What Are BHAs? Should They Be Part of Your Men’s Skincare Routine?
In the world of skincare, acids and exfoliation are a big deal. And with good reason: proper exfoliation improves skin texture, gets rid of acne, and fights signs of aging.
But not all exfoliants are created equal, and different options have unique benefits, drawbacks, and uses. Here's what you should know about one of those options, BHAs.
BHAs: The Basics
BHAs, or beta-hydroxy acids, are gentle chemical exfoliants that work to “unglue” the bonds that hold dead skin to the face. This exfoliates your skin over time and helps reveal new, healthy cells.
Like AHAs, BHAs help:
- Improve look and feel of the skin
- Smooth texture and decrease imperfections
- Diminish fine lines and wrinkles
They specialize in unclogging pores and helping with oil balance, ingrown hairs, or underlying congestion.
The main BHA is salicylic acid. Its molecules are even smaller than glycolic acid - the most popular AHA - and it can penetrate more deeply in the skin.
The Differences Between AHAs and BHAs
AHAs, the other main type of chemical exfoliant, are water-soluble. That means they only work on the surface of the skin (not deep down). This makes them great for resolving surface-based issues on normal, dry, or sun-damaged skin - like fine lines, irregular texture, or dull tone.
Look specifically for a glycolic acid serum for everyday use or a more concentrated glycolic peel to get powerful restorative results.
BHAs are lipid-soluble, meaning that they work both on the skin’s surface and deep within the pores. This makes them stronger and typically better for normal to oily skin or skin that’s prone to bumps, enlarged pores, and blemishes.
They’re particularly effective at balancing oil content and treating deep issues like acne, blackheads, and whiteheads. But because they're more intense they may not be as suitable for everyday use for all guys.
Things to Look for When Choosing a BHA Product
AHAs should be one of the first ten ingredients listed in order to be effective (you'll find that glycolic comes in at number seven in our Smooth Finish Glycolic Acid Serum and that malic acid and glycolic acid are number four and ten - respectively - in our Smooth Finish Glycolic Acid Peel).
Conversely, BHAs are more beneficial when present in lower concentrations. That means you should see salicylic acid listed toward the middle or end of the ingredient list in any products you're looking at.
Both AHAs and BHAs can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so remember to use sunscreen on a daily basis to help prevent UV damage. We recommend a broad-spectrum natural sunscreen with an SPF of at least 20 - and look for a formulation made from skin and reef-safe ingredients like zinc oxide.
99% of the AHAs and BHAs found in cosmetics today are synthetically-derived, and these make up most of the highly concentrated peels and products on the market. They work, but they're harsh on the skin - both because they can be more concentrated and because they can contain some unwanted extra ingredients.
Synthetic glycolic acid, in particular, has a by-product called formic acid that can cause a stinging sensation that most people want to avoid.
Plus, synthetic chemical exfoliants may not even work better. One study compared a natural fruit acid mix (of sugar cane, orange, sugar maple, and lemon) to synthetic lactic acid and synthetic glycolic acid and found that the fruit mix had better therapeutic results.
That's why lots of clean companies (including Brickell) are working to derive these ingredients from natural sources.