What Is A BHA?

Like AHAs, BHAs – or Beta Hydroxy Acids – are also chemical exfoliators. But these anti-inflammatory warriors are better suited to oily skin types, especially those prone to acne, breakouts or milia (those harmless-but-irritating white bumps under your skin, also known as milk spots). 

What Do BHAs Do?

When it comes to BHAs in skincare, there’s only one that really matters – salicylic acid. Breakouts? Redness? Clogged pores? It makes light work of them all. Not only does salicylic acid exfoliate the top layer of skin, but it also penetrates blocked pores to dissolve the ‘glue’ holding together the mix of sebum and dead cells that lead to spots – all without stripping skin of its essential oils. As if that wasn’t enough, these hardworking acids also stimulate collagen production and help improve wrinkles, texture, and hyperpigmentation. 

Who Should Use BHAs

If AHAs aren’t strong enough for your skin, then BHAs might just be the Jay to your Bey. Suited to oily and acne-prone skin, they’re oil-soluble and antibacterial, making them perfect for treating blackheads, whiteheads, and spots. But be warned, BHAs don’t have humectant qualities and can dry you out, so they’re not recommended for those with dry or very sensitive skin.

How To Use BHAs In Your Routine

BHAs should be introduced into your routine gradually. After a patch test, start applying them once a week, slowly increasing usage until the recommended frequency. BHAs should be applied to clean skin – ideally after cleansers and toners (we love salicylic acid toners too). And please don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen, because BHAs make you more sensitive to UV rays. 

What To Avoid Mixing BHAs With

Avoid mixing BHAs with Vitamin C, Retinol or Glycolic Acid, unless you’re a skincare layering pro. All of these ingredients are ah-mazing used separately, but together could cause a severe reaction and even burnt skin. One word: Ouch. We recommend using vit C in a morning routine and BHAs at night, and if you use retinol, think about just using BHAs and retinol twice a week each (on different nights).

Our Fave BHA Skincare Products:

BHA product

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, $30: Formulated to unclog pores, smooth wrinkles and even out skin tone, this cult favorite will have you waving bye-bye to blackheads.

BHA product

Glossier Solution, $24: The BHA in this daily exfoliator gently sloughs dead cells away, so the skin can finally breathe. With regular use, expect improved acne, minimized pores, and reduced redness.

BHA product

Mario Badescu Anti Acne Serum, $20: An emergency must-have, this lightweight, fast-absorbing gel is formulated with salicylic acid and thyme extract to keep breakouts at bay.