Understanding The Difference Between AHA’s Vs BHA’s Before Starting Your “Skin Cycling” Journey

Exfoliating is the key to having soft, smooth skin. Whether you want to remove dead skin cells or help fade acne scars, exfoliation will help you get there. There are two ways you can choose to exfoliate – chemical and physical. Should you choose to go for a Chemical exfoliation, there are two types of chemical exfoliants – Alpha Hydroxy Acids also known as AHA’s and Beta Hydroxy Acids also known as BHA’s. These ingredients work differently from each other and have different benefits for your skin type. So which one should you choose? Let’s dive in!

What is Skin Cycling?

We have heard all the Tiktok rave about skin cycling – a night time skin care routine curated by Dr. Whitney Bowe (A board certified dermatologist) where she recommends a 4-step skin care routine


Skin cycling for beginners: how to get started. And how to layer with Bowe Glowe #skincycling #thatboweglow #dermatologist #skintok

♬ original sound – Dr. Whitney Bowe
Dr. Bowe Recommending Skin Cycling for Beginners

Skin cycling is a process that involves using different types of exfoliants to remove dead skin cells, clogged pores and blackheads. The goal is to reveal a fresh layer of beautiful skin, but you’ll need to understand how it works before you start your journey.

The first step in skin cycling is choosing an exfoliant. Exfoliants work by removing dead skin cells from the top layer of your face. They’re made for different purposes—some are gentle enough for daily use, while others will give you more dramatic results over time.

Some popular forms of exfoliants include physical scrubs that use grains or beads (like sugar or jojoba beads), chemical peels that dissolve the outermost layers on your face with acids (like glycolic acid) and microdermabrasion treatments that blast away old cells using sandpaper-like disks. There are also many DIY ways to make an at-home facial mask at home with ingredients found in most kitchens!

What is an AHA?

AHA is an acronym for alpha hydroxy acid. It’s a water soluble chemical exfoliant that works by loosening dead skin cells, which allows your skin to shed them naturally.

Think of AHA’s as a surface level exfoliant addressing surface level skin concerns such as

  • uneven skin tone
  • fine lines and wrinkles
  • enlarged pores
  • mild hyperpigmentation like age spots, melasma and scars

AHA’s are best used during the day time because they’re less irritating than BHA’s. You should also wear sunscreen while using AHAs as they make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. If you have sensitive or dry skin try gradually introducing them into your skin care routine until your skin builds a tolerance to it—you’ll know when it does because your face won’t feel itchy anymore.

Types of AHA’s

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is the most common type of AHA’s available. It is derived from and naturally present in most plants such as sugarcane and beetroots. It’s best known for its ability to improve skin texture and moisturize skin; however, it can also help with acne-prone skin.

Lactic Acid

Lactic Acid is also another common type of AHA’s derived mainly from lactose in milk. It is best known for its ability of exfoliation and anti-aging effects.

Tartaric Acid

Derived from grape extracts, tartaric acid is a lesser known AHA best known for reducing signs of sun damage.

Citric Acid

Citric Acid is mainly used to neutralize PH levels and commonly found in serums and toners. Always follow it up with a good moisturizer and sunscreen before setting off for the day

Mandelic Acid

Mandelic Acid is an AHA that is derived from bitter almonds. This AHA is known to improve various skin care concerns such as acne, skin texture, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and fine lines.

What is a BHA?

BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid and is a chemical exfoliant that is oil soluble. It works by dissolving the “glue” holding dead skin cells together, allowing them to be washed away with the rest of your makeup products. Because BHA is oil soluble, it can penetrate deep into pores to clear out dirt and build-up better than water-soluble AHAs. This also makes it a great acne fighter as well as an anti-ageing ingredient because it helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles by encouraging new collagen production in your skin.

Types of BHA’s

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid is a very popular and common type of BHA well known for its acne reducing properties. It works best for mind acne such as whitehead and blackhead and can also help prevent future breakouts.

Betaine Salicylate

This is a type of BHA that is sourced from sugar beets. It is a gentle BHA as compared to Salicylic Acid but still very effective as an exfoliant.

Salix Alba

Salix Alba is a plant derived BHA. This is the weakest form of BHA that may not give you the desired results as compared to Salicylic Acid and Betaine Salicylate.

How to use AHA’s & BHA’s?

Personally, I preferred alternating between Microdermabrasion (a type of physical exfoliation),AHA and BHA (chemical exfoliation) on the exfoliation night in my skin cycling routine. This allowed me to get the most out of both without the risk of causing skin irritation. Here is what I followed


If you’re looking for an easy way to think about it, think of AHAs as exfoliants that work on the surface layer of your skin—like a shower scrub or peel—and BHAs as “pore cleansers,” which clean out the inside of your pores. The latter can be helpful for those who find themselves prone to blackheads or whiteheads.

It’s important to know the difference between these two acids so you can use them in your skin-care routine. This will not only help you understand what they do and why they work so well together, but also how to layer them for maximum benefits. AHA and BHA are powerful exfoliants that can improve your skin health when used together effectively!

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