How Beta Hydroxy Acid Exfoliate Top Layer of Dead Skin Cells

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Nov 7, 2017 | Last Updated: Dec 11, 2018

Benefits Of Beta Hydroxy Acid

Exfoliation is an important skincare method whose primary purpose is to remove dead skin cells and help rejuvenate our skin. We have the opportunity to use various exfoliants, but they are not created equal. Some exfoliants are also found in other skincare products where they help minimize common signs of aging. When it comes to removing dead skin cells and everything that exfoliation entails, beta hydroxy acid (BHA) pose as powerful ingredients we should look for in order to get the maximum out of the skincare routine. What is BHA and is it really effective? Scroll down to find out.

What is Beta Hydroxy Acid?

Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) is an organic compound whose initial purpose was to aid acne treatment. Today it is widely used in skincare industry where the term is mainly used to refer to the salicylic acid. Even though BHA is a common ingredient in skincare and beauty industry today, it wasn’t always the case. For many years, the industry focused on the use of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) despite the fact that salicylic acid was used hundreds of years ago to treat different skin irregularities. Recently, BHA is getting the spotlight it deserves.

BHA vs. AHAs

Bearing in mind that skincare products contain ingredients unknown to most people, it’s easy to wonder about the difference between BHA and AHAs. Both AHAs and BHA are organic acids indicated by a carboxylic acid group and a hydroxyl group. Alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate the top layer of dead skin cells gently. As a result, they speed up the cellular turnover rate and allow the new, healthy and youthful skin to emerge.

Just like AHAs, beta hydroxy acid functions as a skin exfoliant and induces similar results, but this organic acid also unclogs pores. This is the reason why BHA was originally used to treat acne. Thanks to the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, BHA allows the skin to repair and heal itself in a natural manner.

If we would compare these organic acids side by side, AHAs have a more potent exfoliating effect and they are soluble in water only. On the other hand, BHA is more soluble in oil than in water and it isn’t as harsh on the skin as AHAs. Thanks to its lipid solubility, BHA penetrates into the pore, which contains sebum (oil), and exfoliates impurities that make it clog. Plus, beta hydroxy acid is more effective in smoothing the skin and preventing acne.

Both organic acids have their advantages and disadvantages, but lately, an increasing number of skin care products use a combination of BHA and AHAs for all-around approach and greater benefits. When used individually, BHA is more suitable for oily skin, acne-prone skin and problems with blackheads and whiteheads, while AHAs are more convenient for sun-damaged skin.

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How Does BHA Work?

Beta hydroxy acid is a powerful exfoliant and unlike some other ingredients in skincare products, it penetrates deep into the pores, exfoliates the top layer of dead skin around eyes. When reaches the pores, BHA breaks down skin plugs thus making it easier to remove them. When dead skin cells are entirely eliminated and pores aren’t clogged anymore, the new skin cell growth occurs. As a result, your skin looks more vibrant, youthful, and smooth to the touch. Thanks to the soothing properties, BHA has the potential to calm the aggravated skin and prevent irritations and uneven complexion.

Is BHA Effective?

Even though the use of BHA in skincare industry increased significantly, the scientific evidence on this topic is still limited. As you can imagine the main reason behind the lack of studies on BHA is the constant focus on AHAs, which were thoroughly researched. That being said, current research on the efficacy of salicylic acid reveals the tremendous potential of this organic compound in skin health. Beta hydroxy acid eye cream is perfect for under eye skin problems, it rejuvenate dead skin around eyes.

The Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology published a comprehensive review of the available data on the efficacy of salicylic acid in skincare. Evidence shows that salicylic acid is effective in addressing pigmentation, freckles, and photoaging on the hands. In addition, the compound showed excellent results in studies carried out on damaged skin, age spots, and pigmented keratosis on forearms.

Salicylic acid also proved to be beneficial for facial skin where it treats acne and scars caused by them, addresses skin roughness, and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Not only that, but salicylic acid also is safe and effective for individuals with dark skin as well. It is important to add that salicylic is effective in terms of exfoliation and the risk of side effects is low.

How to Find Products With BHA?

It’s easy to find BHA products online and in stores. In order to do so, you have to read the ingredient labels. This is important because most of us don’t read these labels due to the complexity of ingredients. According to the FDA beta hydroxy acid may appear on the product labels as:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Tropic acid
  • Beta hydroxybutanoic acid
  • Trethocanic acid

Lately, it is not uncommon to see citric acid listed as BHA, although this acid generally belongs to the group of AHAs. Let’s say you’re reading the ingredient label of some product and you want to know where to find BHA in the sea of other compounds. Unlike AHAs which are listed in the top three ingredients of the product, BHA is usually somewhere in the middle or at the end primarily because the compound is effective in lower concentrations.

How to Reduce the Likelihood of Irritation?

As seen above, the risk of side effects is low but it can still happen. The most common adverse effect of BHA is skin irritation and it usually occurs due to an improper use of the product rather than the compound itself. Bearing in mind that BHA is easier on the skin than AHAs and it’s easy to find it in different products, we are led to believe that using as many items with this acid is more beneficial for our skin. That isn’t the case! In order to avoid the risk of irritation, you should use BHA as an exfoliant and avoid using too many products containing this compound.


Another useful thing to bear in mind is that cleansers with BHA aren’t overly effective and you would just waste your money. It’s easy to assume that cleansers with BHA are beneficial for the skin because the compound is a powerful exfoliant and removes dead skin cells and impurities as it is. You can scroll up to the section where it is described how BHA works. As you can see, the compound works by penetrating deep into the pores. That being said, cleansers are washed off before the absorption takes place, meaning BHA doesn’t have enough time to penetrate the pores and do anything. Try Plexaderm Review, which doesn’t only help to diminish the wrinkles and the fine lines but also help you to intensify the skin appearance.


BHA is an organic compound known for exfoliating effects. What makes it different than AHAs is the soothing effect and ability to remove impurities from clog pores. Besides eliminating dead skin cells, BHA also treats acne and hyperpigmented areas. They have a milder effect than AHAs, meaning the risk of side effects and irritations is down to the minimum.

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