Everything you need to know about Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) peels

You might have seen it on the label of  skin care products often: BHA. But what does this BHA mean and what is it good for?  Let’s find out!

What are BHAs?

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), more commonly known as salicylic acid, is a compound in skin care products that exfoliates the skin. In skin care, there are chemical exfoliators and physical exfoliators. While chemical exfoliators might sound scary, they are more effective and less likely to do damage on your skin. Personally I actually recommend everyone to stay away from physical exfoliators. Physical exfoliators are things like face scrubs. Unfortunately they can be very abrasive on the skin and cause micro-tears. Micro-tears are little scratches and tears in your skin that you can’t see with the bare eye, but they make your skin more vulnerable to aging and visible skin damage. The risk of getting micro-tears is higher if your face scrubs contains particles like apricot seeds and similar products.

Why should you exfoliate?

While the top layer of skin exfoliates naturally, as we grow older this process slows down. This is not only due to age, but also sun damage, skin diseases, having difficult skin types and many more reasons. Exfoliation helps to support your skin by getting rid of dead skin cells, revealing the fresh, younger looking layer underneath that makes you glow and look beautiful. If you have acne, exfoliation is key, because it helps to get rid of clogged pores which in turn will reduce blackheads and other blemishes. In the long run  gentle, proper exfoliation will keep your skin healthy and younger looking!

How do BHAs work?

BHA is a chemical exfoliator without rough particles, so it works by gently exfoliating the top layer of your skin, which consists of dead skin cells that give your skin a dull complexion and which clogs your pores. Unlike physical exfoliators, BHA won’t cause micro-tears and if you use it correctly, it will improve the health of your skin while improving the appearance of it.

BHAs are oil-soluble, which makes it effective for use on oily skin. Unlike AHA (which works on the surface of your skin only), BHA can penetrate through the oil in your pores and work deeper into the skin. This makes BHA ideal for unclogging pores and as a result decreasing blackheads, acne and oily skin. The perfect skin types to use BHA are normal to oily skin, combination skin and acne-prone skin. Since BHA removes the dead skin cells and reveals your new, fresh skin underneath, you have to protect this new layer of skin from sun damage. If you use any exfoliator, you must always use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Never skip this step! 😉

To learn more about AHA, check out this article on AHAs and their benefits.

How to use BHAs?

Depending on the product BHA can be used daily (once or twice), or a few times a week. If you have something like a mask or a treatment, you can use it once a week as well. What’s important is that you choose a product which stays on your skin long enough to work. This can be a toner, mask, treatment or just a cream. Never waste money on face wash and cleansers that contain BHA, because you wash it off too soon for it make any difference in your skin. If you want to improve the texture of your skin, reduce fine lines and sun damage or have dry (patches of) skin, using an AHA is more suitable. If you have any of these issues, but you also have acne, clogged pores etcetera then you can use both AHA and BHA. For some people, using them both at the same time can be intense, so it’s better to use them at different times. For example, use your AHA in the mornings and your BHA in the evening. You can also switch the days that you use AHA and BHA around. What is important is that you use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 at all times.

What to use?

Since moving to Seoul, I discovered one of my new favorite skin care brands, Cosrx. They became a favorite after I started using their AHA and BHA products to help me clear my acne, clogged pores and acne scars. They have really worked wonders, so I definitely recommend them.

If you want something for daily use, that is alcohol free and suitable for fungal acne as well, then I highly recommend their AHA/BHA clarifying treatment toner. This toner doesn’t just contain BHA, but also AHA, so you get the benefits of both.

If you want something a little more intense, you can add their Blackhead Power Liquid as a treatment a few times a week. On the days that you use this Power Liquid, don’t use the daily toner or any other BHA products. You can start by using it once a week and gradually build up to 3 times a week, so you give your skin a little time to get used to it. 

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