The difference between AHAs and BHAs.

Since launching Go-To, and including AHAs in the range, I have had a mountain of questions from dames regarding them, and BHAs, and is the range safe for pregbots and suitable for blemished faces and so on.

So, I thought I would conduct a small, cute lesson on these compounds, both of which WILL make your skin better. Now please pop on your learning beanies or at the very least just skim to the bits that are succinct and dot-pointed so you can get back to filing your nails.

As an introduction, Hydroxy Acids, (which are in both BHA and AHAs) are active skin care ingredients that improve acne and congestion, reduce pigmentation and brighten/even the skin tone,  help reduce discolouration, and reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines. Plus, they give glow. Lots of lovely glow. 


Starts with a ‘B’ not an ‘A’

Short for Beta Hydroxy Acids, and derived from man-made sources. The most common BHA is salicylic acid, but there is also benzoic acid and buteric acid.

BHAs are the best option for acne, oily skin types, blackheads, blemishes and breakouts. (BHAs don’t have a direct effect on acne bacteria, but they DO clear mild to moderate acne nicely without over drying.)

BHAs’ chief job and skill is deeply cleaning out that nasty oil and build-up in your pores, and limiting the oil on the surface of the skin

Mostly used for clarifying, de-oiling, deep-cleaning the skin, and hugely popular in anti-acne skin care

Oil-soluble (making them terrific for cutting through all that oil and mess in your pores)

Also great at whipping up scrambled eggs for lazy sundays

Less irritating than AHAs

BHAs work best in lower concentrations, so ideally the sally acid should be listed as one of the final ingredients on your product

BHAs are not suitable for pregnant women

BHAs won’t increase sun sensitivity

Use in this order: Cleanser then toner then BHAs then serums then face cream then sunscreen (during the day).

Good BHA prods: Clinique Clarifying Lotion, Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum, Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash, NeoStrata Clear and Smooth anti-blemish pads … which also has some AHAs – not uncommon in acne prods; many combine AHAs with BHAs.


Dermalogica Skin Clearing WashClinique Clarifying LotionMario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum



Starts with an ‘A’ not a ‘B’

Short for Alpha Hydroxy Acids, AHAs are derived from plant, fruit and milk sugars, and are most commonly: glycolic, lactic, citric and mandalic acids.

AHAs are a chemical exfoliant (as opposed to a physical one, such as a face scrub)

AHAs are excellent for dry, dull, aged or uneven-toned/sun-damaged skin

Will walk the dog if asked nicely

Mostly used for anti-ageing and skin refining due to their excellent exfoliation properties, e.g: their ability to diminish lines and wrinkles, retexture the skin, fade pigmentation and brighten the skin


AHAs break down the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together, allowing rank, dull, old skin cells to fall off and new, fresh skin cells to come through

Like the good, thorough exfoliant they are, AHAs allow the products you use next (serums, masques, creams) to penetrate better and do a better job.

AHAs can be irritating and cause sensitivity and are definitely stronger than BHAs. Always start off with low doses and usage and build up a tolerance. Or, better yet, play it safe (but still get great results) by sticking to one AHA product, used 3 x a week.

AHAs can turn on you if you’re not careful. Layering AHA products each day and night is stupid and extremely short-sighted. Be careful. I have friends who unknowingly use an AHA serum, cleanser and face cream daily and while their skin looks great today, in a short time, if this level of multi-tiered chemical exfoliation is maintained, skin sensitivity and photosensitivity of the irreversible nature will set in. This is both the beauty and the curse of AHAs… people get addicted to the glow and start to overuse, an altogether terrible idea as your skin has only finite layers and you can’t just exfoliate and exfoliate forever – skin ends up raw and sensitised and prone to rosacea etc etc.

AHAs make your skin sensitive to the sun. If you use AHAS you MUST USE SUNSCREEN EACH DAY. Must! And please try to ensure it is photo-stable also. (So, use a physical/mineral one with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide ideally. And avoid avobenzone, which is not photo-stable.)

Use in this order, and preferably save your AHAs for the PM: cleanser then toner then AHAs then serums then face cream then eye cream.

Some good AHA prods: Alpha-H Liquid Gold, Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys, MD Formulations Facial Cleanser with 12% Glycolic Acid, Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir.


md-formulations-facial-cleanser-with-glycolic-250mlGo--Exfoliating-Swipeys-50-wipes-4995olay-night resurfacing elixir

Of course, many people use both BHAs and AHAs and that’s perfectly fine (and a lot of products incorporate both, especially skin-clearing products) I just recommend the slowly, slowly, gently gently approach, both when you first dive in, and just always and forever, really.

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89 Responses to The difference between AHAs and BHAs.

  1. Tanya says:

    Hi Zoe – thank you so much for posting this! Would the Olay Night Resurfacing Serum work as a substitute for a twice weekly exfoliant?

  2. Bec says:

    Hi Zoe, when you say that BHA’s don’t have a direct effect on acne bacteria, what would we look for if needing something for cystic acne?

    • fruity says:

      Oooh, that’s a bit out of my expertise, but I think brands like ASAP and Alpha-H are ones that cater to this really well – often with a routine of both AHAs and BHAs from what I understand.

      • teresa says:

        With cystic acne, you’d probably need retinoids or antibiotics to properly deal to them. Maybe oral contraceptives (if you’re a chick).

        (I am not a dermatologist, I am not your dermatologist, etc.)

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Zoe, great post, am super cautious of over-using acids, but could you please confirm that using your swipeys 3 times a week and following each time with your face cream would not result in a ‘mini-peel’? For all other instances (when using serums, for example, with your face cream), what are the ‘endings’ to look for in words to confirm if they are AHAs or BHAs? Much appreciated, Jo.

    • Jo says:

      (forgot to mention the use of your go-to cleanser prior to the swipeys also).

    • fruity says:

      Swipeys 3x a week is completely safe. And our Very Useful Face Cream is so nourishing and gentle, all it will do is deeply penetrate and TLC your newly exfoliated skin. (i.e: perfection.)

      As for how to identify AHAs or BHAs, products will use the actual ingredient name of the acid, so: glycolic, citric, lactic, malic acid for AHAs or salicylic acid for BHAs.

  4. Jane says:

    Hi Zoe,
    Are either the AHAs or BHAs useful for rosacea?

    • fruity says:

      Oooh, it’s hard to say, and I would be hesitant to make any claims because rosacea is still quite misunderstood and can be extremely individual in the way it reacts to ingredients. I think glycolic acid has been shown to help with the redness… although the irritation naturally caused by AHAs can take you back to square one! Best to check with your skin care profesh I think.

  5. Prudence says:

    hypothetically speaking, if I didn’t wash off the wonderful smelling residue after using the Swipey’s, and instead just massaged it into my skin before adding my night cream and trotting to bed, would this be doing my skin any harm?

    • Zoe says:

      We DO recommend a quick rinse off…. Just in case of irritation. But if your skin is happy, then we’re happy.

  6. Megan says:

    Zoe, I just wanted to praise your Go-To Products.

    After using the Exfoliating Swipeys, Properly Clean foam and the Very Useful Facecream, my face feels pre-pubescent. It’s like I’m 11 and have no pimples, dark circles, wrinkles or anything. Just a clean, fresh, face. Those AHA’s work. And the Exceptionoil! Don’t get me started…

  7. Jane says:

    While we’re talking about acids, can you explain the benefits and usage/application of hyaluronic acid – I realise it isn’t an exfoliant but would like to hear your take on its efficacy.

  8. Laura says:

    Thank you for putting together this super helpful post. Fantastically comprehend-able marvellousness!

  9. Rosie says:

    I don’t want to over-do it on products.. I use the Exfoliating Swipeys from Go To twice a week (my skin feels so much better, thank you) and I also have the REN Glycolic Renewal something Mask. I tend to use that once a week. Is that pretty much using all the AHA’s I need, and shouldn’t add anything else to the routine? I don’t want to over do it, my skin is extremely sensitive to the sun and burns really quickly anyway (Hat and SPF 50 everyday to prevent this).

  10. Lauren says:

    Would AHA’s and BHA’s help fade those pesky red marks that hang around after pimples (for like months)?

  11. merowyn says:

    Hi Zoe,

    I just wanted to ask about AHA’s. I have your exfoliating swipeys (LOVE them). Currently use them twice a week. Is it ok to also use my Alpha H Liquid Gold Intensive Night Repair Serum 3 times a week or am I using too many AHA’s? I’m worried!!

    Thanks so much!

  12. Bee says:

    Hi Zoe,
    This post is blooming full of help! This maybe off-top, but… Could you recommend a moisturiser for an acne prone face, with added redness from using medical prods like Duac? I use your Very Useful Face Cream and love it but am hesitant to lend it to my boyfriend who is prone to acne. I have always been told oil-free moisturisers are the way to go for spotty skin. Is that correct? x

    • Stephie says:

      I always found clinique a really good basic skincare to team with acne evilness. (Soap bar, toner & moisturizer). It just kept my skin as good as possible whilst dealing with treatment.

    • I have been using Moo-Goo Acne Cleansing Cream for quite a while & it’s awesome. More of a moisturiser than a cleanser. It has reduced spots I thought were going to errupt back to skin! Not available everywhere, try their website (They didn’t pay me, I’m just a fan! ;-)
      Just got my first shipment of Lips! and can’t wait to try the rest of Zoe’s stuff . But the MooGoo is good.

  13. kirsty says:

    such a timely post…just had a skin ananlysis and have been over useing AHA’s [my 'daily' products all have AHA"s in them!!! plus useing Vit A too] have dehydrated skin!! with poor texture. Recommended to cut back to x3 per week and purchase a serum with hyalauric acid in it….crickey….all a bit much…. so thanks muchly Zoe…’
    ‘GO-TO’ here I come….and carnt wait…

  14. Zoe says:

    Zoeeee! I have a question about the steps… So AHA/BHA after toner, is it better to let my toner dry first or put on the exfoliation while my face is a bit damp. And same goes for moisturising after exfoliating. Just wondering if one way is better for my skin than the other. You’re the best!

  15. Hari says:

    Hello. A quick question, if you’re using AHA’s for chemical exfoliation, do you also need a scrub at times? So excited to try your new line – I’m off to the site after this!

  16. Jo says:

    Dehydroacetic Acid is in the swipeys, cleanser and moisturiser – is this an AHA or a BHA, and is it ok to use everyday (AM and PM) through the cleanser and moisturiser?

  17. Alex says:

    Does anyone know a AHA product which is, ehem, less pricey? I.e. in the $20 area? I am not very financially well off at the moment…

  18. Ellie says:

    Zoe just bought your oil, lip balm and swipeys. I am on roaccutane so need the best moisture products I can get. Maybe stupid question but can I use the body oil straight after my shower when I get out and am still wet? Is it this kind of body oil? Thanks, and all the best with your new line. Excited to try it!

    • Megan says:

      I find oil absorbs a bit better when my skin is still damp – I use pure coconut oil, but any oil products are usually the same. It also means the product goes a bit further..

  19. Sarah says:

    Zoeeeee, could you suggest a prod to fake tan le face? One that won’t de-rail all of my wonderful skin cares efforts ;)

  20. Nicole says:

    Hi Zoe,
    I’ve been using Ultraceuticals Ultra Brightening Serum for about a month and have loved the results… After reading up on AHAs/BHAs I was tempted to buy Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peels (and consequently succumbed to aforementioned temptation).
    My question is – can I use the Ultraceuticals serum in the morning and the Alpha-Beta Peel wipes in the evening, or is that an overkill? Should I use just swipes until my 30-day pack runs out then go back to the serum?
    My skin is not bad – a few spots every now and again. My main concern is even skin tone – specifically – fading small red marks left behind by acne.
    Thanks heaps!

  21. Emma says:

    Hi Zoe,

    Are you supposed to use the exfoliating swipeys on wet skin or dry skin?

  22. Jessica Jones says:

    Hi Zoe,

    I am one step away from adding your swipeys to my cart, but I just wanted to clarify a couple things first.

    Could I use the Ultraceuticals Even Skintone Serum or the Olay Surfacing Elixir (one or the other, not both) with the swipeys? Or would that be overkill? Also, are the swipeys ok to use in the eye area? If not, what AHA product IS safe?

    FYI I am 25 with some hyperpigmentation and some teeny tiny wrinkles.

    • AM says:

      I would love to know the answer to this also! I have the swipeys and I’m about to buy the Ultraceuticals Even Skintone Serum but I’m not sure how to go about this. Can I use the serum after the swipeys or is it a substitute situation?

    • Zoe says:

      Hi JessicaJones, and AM below you. This is another Zoe so I hope you don’t mind me replying to your comment. Ultraceyticals Even Skintone is a good but very strong/potentially irritating product – its main ingredient is alcohol and it contains three acids. I love and use Zoe’s swipeys regularly but I would go easy following with the ESS. Given you’ve just exfoliated with the swipes, you’d be best using something really lovely and nourishing for your skin to soak up afterwards now that the swipes have perfectly set it up to do this. I hope Zoe F-B won’t mind me recommending other prodz, but I’d suggest going in with Hydraluron as a serum, and then a gentle moisturiser. Hydraluron is pretty affordable ($35 from Priceline) and mainly contains hydraluronic acid, found naturally in the body and able to contain 1000 times its weight in water. So – swipey, hydraluron (test it first but isn’t an acid like an AHA/BHA so you should be fine, just lovely and hydrating) and follow straight away with a moisturiser.

      Hope this helps!

      x Other Zoe

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