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  • AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs: Which Acids Are Right for Your Skin?
  • Post author
    Kay Beauty

AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs: Which Acids Are Right for Your Skin?

AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs: Which Acids Are Right for Your Skin?

Choose the best chemical exfoliants for your skin with our handy primer.

Kay Beauty

Hello beauties!

I’m Kay Beauty, SKINiD’s resident skincare junkie and all-around beauty fanatic, and today I’m here to help you with a very common skincare question: Which chemical exfoliants are right for your skin?

What is a chemical exfoliant?

Washcloths, facial brushes, salt and sugar scrubs.  You know all about manual exfoliation, in which you use a tool or grainy/abrasive product to remove loose dead cells from the surface of your skin. Dead skin cells dull and roughen skin—exfoliation can restore a smooth, bright complexion.

Chemical exfoliation does much same thing, but instead of physically scrubbing away dead skin cells, chemical exfoliants such as AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs dissolve the bonds holding dead cells to your skin. This allows them to shed at a faster rate than usual.

Many people find chemical exfoliation preferable to physical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliation tends to be more even than physical exfoliation, and chemical exfoliants can penetrate and exfoliate more deeply than scrubs and cloths. But not all chemical exfoliants are created equal.

The three categories of chemical exfoliants are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and poly hydroxy acids (PHAs). Let’s look at what each one does and how they can benefit your skin!


AHAs like glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acid are water-soluble chemical exfoliants. They exfoliate at the upper layers of skin to smooth and refine surface skin texture. Their key benefits are:

  • Reducing roughness
  • Minimizing fine lines
  • Brightening skin tone
  • Fading dark spots caused by sun exposure or acne
  • Releasing deep clogs trapped beneath the surface of skin

Best used for: Improving overall skin texture and tone; treating under-the-skin breakouts


BHAs like salicylic acid and betaine salicylate are oil-soluble chemical exfoliants. They can penetrate the sebum within pores to loosen clogs and dead skin trapped inside. Their key benefits are:

  • Preventing clogs from forming in open pores
  • Treating blackheads
  • Clarifying pores and minimizing the appearance of pore size
  • Balancing oily skin

Best used for: Improving the appearance of visible pores; reducing breakouts that form in open pores


Often referred to as the next generation of AHAs, PHAs like gluconolactone have a similar function to AHAs. They are water-soluble so work best on upper layers of skin, where they loosen dead skin cells to allow faster shedding. Their key benefits are the same as AHAs, but PHAs are gentler due to their larger molecule size, which keeps them from penetrating as deeply as glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids.

Best used for: Dry and/or sensitive skin that needs the benefits of AHAs but may become irritated by most AHA products.

Using chemical exfoliants

Based on your skin’s needs, you may decide to use just one, or maybe multiple, chemical exfoliants. Either way, here are some tips to safe exfoliation.

  • Use liquid chemical exfoliants on clean, bare skin for best results. Cream-style exfoliants can go later in your routine, but avoid using too many products beforehand.
  • Only use the chemical exfoliants on the areas that need them. So for example, if you only have pore issues on your T-zone, there’s no need to apply a BHA on your cheeks.
  • When first using your chemical exfoliants, introduce them one at a time into your skincare routine and use each on its own for at least one week before adding another. This way, you can make sure your skin can tolerate the exfoliation before combining products.
  • Always wear sunscreen! AHAs are known to be photosensitizing, meaning that they make skin more prone to UV damage, but it’s a good idea to use sunscreen no matter what other products you’re using.

Are you ready to take your skin to the next level? We carry a full range of products from Korean brand COSRX, known for its gentle, effective formulations at budget-friendly prices. Shop our chemical exfoliants now!

AHA: COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

BHA: COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid or BHA Blackhead Power Cream

PHA: COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream

Sunscreen: COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA+++

  • Post author
    Kay Beauty

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