from other harsh exfoliants.


Found in lactose, the sugar in animal milk or some dairy products, galactose is an energizing nutrient that aids healing by stimulating collagen synthesis.

Galactose contains antioxidant properties when ingested and applied topically to the skin, which means it helps slow aging by protecting your skin from the damaging effects of pollution, UV exposure and oxidative stress. This PHA acid is gentle enough for use on all skin types, including sensitive skin with frequent rosacea and eczema flare-ups.


Gluconolactone is a crystalline powder extracted from gluconic acid, a substance naturally produced by mammals and corn. It is a humectant, preservative and provides antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that protect the skin by reducing and counteracting free radical production and improving skin hydration. In general, it's good for all skin types, especially those with sensitive or mature skin.

What are the skin benefits of PHA?

  • Exfoliates dead skin cells
  • Hydrates skin
  • Ideal for irritated and sensitive skin
  • Possesses antioxidant properties
  • Fights free radicals
  • Improves skin tone and texture
  • Promotes a smoother complexion

How to use PHA?

Apply PHA products after cleansing and toning and follow with your regular skin care routine. PHA is generally well tolerated and can be used daily, depending on the sensitivity of your skin.

How do I know if I need AHA, BHA or PHA?

If you have dry skin and are concerned about sun damage, wrinkles, and uneven texture, AHA may be your best choice. If you struggle with oily skin, acne, and clogged pores, BHA is a great option. For sensitive skin or those seeking a gentler exfoliation, PHA may be the perfect choice.

First, analyze your skin type and current skin concerns - if you have dry skin and are stressed about surface skin concerns such as acne scars, dark spots, sun damage, dullness, wrinkles and uneven texture, AHA may be your best choice (or PHA if you have sensitive skin).

If you struggle with oily skin, acne, excess sebum and clogged pores, BHA is a great option.  PHA can be great for all skin types, especially dry, sensitive skin, including those with rosacea and eczema who cannot tolerate AHAs and BHAs.

Still not sure which acid to use? Don't worry, you can use a product that contains both AHAs, BHAs (and PHAs) to work together on your skin problems, from hyperpigmentation, to flaky and rough patches, to cystic acne.

Please note that AHAs increase sun sensitivity (compared to BHAs and PHAs) - you should always apply sunscreen after exfoliating to prevent further sun damage. Also, because they are humectants, they draw moisture from within the skin, which can lead to dehydration if overused. Do not use them in your daily routine.


Now armed with the knowledge of AHA, BHA and PHA, you can confidently choose the right exfoliating acid for your skin. Remember to start slow, monitor your skin's response and adjust your usage accordingly.

Whether you're looking to improve skin texture, target acne, or achieve a brighter complexion, these exfoliaters have you covered. Embrace these powerful acids and enjoy the radiant, rejuvenated skin you deserve!

🌟 Related blog post: Salicylic Acid (BHA): 5 Best Korean Exfoliators + Benefits

1 comment

Eine deutsche Gebrauchsanweisung wäre schön sehr sinnvoll.

Regina Müller

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

All comments are moderated before being published.

Read more

Best certification organic natural skincare cosmetics makeup body hair care men's grooming products K Beauty World
Skin Care Tips

How To Choose Organic & Natural Cosmetics and Skin Care?

What are natural organic certifications for cosmetics and skin care? What do all these marks stand for?

Read more
Hydrating vs. Moisturizing dry dehydrated skin oily face hyaluronic acid face oil ceramide lotion wrinkles K Beauty World
Skin Care Tips

Hydrating vs. Moisturizing: What My Skin Needs?

Learn how to choose the right moisturizer or hydrator for your skin type and how to properly treat dry or dehydrated skin.

Read more