Active Ingredients: BHA

Chloe Song Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: BHA

What are BHAs? (Beta Hydroxy Acids) 

BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid. Found in willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves or sweet birch bark. Like AHAs, BHAs are also chemical exfoliants that help improve the skin’s complexion and texture, revealing glowy skin by removing the dead skin cells laying on the skin's surface. BHAs also “detach” the bonds on the surface of the skin that clings onto dead skin. 

The main difference between AHAs and BHAs is that BHAs are oil-soluble, making them more appropriate and preferable for those with oily skin and prone to bumps (milia), clogs and enlarged pores. This is because they are able to work on the skin’s surface, as well as penetrating deep into the skin.


Types of BHAs

  • Salicylic acid = Naturally occurs in willow bark, fruits, and vegetables and is the most commonly used and found. Widely known to treat acne and blackheads. Depending on the formulation and concentration, can also help calm redness and inflammation.
  • Citric acid = Citric acid is a crossover of both AHA and BHA, it all comes down to the formulation. When formulated as a BHA, it is primarily used to clear excess sebum and dead skin.
  • Betaine salicylate = Extracted from sugar beets. It is a gentler alternative to salicylic acid.
  • Salix alba/willow bark extract = Extracted from plants. A natural BHA, hence, it is much weaker and the results may not be significant.


Benefits? All similar to AHA

Encourage cell turnover

  • Having similar benefits to AHA, BHA helps to remove the buildup of dead skin cells and encourage cell turnover, resulting in smoother skin.

Targets anti-aging concerns (hyperpigmentation,

  • By clearing dead skin cells, it in turns brightens the skin, as newer skin cells are less discoloured and appear more “fresh” and healthy, diminishing hyperpigmentation.
  • In promoting skin regeneration, collagen synthesis is also stimulated. This reduces fine lines and wrinkles as the skin yields more hydration and the skin barrier is stronger. Over time, the skin’s firmness will be more resilient.

Promotes hydration

  • Like AHA, BHAs are also humectants that attract moisture from the surroundings and retain that moisture in the skin, ensuring that it doesn’t seep out.


What are the differences?

Ideal for oily and acne prone skin

  • As BHAs are oil-soluble, they work extremely well in reducing excess oil by slowing down sebum production, hence, preventing the buildup of sebum, combined with dead skin cells and bacteria that clog pores which result in breakouts. This also applies to blackheads.
  • It also helps to minimise enlarged pores because cleansing the pores of the buildup can make them appear smaller as they are no longer filled with debris.

Skin calming properties

  • With anti-bacterial and anti-inflammation properties, BHAs are also used to reduce redness, particularly those with rosacea as it is gentle enough to not cause irritants because of its larger molecule size. Whereas, AHA has been more associated with causing irritation and inflammation.


Final thoughts

The main take from this is that BHAs are more suitable for oily, acne prone and sensitive skin while AHAs are more suitable for those with dry skin, targeting anti-ageing concerns and sun-damaged skin. Is one better than the other? It all depends on your concerns and the reaction of your skin, though some argue that salicylic acid stands above all.


What to note?

Like AHAs, BHAs are acids, meaning that one should wear sunscreen during the day as the skin is more sensitive to the sun, preventing further UV damage. However, AHAs increase the skin’s sensitivity more compared to BHAs.


Products we recommend 


CeraVE Renewing SA Cleanser 

cerave renewing sa cleanser

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser provides gentle, non-irritating exfoliation without harsh microbeads or grains that can scratch or injure the skin. Suitable for the face and body as well as acne-prone and psoriasis-prone skin, this salicylic acid cleanser does more than just exfoliate skin—it softens and helps restore the skin’s natural barrier with three essential ceramides, hydrates with hyaluronic acid and soothes the skin with niacinamide.


The INKEY List Salicylic Acid Cleanser 

the inkey list salicylic acid cleanser

This non-drying, lightly foaming cleanser removes makeup and dirt, while helping to reduce blackheads and breakouts.As well as effectively cleansing the skin, this2%Salicylic Acid cleanser has an added zinc compound. Together they help with oil-control, reducing blackheads and breakouts and promoting a more even looking complexion.


COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

cosrx salicylic acid daily gentle cleanser

A foam cleanser for oily skin, containing botanical purifying ingredients and salicylic acid to take care of excess dead skin cells and sebum.It gently removes impurities and excess sebum while fighting pimples and blemishes, leaving skin soft and smooth without the stripping feeling.


paulas choice skin perfecting bha liquid exfoliant
Paula's Choice's #1 product worldwide + cult favorite, a unique leave-on formula that’s gentle enough for daily use on all skin types. Exfoliates dead skin cells while clearing pores for a more even, radiant tone, plus visibly reduces fine lines and wrinkles to reveal remarkably smoother, younger-looking skin. This exfoliant has an optimal pH range of 3.2–3.8.
cosrx bha blackhead power liquid

This BHA liquid from COSRX is formulated with 4% betaine salicylate, a BHA derived from sugar beets, considered gentler than salicylic acid, making it very suitable for sensitive skin. This product both exfoliates while hydrating the skin as it contains willow bark water. It has been clinically proven to reduce the formation of blackheads, and dissolves excess sebum to keep breakouts at bay.


Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner

benton aloe bha skin toner

A daily toner containing aloe, BHA and snail secretion filtrate that exfoliates, moisturises and manages skin texture. Allows daily use without burden on photosensitivity due to its slightly acidic pH level. Formulated with a 0.5% salicylic acid concentration, this product is perfect for those with sensitive skin looking to reduce inflammation or even breakouts. 



The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

the ordinary salicylic acid solution

This 2% treatment solution helps exfoliate the inside walls of pores to fight the appearance of blemishes and for better visible skin clarity with continued use.

The INKEY List Beta Hydroxy Acid Exfoliant

the inkey list beta hydroxy acid exfoliant

An exfoliant containing salicylic acid that removes dead skin cells and debris, removes impurities from your pores, evens your skin and reduces excess oil.


Dr.Jart+ Clearing Solution Mask

dr jart clearing solution mask

A face mask containing glutathion, salicylic acid, tea tree oil and niacinamide that evens out skintone, brightens, soothes redness and reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Helps control the T-zone area for excess sebum for a noticeably clearer complexion.



CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin 


CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin is formulated to effectively smooth and soothe dry skin. With a lightweight, non-greasy formula, this lotion for rough skin is designed to improve skin texture with exfoliating salicylic acid and lactic acid as it hydrates with hyaluronic acid and restores the skin’s natural barrier with three essential ceramides. What's amazing is that this formula also comes in a cream type, suitable for those with extra dry skin. 

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