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)

Naturally derived from fruits, nuts, milk or sugarcane. AHA’s are tiny molecules of hydrophilic (water-soluble) acid. They exfoliate and dissolve dead skin cells on the surface of your skin and stimulate the renew of the skin cell process.

Alpha hydroxy acids help smooth out pigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, and acne scars while brightening and even out your skin tone. 

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)

Within skincare, the most common of which is salicylic acid! Derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves, and sweet birch bark.

As an acid exfoliant, salicylic acid is lipophilic (oil-soluble) and works by softening and dissolving keratin. It easily penetrates deep into the pores and clears out excess sebum and dead skin cells while preventing whiteheads, blackheads and acne breakouts.

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

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.

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