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Everything You Need to Know About AHA BHA PHA on Skincare

You may know the acronyms AHA BHA PHA if you have been doing your research on skincare, possibly because you were on a mission to improve your skin, especially that of your face.

It may sound like some sort of exclamation, but it’s not. AHA BHA PHA are actually substances that have been used in skincare cosmetic products for four decades up till now. 

That’s right. They have been used for skincare for four decades. Definitely there must be some solid reasons behind their use for them to be used for this long.

And, as it happens, science backs them up. There have been numerous researches and studies that support the beneficial properties of AHA BHA PHA on skincare. 

In this post, we will talk about AHA BHA PHA. We will start off with what exactly they are, where they are derived from, and the beneficial properties they have on the skin. After that we will look into some of the researches done on the subject. 

Read on and find out everything about AHA BHA PHA and how it can help your skin - especially your facial skin. 

What are AHA BHA PHA?

AHA BHA PHA refers to the three hydroxy acids that are found in various substances in nature, namely Alpha Hydroxy acids, Beta Hydroxy acids, and Poly Hydroxy acids. 

So they are not some synthesized chemicals that could be toxic to your body, since they are substances derived from nature, mainly from edible sources. That throws the worry of harmful chemicals out the window.

And these aren’t the type of acids that can burn your face off either. On the contrary, they provide an array of beneficial effects for your skin to keep it beautiful and glowing.

Mainly the Hydroxy Acids are used for exfoliating skin (the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin), for reducing pigmentation, for slowing down the aging of the skin and for getting rid of excess oil. Some of the acids can also be used as a sunscreen, and some have anti-oxidant or anti-inflammatory properties. These are the typical objectives of someone looking to enhance their skin health and beauty.

Each of the acids has its own unique property, allowing it to be used for specific purposes or skin types. For instance, some are good for oily skin while others are for dry skin. And some acids are suitable options for sensitive skins that could react to skincare products. 

Read on and learn more about the properties and benefits of each of the hydroxy acids. 

How can AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) benefit your skin?

Alpha Hydroxy Acids are generally used for exfoliation, as they help break down the bonds between skin cells (the fancy word for it is desmosome) to allow them to be cleaned easily. 

Since the dead skin cells serve no purpose at all, they should be got ridden of. Why? Because they make the texture of your skin appear rough and increase the likelihood of fine lines and wrinkles. On the other hand, exfoliating your skin smoothens it and can actually brighten it up, as anyone who has done it before must surely know.

And this is a form of chemical exfoliation, which is gentler than physical exfoliation that could damage the living skin cells. However, you should still take care of the concentration of AHA used.  

The Alpha Hydroxy Acids are hydrophilic, which means they are attracted to water. This allows them to lock in moisture onto your skin when you apply them. This makes AHA a suitable option for dry skin.

Since AHA can smoothen the skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, they are perfect for people with aging skin. Even some young people could have prematurely aged skin, so this would help them.  

Of all the AHAs, Glycolic acid, derived from sugars, and lactic acid, derived from milk, are the champion ingredients when it comes to skincare. Not only is glycolic acid good for exfoliation, but it is also good at controlling the production of sebum, which makes it suitable for oily or acne-prone skin. Lactic acid, on the other hand, has nice hydrating properties, making it perfect as a skin moisturizer.  It also has anti-microbial properties that make it suitable for the treatment of acne and pimples. 

Citric acid is also an AHA derived from citric fruits such as lemons, oranges, etc, that has anti-aging properties and can brighten your skin. 

Then you have mandelic acid derived from bitter almonds that is gentle on sensitive skin with its anti-inflammatory properties.

Some more AHAs include malic acid derived from apples that hydrate the skin and promote tissue respiration and tartaric acid derived from grapes that have anti-oxidant properties.    

How can BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acids) benefit your skin?

The most commonly used BHA is salicylic acid, which is derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen oil, and sweet birch. Salicylic acid is present in aspirin. If you have ever used aspirin to treat acne, you now know the reason why.  

Like the AHA, Beta Hydroxy Acids too are exfoliators; however, they have a slightly different method of action and offer some different benefits. BHA is able to penetrate the skin more deeply to bestow its beneficial effects on it. 

While AHA is hydrophilic, BHA is lipophilic, which means it is attracted to oil. This makes it excellent for cleaning out excess oil and sebum from the skin. The fact that it can penetrate deep into the skin means you get a thorough cleaning of pores. 

As you may have guessed by now, due to its lipophilic properties BHA is suitable for those with oily skin, which is often accompanied by acne. 

Salicyclic acid, the predominant BHA, also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it suitable for reducing redness and irritation. Often these symptoms accompany acne, so all the more reason for using this acid for the treatment of acne. 

Also, it is anti-microbial. Since bacteria is the main culprit behind acne, it should also help reduce it through this property as well. 

Moreover, some research findings reveal that salicylic acid is photoprotective as well, which means it can be used as a sunscreen. This is actually a bonus benefit when it comes to skincare.  

How can PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acids) benefit your skin?

All of the Hydroxy Acids help exfoliate the skin - the Poly Hydroxy Acids aren’t an exception. The PHA is the latest addition to the family of hydroxy acids that are used in skincare. 

PHA is not much different from the AHA, in terms of both the molecular structure and mechanism of action. Like the latter, it too breaks down the bond between cells to help with exfoliation. And it also shares the hydrating properties of AHA. 

The only difference is that PHA has a larger molecular size than AHA, this means it does not penetrate the skin as fast as AHA. This leads to less irritation of the skin, if there is any. 

This property of the PHA makes it suitable for those with sensitive skin that could react to the products that contain AHA. For instance, the PHA is a safe option for those with eczema or rosacea. 

PHA also possesses anti-oxidant properties, allowing it to slow down the aging of the skin. This and the fact that it can reduce lines and wrinkles (similar action as AHA) make it suitable for those with mature skin. 

Some of the commonly used PHA include lactobionic acid (derived from the lactose in milk), galactose (a simple sugar), and gluconic acid (naturally found in cells). 

The Research Behind AHA BHA PHA  

As I mentioned before, the various beneficial effects of the hydroxy acids are not unfounded. In fact, numerous studies have looked into the mechanism of action of the AHA BHA PHA and how they enhance the health of the skin.

For instance, it has been found that AHA reduces the concentration of Calcium ions in the epidermis. Since Calcium ions are vital to the bonding between cells, the disruption in their concentration leads to a breakdown of the skin’s cellular structure, which results in the phenomenon known as exfoliation. 

In another study, it has been found that glycolic acid (which is an AHA) accelerates collagen synthesis by fibroblasts. As you may know, collagen is crucial to the health and youthfulness of skin.

Moreover, several studies and clinical trials have concluded that salicylic acid (which is a BHA) is photoprotective, which means it offers protection from the UV rays of the sun. It is also found to act as an anti-bacterial agent.

Meanwhile, a study done on gluconolactone (a PHA) reveals that it can protect against UV radiation, much like salicylic acid. This trait is not present in other Poly Hydroxy Acids. For instance, glycolic acid which is also a PHA does not offer any protection from the UV rays, as found by experiment.

While the above-mentioned studies looked into the beneficial effects of the AHA BHA PHA, there are numerous other studies that looked into the safety aspect of it.

For example, in 1998 the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel concluded based on existing evidence that AHA is not a carcinogen, mutagen, reproductive or development toxin, or skin sensitizer. Which basically means that AHA is completely safe for human use. 

However, another study shows that glycolic acid, which is an AHA, increased the sensitivity of the human skin to SSR (Solar Simulated Radiation). This suggests that glycolic acid could increase the susceptibility to sunburns. However, this effect is quite minimal and is not a cause for concern. In any case, most of the skincare products that contain AHA also contain ingredients that offer protection from the UV rays, so increased photosensitivity should not be a concern. 

The study done on salicylic acid regarding safety concludes that it does not increase photosensitivity, nor is it phototoxic. On the contrary, tests done on mice reveal that they actually offer protection from the carcinogenic effects of SSR. 

Skincare products that contain AHA BHA PHA

Do the various benefits AHA BHA PHA has on the skin seem appealing to you? Does it make you wonder why you haven’t tried it before (if you haven’t)?

If yes then you must immediately be looking to buy some cosmetic products that contain the magic ingredients AHA BHA PHA. However, since there are thousands of such products out there, you could be confused on what to buy. 

Not to worry, I will show you some excellent products that contain AHA BHA PHA to get you started.

30 Days Miracle Toner Contains Real TeaTree AHA/BHA/PHA from SOME BY MI

As evident from the name, this product contains AHA, BHA as well as PHA. It’s used to exfoliate and brighten the skin. As the name suggests, you can see visible results within 30 days of using this toner.

It also contains tea tree oil, which is a potent antibacterial agent and highly effective against acne. This makes this toner a good option for those with acne-prone skin.   

30 Days Miracle Cream Contains Real Tea Tree AHA/BHA/PHA from SOME BY MI

This cream is a skin soother that can get rid of scars, even the toughest ones. The key ingredients besides the AHA BHA PHA include tea tree extract, madecassoside, and centella asiatica extract. It also consists of some natural ingredients that moisturize the skin really well. And we know that AHA is a good moisturizer thanks to its hydrophilic properties.

Like the previous product, this too promises result in 30 days.  


This is a hypoallergenic foam that is specifically for those who suffer from acne. It reduces the appearance of redness and inflammation which often accompanies acne. 

It works by cleaning the clogged pores of excess sebum and impurities, which is the root cause of acne. 

A good product for those with sensitive skin that suffers from acne, redness, or irritation. 

14 Days Super Miracle Spot All Kill Cream AHA, BHA, PHA from SOME BY MI

This is a spot cream that can get rid of blemishes on the skin while exfoliating it like any AHA BHA PHA product to provide smoother and brighter skin. It also contains D-Panthenol for hydrating the skin and preserving the oil-water balance. 

Unlike the previous ones, this product promises results in just 14 days.