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Chemical Exfoliation Ultimate Guide: AHA, BHA, PHA

Ever wonder when and why to use different types of chemical exfoliators like AHA, BHA, and PHAs?

What is a Chemical Exfoliant?

Chemical exfoliants are gentle acids that speed up the process of skin cell turnover, removing dead skin cells, eliminating texture, fading dark spots, acne scars, and revealing healthy, glowing skin underneath. When you exfoliate your skin, your other skincare products will penetrate the skin better as well.

What are These Exfoliants?

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)

  • Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

  • Poly Hydroxy Acid (PHA)

What Each Exfoliant Does for You

Here is a breakdown of each exfoliant type, and what they provide for different skin types.


Glycolic Acid

Lactic Acid

AHAs remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. They’re slightly stronger than BHAs, can even out skin tone, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and they have humectant properties. AHAs are hydrophilic, meaning they attract water, drawing in moisture from the air (much like Hyaluronic Acid). This is why you may see a small percentage of AHAs in moisturizers and toners. AHAs are the chemical exfoliant to use for people with dry skin.


Salicylic Acid

BHAs penetrate deeper into the pores, removing any dirt and excess sebum, or oil, ultimately unclogging them. Because BHAs go deeper into the skin, are lipophilic (attracted to oil), and a little more drying than AHAs, they’re recommended for oily, acne-prone skin. They also help reduce irritation, redness, and have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, which is why you often see Salicylic acid in acne treatments.

When starting to use chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs, I suggest using it once a week at first, then working your way up to no more than 3 times a week.


Lactobionic Acid

Gluconolactone Acid


PHAs are a newer group of acids in the skincare world. They have larger molecules, meaning they don’t penetrate the skin the way AHAs and BHAs do and are less likely to cause any irritation. Similar to AHAs, they have hydrating properties. They’re really gentle and suitable for sensitive and dry skin. Because PHAs are very gentle, you can use them every day without disrupting your skin barrier. This would be the type of chemical exfoliant to use if your skin is too sensitive to other AHAs and BHAs, or if you have concerns like eczema or rosacea.

After exfoliating, your skin will naturally be more sensitive to the sun. Because of this, I suggest using exfoliators in your night-time routine, and making sure you wear your sunscreen!

If you have any questions, recommendations, or want to share some of your input feel free to DM @Boafo.Beauty or@ninamariemakeup on Instagram.

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