Can AHAs and BHAs cause skin purge? research before you use

AHA and BHA chemical peel

An exfoliator is a needy thing in the skincare routine. Exfoliator basically helps to remove dead cells from the skin. There are two types of exfoliant or exfoliator available in the cosmetic industry, Physical exfoliant, and chemical exfoliant. Both are used to remove dead skin cells from the upper layer of the skin.

Physical exfoliant like scrub is a little bit harsh since you need to rub your skin which is not a gentle way to remove dead cells, while chemical exfoliants remove dead skin cells in a very gentle way, don’t need to harshly rub your skin. I am going to break down how chemical exfoliants like AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) can be good and gentle for your skin.

By the way, a chemical exfoliant is one kind of acid. so the question is how acid can be good for your skin? Don’t worry, the right use of hydroxy acid can make your skin awesome without harshly rubbing the skin. But you should keep some deep knowledge about chemical exfoliant if you really want to get the best output from it. It will wonder you, if you can understand it, otherwise, it may irritate and burn your skin and make your skin dry.

This article will help to make you understand how this acid actually works and how it could be applied to your skin without meeting fewer side effects. Also, you will be informed about what type of acid is going to suit you and what other active ingredients can be combined with a chemical exfoliant with all possible FAQs. And get some pro tips at the bottom of the article if you are going to use a chemical exfoliant.

Let me solve it out.    

What is hydroxy acid good for skin?

Hydroxy acids are a kind of chemical exfoliant. Hydroxy acid helps to skin cell turnover by peeling off the surface of the skin and also stimulating collagen production.

It can penetrate the deeper layer into the skin depending on the concentration level and target specific skin concerns.

There are three types of hydroxy acid 

  1. Alpha hydroxy acid
  2. Beta hydroxy acid
  3. Polyhydroxy acid

These three different hydroxy acids have different properties and absolutely effective and gentle for oily, sensitive, dry skin, and acne-prone skin.

How hydroxy acid works

Hydroxy acids basically work to peel off the outer layer of the skin. Also help to reduce inflammation, acne, acne scars, rosacea, fine lines, and wrinkles. Basically, Alpha hydroxy acid helps to skin cell turnover. They help to unstick or dissolve cellular glue and thus remove dead skin cells which cause breakout and clogged pores.

a lady applying hydroxy acid

A study with 20 patients shows alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acid peel both contribute to reducing facial acne vulgaris. The study was led to compare the efficacy of AHA and BHA chemical peels.

They also help to regenerate new cells and produce collagen. The dermis layer pushes the new cells off to the upper layer and hydroxy acids exfoliate them.

This is how hydroxy acids remove all the dark spots, hyperpigmentation, acne, and acne scars.

you may also ask

What not to use with bha and aha?

AHA and BHA are chemical exfoliants that help to exfoliate the upper layer of the skin. So it’s better not to use with another exfoliating ingredient like a retinoid. This combination may cause extreme irritation and redness in your skin.

What goes well with AHA BHA?

You can apply AHA and BHA with niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, even vitamin c. But be remember your skin should be ready to take this combination at first. So apply these active ingredients with lower percentages and lower dimensions.

What is alpha hydroxy acid

There are different types of alpha-hydroxy acid like glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, citric, and mandelic acid derived from fruit, sugar cane, almonds, and milk. Alpha hydroxy acid is considered by dermatologists as the best performing acid and peels off the upper layer without irritating skin.

AHAs are water-soluble works, especially on the surface level. It’s not proved that if it can penetrate into the deepest layer of the skin or not. Basically alpha hydroxy acid helps to dissolve cellular glue and remove dead skin cells by exfoliating epidermal cells in the stratum corneum.

It is initially used for hyperkeratosis and other skin problem like hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and wrinkle according to semantic scholar now the most important thing is that it also helps to stimulate collagen production and thus fade your wrinkles and make your skin texture smooth, glowy, and plump. 

Alpha hydroxy acid is good for those who have dry, rough, and bumpy skin.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is the king among all AHAs found in sugar crops. Because of its smaller molecular size, it can penetrate the deepest layer of the skin faster. It is the most effective one in producing collagen production among other AHAs and encourages skin more effectively retaining moisture.  

It helps to treat signs of aging reducing the effects of sun damage and hyperpigmentation and thus improves the overall skin complexion.

As I said it is strong and king among the others AHAs. It can irritate your skin a little, so apply with a lower concentration like 10%-15% once a week then you can gradually increase it.

Lactic acid

Lactic acid is less irritating, unlike glycolic acid. It is derived from sour milk. Like glycolic acid, it also has exfoliating properties. Its molecules are a little bit larger than glycolic acid. Lactic acid is gentler and less irritating for newbies.

Lower concentrations like 12% can improve skin barrier function, increase thickness and firmness of the skin by stimulating collagen production and, also contribute to fading lines and wrinkles.

Mandelic acid   

Mandelic acid is derived from natural elements like bitter almonds and wild cherry.

It is absolutely super effective and multitasking in skincare ingredients. its antimicrobial property helps to treat acne.

Research over 24 patients between 42 to 68 age showed an amazing result. It increased eyelid elasticity, skin firmness within four weeks.

This acid is absolutely well tolerated by patients and can be incorporated into the skincare routine easily.

you may also ask

Can I mix hyaluronic acid with glycolic acid?

The combination of hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid is amazing, but if the humidity is less than 50% then don’t apply this combination. If this combination is more than 50%, it will provide you amazing effectiveness to be produced collagen and hydrated your skin.  

Is it OK to use glycolic acid every day?

It depends on what form of hydroxy acid are you using. If you use any rinse-off product like cleansing then you can apply it every day. But if it is in serum form, it is better to apply 2- 3 times a week. And obviously read the levels.

Do you wash off glycolic acid?

If it is a rinse-off product like cleansing then wash off within 30 seconds, if it is chemical peels wash off it within 10 minutes.

How long does it take glycolic acid to fade dark spots?

It takes four to five weeks if you use chemical peels. If it is in moisturizer form, it may take 4 – 6 weeks.

Does glycolic acid darken skin?

Yes, it can, if you use it in excessive dimensions. If your skin is not ready to use glycolic acid, apply it once a week with a lower concentration. Otherwise, it can cause irritation, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and thus make your skin darker.

What is beta hydroxy acid

Beta hydroxy acid is oil soluble and good for almost all skin types as it is gentle enough to use. It is also known as salicylic acid derived from fruits like pineapple and berries, dairy products, willow bark trees, and sweet birch leaves. Now, on rare occasions, citric acid is cited as BHA in cosmetic products. Alpha hydroxy acid or salicylic acid can penetrate even into the deepest layer of the skin because of its smaller molecular size.

It not only helps to dissolve cellular glue but it even can go down into the pores, inhibit excessive sebum production, and also helps to bring out all the debris inside the skin.

Salicylic acid or BHA has natural anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties. A study with 30 patients shows that beta hydroxy acid peel can be used to treat acne without disruption of normal skin function. It also improves skin stratum corneum, skin pH, and also helps to reduce TEWL (transepidermal water loss) after five peels.

And so salicylic acid is especially good for acne-prone and oily skin too.

you may also ask

Can you use beta hydroxy acid everyday?

Don’t do that. Alpha hydroxy acid or salicylic acid can penetrate even into the deeper layer of the skin because of its smaller molecular size. So if you use it every day, it may irritate your skin.

Can I use hyaluronic acid after salicylic acid?

Don’t apply this combination on the same day, because salicylic acid can go down into the pores and inhibit excessive oil production. On the other hand, hyaluronic acid can increase TEWL (transepidermal water loss) in less than 50% humidity. So this combination can be very irritating. But if you use them with more than 50% humidity and one is at night another is on the next day so it can be effective.  

Can AHAs and BHAs cause skin purge?

Research shows that AHA peels can be more effective with other active ingredients like hydroquinone, glycolic acid, kojic acid.


It’s also super effective for a variety of skin conditions for those who have photodamage, melasma, hyperpigmentation disorder according to NIH.

Applying two ingredients will give you the best results. Helps to trigger the extra collagen production and strengthen the structure of the skin producing more collagen and thus increase more elasticity which makes your skin plump and gives you younger look.    

But this combination should be applied carefully. You can’t be applied both products on the same day. Just apply one at first then take a break and then apply the second one on the next day.

The total application of this combination should be 2 to 3 times at most. Must listen to your skin, don’t be hurry. If you feel any burn or irritation, discontinue it.

How to apply aha and bha?

As you already learn that AHAs and BHAs are chemical exfoliants, so you should incorporate them in your skincare routine very slowly with lower concentration.

If you use AHAs, so it is better to choose a concentration level between 10% -14% only once a week for the first two weeks and the same as for BHA with 0.5% – 5%.  If you adapt to this product, you can proceed and can apply at most 2 to 3 times per week.

The application process is very simple, just cleanse your face and then apply it 2 to 3 drops with your fingertip, if it is serum formula and don’t forget to wear moisturizer and sunscreen. If it is a cream formula, apply it with a pea-sized. Chemical exfoliants should be used at night otherwise sun can burn you.

If you want to apply both together then apply anyone at night and then another one on the next day at most 2 to 3 times (i.e salicylic acid one time per week, glycolic acid one time per week. Total 2 times per week, after adaption you may increase the level).

Bottom line

Let’s consider how much effective the hydroxy acid is one more time.

  • Inhibits excessive production
  • Promote collagen production
  • Helps to fade dark spots, wrinkles, fine lines
  • They have antimicrobial property that good for acne-prone skin
  • Can use with some active ingredients with less irritation
  • Even out skin surface
  • Makes your skin soft, plump, glowy, and glossy

Now it’s time for special tips

What should do

  • Use it for 4 – 6 months at least (not every day be careful) to get the best result as they take some time to be executed.
  • Must read the level when you purchase them over the counter
  • Wearing sunscreen is must needed as they are chemical exfoliant and peel off upper layer of the skin.
  • Apply it during night time one or half hour before sleep
  • If you feel  prolonged burning sensation, wash it off

What should not do

  • Don’t use them for long time
  • Newbies should not apply it with higher percentages as it is exfoliating type and can irritate you
  • Don’t apply them on burns and broken skin, while applying avoids sensitive area of the skin.
  • Don’t use physical exfoliator like scrub while using them


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