Chemical exfoliants are becoming more and more popular nowadays as means of aesthetic improvement. They can come in a form of skin treatment like chemical peels, which have higher concentration of acids, or more mild and gentle products for everyday use like AHA or BHA cleansers, toners, serums, and moisturizers. Before we list the best BHA exfoliants let’s dive a little deeper and see how different types of chemical exfoliators work.
Chemical exfoliants can be divided into two main categories:
- AHA (alpha hydroxy acids) is a group of naturally occurring water-soluble acids such as glycolic and lactic (most commonly used), as well as citric, pyruvic, malic, mandelic, and tartaric acids, which are known for their anti aging properties.
- BHA (beta hydroxy acids) is a group of oil-soluble organic acids such as salicylic and lipohydroxy acids used mainly for treatment of acne, oily skin and sun damage.
What Is Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)?
BHA is a popular, safe and effective method for treating various skin conditions and disorders such as acne, oily skin, black heads, and blemishes. Since BHAs are oil-soluble, they can penetrate deeper into the skin than AHAs, bypass oils on the skin surface, dissolve sebum and dead skin, and unclog pores. Currently, there are only two BHA acids being used in cosmetics and aesthetic dermatology – salicylic (most common) and lipohydroxy acids.
This organic acid occurs naturally and is derived from the sweet birch, wintergreen leaves and willow tree bark. It has small molecular weight, which allows fast and deep penetration through the epidermis. Salicylic acid stimulates natural exfoliation, prevents clogging and has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, skin-calming and mild analgesic properties.
In skincare, it is mostly used for treating acne and post-acne scars, oil reduction, blemishes, inflammation, black heads, mild pigmentation, freckles, melasma, photodamage and for overall improvement of skin texture. One of the main advantages of the salicylic acid is that it’s safe for all skin types including dark skin.
Until recently, salicylic acid was the only acid out of BHAs that was used in dermatology and cosmetics. However, a new BHA acid, a derivative of salicylic acid called b-lipohydroxy acid (LHA) was introduced in the U.S. Lipohydroxy acid is more gentle than salicylic acid and other AHAs, and works great for sensitive skin or those who can’t tolerate well other acids. The molecular weight of LHA is larger than the molecule of salicylic acid, which results in different types of exfoliation. Unlike salicylic acid, lipohydroxy acid penetrates into skin at much slower rate causing a more global cell-by-cell exfoliation.
In addition to having exfoliating, anti-inflammatory, acne-treating and renewing properties (like salicylic acid), lipohydroxy acid also possesses anti-aging properties. As an anti-aging ingredient it stimulates collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production, and increases epidermal thickness.
Related: Natural Skincare For Acne
10 Best BHA Exfoliants
The strength of BHA exfoliators depends on the concentration of the active ingredient. Using BHA exfoliants frequently and in high concentrations might cause skin irritation, dryness and skin peeling. Thus, it is important to use topical hydrating products like serums and moisturizers in conjunction with BHA products.
If you are new to BHAs, start by using low concentration BHA exfoliants (0.5% – 2%) each other day and gradually make your way up as your skin builds tolerance to the acids. If you noticed that your skin is peeling or oilier than usual, reduce use of your BHA products, as you might be over-exfoliating. You can also address several skin concerns by purchasing products that combine BHAs and AHAs. Here’s our top 10 list of best BHA exfoliants.
2% salicylic acid
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
This is one of the best BHA liquid exfoliants that is designed for all skin types especially oily, combination and acne-prone skin. It is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, as well as other antioxidants and hydrating ingredients. This perfecting fragrance free exfoliant has fluid-like consistency, and is gentle enough for daily use.
It is a leave-on treatment, so you don’t need to rinse it off or use neutralizer. The main properties of this BHA liquid exfoliant include unclogging pores, promoting faster cell regeneration, evening out skin texture and tone, and soothing inflammation. Apply it with cotton pad after cleanser and toner, and followed with serum or/and moisturizer. It also comes in oil-free gel formula or more mild 1% lotion formula.
AHA & BHA
Eminence Organics Clear Skin Willow Bark Exfoliating Peel
This deep cleansing and clarifying facial peel is formulated with all natural and organic ingredients and is best for acne-prone and oily skin. The peel solution is a blend of AHAs and BHAs, which act as clarifying and exfoliating agents. In addition this peel includes skin-balancing ingredients like biosulfur and tomato extract, calming and soothing ingredients like lilac extract and willow bark, and Eminence exclusive Organic Phytonutrient Blend packed with antioxidants.
This leave-on treatment will benefit the most those with active acne, breakouts, blemishes, blackheads, surface impurities, large or clogged pores, and dull or irritated skin. Can be used 1-3 times a week on cleansed and toned skin.
20% acid blend
Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Amino Acid Exfoliating Peel Pads
Designed to exfoliate skin, even out skin texture, improve skin tone, and unclog and reduce the look of pores. These peel pads are enriched with a 20% exfoliating complex, which includes salicylic acid, phytic acid, and sodium lactate. In addition to the triple acid blend, these peel pads are packed with amino acids, antioxidants, chamomile, green tea, and vitamins. It can be used on the face, neck and chest area.
Peptide 21 peel pads provide gentle exfoliation and anti-aging benefits, and work best for treating fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin texture and tone, dryness, and enlarged pores. If you have acne-prone skin and your main skin concern is blemishes, pimples and blackheads, then Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads might work better for you.
2% salicylic acid
Thayers Blemish Clearing Toner
BHA toners are great for those who don’t want to add extra steps to their daily skin care routine. In addition to having skin-balancing and soothing properties of a regular toner, Thayers toner also has exfoliating and pore unclogging properties. This alcohol-free toner is one of the best BHA exfoliants.
It is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, and is great for treating existing blemishes and preventing new once. The hydrating and healing formula of this BHA toner also includes witch hazel, aloe vera, and tea tree oil, which have natural healing powers. Best if used on oily, combination or acne-prone skin.
2% salicylic acid
NeedCrystals Microdermabrasion Crystals
These spa-quality exfoliating crystals infused with 2% salicylic acid are formulated for all skin types especially acne-prone skin. They target blemishes, blackheads, acne marks, dark spots, clogged and enlarged pores, uneven skin texture and tone.
The micro crystals are made of white aluminum oxide and are 100% natural. They get activated when mixed with your face cleanser, or body wash (if exfoliating body parts). This exfoliant removes dead skin, cleanses pores, provides antibacterial benefits, diminishes post-acne signs, leaves skin smoother, and reveals skin’s natural glow.
2% salicylic acid
BENEV Salicylic Acid Exfoliator
Designed for treatment of acne, this potent BHA exfoliator removes dead skin cells, blackheads, whiteheads and oils, cleans out pores, and reduces comedones and acne. The formula includes 2% salicylic acid, which is strong enough to clear up and improve the condition of acne-prone skin. It has fluid-like texture and should be applied to the skin for 1-3 minutes, rinsed afterwards followed by hydrating serum or/and moisturizer.
glowing skin effect
M-61 PowerGlow Peel
1 minute 1 step exfoliating facial peel with glycolic and salicylic acid, which can help improve skin texture, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and pores. This resurfacing concentrated treatment also includes Vitamin K, bilberry extract, chamomile and lavender known for their brightening, calming and soothing properties.
Each peel treatment is packed individually and is in a form of a small size pre-soaked towelette. It is a leave-on peel that doesn’t require to be rinsed off. Skin appears radiant, glowing, healthy, and younger-looking.
Herbivore Botanicals Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial
This exfoliating facial is made with a blend of highly concentrated acids. The 20% fruit based AHAs include glycolic, lactic, tartaric and malic acids, and 5% plant based BHA is derived from the willow bark. It is a weekly exfoliating facial that has jelly-like texture and should be rinsed off after 10-20 minutes.
Designed for all skin types, it effectively exfoliates dead skin, brightens complexion, clarifies and minimizes pores, reduces hyperpigmentation, and improves skin texture. Made with natural and clean ingredients. Also comes in a form of exfoliating serum with 12% AHA + 3% BHA.
2% salicylic acid
Derma E Deep Pore Acne Scrub
Gentle skin exfoliator with 2% salicylic acid and anti-blemish complex that includes tea tree, willow bark, rosewood, lavender and chamomile. Formulated specifically for combating signs of acne. This mechanical exfoliator provides deep exfoliation, helps dissolve oils and impurities, unclogs pores, calms irritated skin, and prevents future breakouts. Great budget option for acne-prone, oily and combination skin!
2% salicylic acid
for all skin types
Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA
If you have occasional blemishes, bumps, or clogged pores on your chest, shoulders, arms or legs, then this BHA body treatment might be a great option for you. Being one of the best BHA exfoliants for the body it also doubles as a lightweight hydrator, and is formulated with 2 % salicylic acid, chamomile extract, vitamin E, green tea, and other smoothing ingredients. It gently exfoliates the build-up of dead skin and softens bumpy and rough skin. It also has a non-greasy lotion-like texture and is fragrance-free and fast absorbing.
Designed for all skin types and can be applied as all-over body lotion or just to the areas of concern. Get ready to reveal younger and healthier-looking skin!
Related: Best BHA products for acne, oily & combination skin
Best face emulsion for oily, acne-prone and combination skin.
Did you know that enzyme peels are great in unclogging pores and gently exfoliating acne-prone and irritated skin?
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