BHA For Skin: Benefits And Uses

BHA For Skin: Benefits And Uses

There are so many different acronyms for skincare products, and sometimes it can make your head spin. You've probably seen many brandishing skincare and beauty labels, leaving you more and more confused: AHA, BHA, ACV, BP, CF, HCB, SPF, LA, LAA, SDS, SLP, HA

The list goes on and on.

At this rate, we'll soon need a college course to decode all the acronyms that the skincare industry - and culture - is so fond of. But before that happens, Misumi Skincare is here to help. Today, we'll focus on BHA for skin - not to be confused with AHA (and no, we don't mean the band).

BHA for skin

What is BHA?

Well, the acronym itself stands for beta-hydroxy acid. But saying BHA or beta-hydroxy acid doesn't tell us much. However, if we use the more popular name for BHA - salicylic acid - it's sure to ring some bells.

Yes, BHA is salicylic acid, one of the most popular substances found in organic cleansers and exfoliators. As a plant hormone, the molecular structure of BHA (separated by two atoms of carbon) is what makes it so useful. The BHA molecule (C7H6O3) is shaped just the right way to achieve oil solubility, allowing it to penetrate skin pores easily and clean them from the inside.

If the "acid" part is giving you pause, rest easy. Skincare products containing BHA (aka salicylic acid) have it in small concentrations, making it one of the safest ingredients to use on your skin.

Additionally, BHA is completely natural - it's derived from plants, with one of the main sources being willow extract from the bark of a tree, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Other sources of BHA include vegetables such as tomatoes, olives, green peppers, radishes, mushrooms, chicory, and so on.

BHA for skin

What BHA Does

But what makes BHA so special? Well, this hydroxy acid is famous for its triad of powerful skin care properties. BHA is lipolytic, keratolytic, and comedolytic. Let's see what that means.

BHA Is Lipolytic

When scientists say something is lipolytic, they mean the substance dissolves oils and fats. This oil solubility is perhaps one of the most significant properties of BHA, and it makes it stand out from the competition.

Beta hydroxy acids are particularly well-suited for treating acne or clogged pores. BHA dissolves excess oils, penetrating the deeper layers of the skin, and cleans the clogged pores from the inside. Of course, using BHA in tandem with the appropriate skincare routines for oily skin will further maximize its effectiveness.

BHA Is Keratolytic

For a substance to be keratolytic, it has to be able to dissolve dead skin cells. If left unchecked, dead skin cells clog your pores, causing whiteheads or blackheads, acne, warts, calluses, and so on and on.

If you want young-looking skin, you need to get rid of all those dead cells. And that's where BHA comes in - it's the ultimate dead skin cell disposal exfoliator.

BHA for skin

BHA is Comedolytic

BHA is also comedolytic. This means that it prevents blocked pores, which leads to the appearance of comedones. If you recall, clogged pores and comedones are practically the first stages of acne. Therefore, it's crucial to act in time.

BHA dissolves the sebum (or skin oil) and makes short work of your dead skin cells, too, both of which are the main factors for clogging your pores and giving you acne inflammation.

So, if you have an acne problem, including BHA in your skincare routine is a must. 

Before we go on, a word of advice: the ideal pH value of BHA, or the product containing it, must be between 3 and 4, or at most 5. If the pH value of the BHA goes above 4, it loses its effectiveness. However, if its pH value falls below 3, it can irritate your skin. Being mindful and attentive when shopping for a BHA product pays off.

BHA for skin

What is BHA Used For?

Being mainly used in chemical exfoliation products and cleansers, BHA finds application in treating almost all aspects of the skin. Additionally, BHA can target all the links in the acne-causing chain of cause and effect, making it one of the best ingredients for acne prevention. BHA treatments are typically used for the following:

What is the Difference Between AHA and BHA?

We're sure you've encountered this dilemma - one product uses BHA, while the other uses AHA. If you didn't know, AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid. You have the inkling they're pretty similar, but there's bound to be a difference if they're separated into different products.

So, what's the catch? What's the difference between AHAs and BHAs? Can they be used on any skin type? From helping with sun sensitivity to improving mild acne, we'll run through the differences for you.

BHA is Oil Soluble

BHA, as we already mentioned, is basically salicylic acid. BHA (salicylic acid) is generally more useful for people with oily and acne-prone skin. That's because BHA can dissolve your skin's natural oil (called sebum) and enter your pores to clean them.

So, if you're someone prone to acne, BHA is perfect for you. As we pointed out above, BHA is naturally based and possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It's often recommended for people with rosacea, although it's always wise to consult your doctor or dermatologist before trying it.

BHA for skin

AHA is Water Soluble

On the other hand, AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) are not just one substance but an entire class of acids. AHA acids include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, citric acid, and so on.

Alpha hydroxy acids are also naturally based, but unlike BHAs, they can be derived from animal sources as well. Typical sources of AHA acids include grapes, sugar cane, milk, and more.

However, unlike oil-loving beta hydroxy acids, AHAs are water soluble. While that makes them less efficient in dealing with oily skin and clogged pores, it makes them powerful moisturizing agents for dry skin types.

For that reason, AHAs are often used in sun protection products and for treating dry and sun-damaged skin. Everyone should use sun protection, but if you suffer from increased sun sensitivity in particular, make sure your product contains alpha hydroxy acid.

While they don't penetrate as deeply as BHA, AHAs have good anti-aging effects and are better suited to treat surface features of the skin.

BHA and AHA Are Very Similar

Both BHA and AHA are found in exfoliants and cleansers. These active ingredients can both be used to decrease inflammation and the appearance of acne, rosacea, surface wrinkles, and enlarged pores.

Additionally, both BHA and AHA can even out uneven skin tone on both lighter and darker skin, normalizing any discoloration you might have. These substances are also popular exfoliators, removing dead cells from the surface layers of the skin, unclogging your pores and hair follicles, and improving your overall skin texture. And as your skin concerns decrease, your confidence will go up.

BHA for skin

How Are BHA and AHA Different?

Despite all the similarities, AHAs and BHAs are different in a very important way.

As mentioned above, the difference is that AHAs are water-soluble and better suited for addressing features on the surface of your skin (for example, removing discoloration and helping with the appearance of sun-damaged skin). Since they are water-soluble, AHAs can't help you much with oily skin or closed comedones.

BHA, on the other hand, is oil-soluble and is perfect for whisking away any extra oil from your skin. This makes them the perfect molecular ninjas. They can sweep your skin's surface and also infiltrate your pores. However, while BHA offers a deeper cleaning, it's not great for dealing with skin surface features, such as smoothing fine lines and surface wrinkles. It can, however, stimulate collagen production.

BHA for skin

Can I Buy BHA Over The Counter?

Yes, and chances are you already have.

There are tons of products that contain salicylic acid. However, most BHA products sold over the counter contain between 2% and 5% of BHA. If this seems too little to you, don't worry. This amount is just enough for what those products need to do - mainly exfoliation or moisturizing. However, if you want a BHA that packs a punch, you can easily purchase a batch of pure, concentrated BHA. Make sure you know what you're doing - BHA has to be diluted before use, and you will have to do that on your own.

How To Use BHA

There are many ways to use BHA. Often, BHA is used by those with acne as an integral part of their cleansing routines. Additionally, BHA can be used as a spot treatment, exfoliator, a wash, as well as the main substance in chemical peeling. Finally, BHA is found in tons of skin care and beauty products, such as creams, gels, toners, sunscreens, moisturizers, and so on.

BHA for skin

Whichever product you use, always follow the instructions. That way, you won't experience irritation, side effects, or allergic reactions.

However, sometimes, even following the instructions isn't enough if your skin type simply can't tolerate the product you're using. To avoid burning your skin, do a patch test before using every new product. That way, you can be certain your skin won't react negatively. Ideally, it won't, and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

Finally, if you have any health concerns or doubts about whether you should be using products that contain BHA, you can always consult a professional. It's better to be safe than sorry. In case of doubt, schedule a visit with your doctor or dermatologist to discuss the issue.

BHA as a Spot Treatment

Due to the exfoliating properties of BHA, most products contain appropriate concentrations of it and are mainly used topically as spot treatments. As you can expect, spot treatments that contain BHA or salicylic acid can be readily purchased over the counter without a doctor's prescription.

Salicylic acid spot treatments are designed to treat skin problems that are fairly limited in size or the area they affect. So, a BHA spot treatment will be very useful if you're dealing with acne breakouts, rosacea, or perhaps an area of your skin prone to clogged pores.

BHA for skin

A word of caution: avoid applying BHA spot treatments on healthy skin. This is especially important for people with sensitive skin and combination skin since it can react to BHA and experience irritation.

Spot treatments, as the name suggests, need to be applied precisely and sparingly - only over the desired "spot" of the skin. Whether that's a scab, a large comedone, or a spot that needs attention, a BHA spot treatment is the way to go. Whatever the problem is, BHA will help make the area brighter, cleaner, smoother, and less inflamed.

If you have cystic acne, avoid spot treatment products and speak to a doctor.

BHA as an Exfoliator

Beta hydroxy acids also make very efficient and generally safe exfoliants. Depending on your needs, you can use an exfoliator that contains BHA every day or just once a week. In any case, always make sure to follow the instructions that come with the product. If you have any reservations or worries, it doesn't hurt to consult your doctor or dermatologist.

But just what is it that makes BHA such a popular exfoliator?

BHA for skin

Well, all the "ordinary" mechanical exfoliators and scrubs usually contain tiny grains you rub over your skin. While that sometimes gets the job done, it can come at a cost, leaving your skin red, sore, and bruised. But exfoliating acids can achieve the same without all the hassle and side effects.

For most BHA-containing products, it will work its magic for 30 seconds. As soon as it touches your skin, BHA begins exhibiting its lipolytic and keratolytic properties, dissolving hardened, sticky sebum (skin oil) and dead skin cells. Afterward, all you need to do is wash your face with water.

And that's it. No rubbing. No soreness or skin irritation. No redness or dry skin. Only bright, clear, smooth skin. In fact, this hydroxy acid will even give those collagen-producing cells a kickstart. That's what makes BHA exfoliants so popular.

BHA as a Face Wash

Besides using BHA as a spot treatment, or exfoliator, you can use it as a wash, too. Contrary to spot treatments, face wash products that contain BHA will need to be applied over a wider area of your skin. 

Most BHA washes contain fairly small concentrations of BHA, making them pretty safe. However, avoid rubbing too roughly after applying a BHA face wash. Instead, gently wash your face with water after the treatment, or use a soft cloth to dab any moisture off your skin.  

BHA for skin

BHA Chemical Peels

Most chemical peeling products that employ BHA as their main ingredient contain fairly high concentrations of the acid - around 30%. This means that if you decide to try out a BHA chemical peel, take special care to follow the instructions.

If you're not sure how your skin will react, perform a patch test first. (This is especially important for sensitive skin types.) If there's no irritation, redness, itching, or other skin concerns, you're good to go. However, if your skin reacts negatively to any BHA chemical peeling product, abandon the idea immediately.

If you choose to get a BHA chemical peel performed by someone else, go to a verified professional with a lot of skin care experience. You don't need to suffer at the hands of skin irritation just because someone isn't experienced enough or because it costs less.


BHA is one of the most effective natural-based cleansers and exfoliators available, and its reputation is well-earned. Its specific chemical composition makes it oil-soluble and able to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin.

BHA possesses three major skincare properties. It is lipolytic, which makes it great for people with oily skin. It is also keratolytic, which makes it good for everyone. And finally, HA is comedolytic, meaning it does an amazing job of unclogging pores and preventing acne.

All these properties make BHA, or salicylic acid, one of the most popular substances in today's skincare industry. BHA has a wide range of uses, including cleansing, moisturization, gentle exfoliation, skin whitening, and chemical peeling. It can also help with sun damage, visible pores, and collagen. Always perform a patch test before beginning treatment, and consult your doctor and dermatologist if you have any skin concerns. If you experience skin irritation, stop using.


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This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.

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