Skincare products with beta hydroxy acid (BHA) are mainly used for treatment of acne, blackheads, blemishes, oily skin and sun damage. These BHA products usually come in mild formulas for everyday use like BHA cleansers, toners, serums, and moisturizers. But you can also come across BHA skin treatments like chemical peels or spot treatments, which have higher concentration of acids. In this article we’ll review the best BHA products in different formulations and various strength.
At a glance:
- Best cleanser: Murad Clarifying Cleanser
- Overall best toner: Exposed Skincare Clearing Tonic
- Best BHA exfoliator: Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
- Best potent serum: Herbivore Prism AHA/BHA Glow Serum
- Overall best moisturizer: Eminence Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator
What Is BHA?
Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) is a type of chemical exfoliant. Unlike AHAs, which are water-soluble acids, BHAs are oil-soluble – they dissolve in oil. 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. One of the reasons BHA is so popular, because it’s safe, cost-efficient and effective method for treating various skin conditions and disorders.
Currently, there are only two BHA acids being used in cosmetics and aesthetic dermatology – salicylic and lipohydroxy acids. Until recently, salicylic acid was the only type of BHA used in dermatology and cosmetics. However, a new derivative of salicylic acid called b-lipohydroxy acid (LHA) is slowly making its way to the U.S. market.
Lipohydroxy acid is gentler than salicylic acid and other AHAs, and works great for sensitive skin or those who can’t tolerate well other acids. Additionally, LHA has anti-aging properties as it stimulates collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production, and increases epidermal thickness. However, there are very few LHA products available at this time.
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. Not only salicylic acid stimulates natural exfoliation and prevents pore clogging, but also it has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and skin-calming properties.
In skincare, it is mostly used for treating acne and post-acne scars, oil reduction, blemishes, inflammation, blackheads, mild pigmentation, freckles, melasma, photodamage and overall improvement of skin texture. One of the main advantages of salicylic acid is that it’s safe for all skin types including dark skin.
Best BHA Products
Since skincare products with BHA come in many formulations, we divided our review of the best BHA products into the following categories:
- Derma E Acne Deep Wash – best budget-friendly
- Murad Clarifying Cleanser – overall best
- Tula Acne Foam Cleanser – best for acne & post-acne marks
Derma E Acne Deep Pore Cleansing Wash
This medicated cleanser includes 2% salicylic acid, tea tree oil, willow bark extract, lavender and chamomile, which are known for their antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
It is one of the best BHA products since it’s formulated with potent plant-based ingredients and is effective in clearing the complexion. Not only this anti-acne cleanser unclogs pores, fights acne causing bacteria, and promotes clear skin, but also it reduces redness, soothes skin irritation and inflammation. Budget friendly.
Murad Clarifying Cleanser
What makes this acne control gel cleanser unique is its time-released encapsulated 1.5% salicylic acid. So it keeps working even after the gel is washed off.
It does great job in clearing existing blemishes and pimples, unclogging pores, dissolving excess oil, and also preventing future breakouts. Moreover, this clarifying cleanser includes soothing green tea extract and citrus oil blend that help to calm skin redness and irritation.
Tula Keep It Clear Acne Foam Cleanser
Designed for all skin types, this foam cleanser treats and prevents acne and blemishes without leaving skin dry or tight. This formula includes 2% salicylic acid, tea tree oil, lactic acid, probiotic extract, and ginger. And all these active ingredients work together to clear the skin and sooth inflammation and irritation. In addition, this product also helps to fade post-acne marks and improve skin tone and texture with the help of licorice extract and azelaic acid.
- Thayers Blemish Clearing Toner – very potent
- SheaMoisture Clarifying Toner – best budget option
- Exposed Skin Care Clearing Tonic – best mild BHA+AHA toner
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 budget-friendly toner also has exfoliating and pore unclogging properties.
This alcohol-free toner is made with 2% salicylic acid. It works great for treating existing blemishes and preventing new once. Additionally, the hydrating and healing formula also includes witch hazel, aloe vera, and tea tree oil, which have natural healing powers. Overall, it’s best if used on combination, oily and acne-prone skin.
SheaMoisture Clarifying Toner
Designed for problem skin, this acne toner balances oil production, provides deep cleansing, removes impurities, and gently exfoliates dead skin. Also, it provides skin moisturizing benefits. It is made with all natural and organic certified ingredients like African black soap, witch hazel, salicylic acid, willow bark, tea tree oil, vitamin C, aloe, shea butter, oat extract and others.
Exposed Skin Care Clearing Tonic
This natural acne clearing toner has milder concentration of BHA as it’s formulated with 1% salicylic acid. However, it also contains glycolic acid (AHA) that gently exfoliates, and healing antioxidants like green tea, aloe, passion flower, and azelaic acid, which reduce redness and irritation. All in all, it’s a great product for problematic skin as it addresses acne signs and prevents future blackheads and whiteheads. Made in Canada.
- Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant – best selling
- Eminence Organics Clear Skin Exfoliating Peel – best all natural peel
- The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peel – best budget friendly
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
This is one of the best BHA products and best-selling BHA liquid exfoliants designed for all skin types especially oily, combination and acne-prone skin. Made with 2% salicylic acid, antioxidants and hydrating ingredients. Also, this perfecting exfoliant has fluid-like consistency, and is gentle enough for daily use.
Overall, the main properties of this BHA product include clearing pores, promoting faster cell regeneration, improving uneven skin tone, and soothing inflammation.
It is a leave-on treatment, so you don’t need to rinse it off or use a neutralizer. Apply it with cotton pad after cleanser and toner, and followed with serum or/and moisturizer. Also comes in oil-free gel formula or a more mild 1% lotion formula.
Eminence Organics Clear Skin Willow Bark Exfoliating Peel
Formulated with all natural and organic ingredients. This peel solution includes a blend of AHAs and BHAs, which act as clarifying and exfoliating agents. In addition to exfoliating acids, the peel contains skin-balancing ingredients like biosulfur and tomato extract, soothing ingredients like lilac extract and willow bark, and Eminence exclusive Organic Phytonutrient Blend packed with antioxidants.
It is a leave-on treatment and you can use it 1-3 times a week on cleansed and toned skin. Overall, it will benefit the most those who have active acne, breakouts, blemishes, blackheads, surface impurities, large or clogged pores, and dull or irritated skin.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Great chemical peel on the budget! It is quite strong since the concentration of AHA’s blend is 30%. In addition to glycolic acid, this peel also includes lactic, tartaric and citric acid, as well as 2% of salicylic acid (BHA). Also, it is infused with calming and healing ingredients like Tasmanian pepperberry, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin B5, which help with post-exfoliation skin irritation. Recommended to use 1-2 a week if you have prior experience using chemical exfoliators. However, this peel is not safe for sensitive skin or those who are new to alpha- and beta hydroxy acids.
- Herbivore Prism AHA/BHA Exfoliating Glow Serum – best potent
- Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore Refining 4% BHA Serum – best acne + anti aging
- Derma E Blemish Control Treatment Serum – best budget friendly
Herbivore Prism 12% AHA + 3% BHA Exfoliating Glow Serum
This exfoliating serum is made with a blend of highly concentrated acids and all natural and clean ingredients. So the 12% fruit based AHAs include glycolic, lactic, and malic acids. And 3% plant based BHA is derived from the willow bark. Moreover, this serum is also packed with soothing and hydrating ingredients like rose hydrosol, kakadu plum extract, hyaluronic acid, aloe, and vitamin C. Designed for all skin types, it effectively exfoliates dead skin cells, brightens complexion, clarifies and minimizes pores, reduces hyperpigmentation, and improves skin texture.
Paula's Choice RESIST Advanced Pore Refining 4% BHA Serum
Very potent 4% BHA serum that clears pores, fights signs of aging, improves skin’s texture, and exfoliates dull and dead skin. In addition to salicylic acid, this BHA formula also includes antioxidants, soothing oat and chamomile extracts, berry and grape seed extracts. All in all, this is one of the best BHA products for those who wants to address wrinkles as well as breakouts. Also available in gentler 2% formula.
Derma E Acne Blemish Control Treatment Serum
If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, then this anti-acne serum is for you. The formula includes acne fighting natural ingredients like 0.5% salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and willow bark. Additionally, it contains antioxidants and skin calming ingredients like green tea, niacinamide, aloe, chamomile and lavender. That being said, this potent acne serum clears existing blemishes, prevents future breakouts, unclogs pores, and reduces redness. Moreover, due to the low concentration of BHA it can be used 2-3 times a day.
- Eminence Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator – best overall
- Burts Bees Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion – best on the budget
- Origins Clear Improvement Moisturizer – best multitasking
- Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment – best for body
Eminence Organic Skincare Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator
This lightweight hydrating lotion is packed with skin clearing organic ingredients like encapsulated salicylic acid (1%), triple blend of purifying kaolin clay, zinc hyaluronate, lotus extract and arbutin. In addition to treating signs of acne, this facial hydrator also reduces oiliness, provides mattifying effect, and diminishes the appearance of acne-related hyperpigmentation and scars. The formula includes a rather extensive list of organic and all natural botanical extracts and antioxidants.
Burts Bees Natural Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Great and affordable drugstore face moisturizer with 1% salicylic acid. Formulated specifically for acne-prone and oily skin this lightweight lotion unclogs pores, prevents future blemishes, reduces redness, calms inflamed and irritated skin. Also, it is available as extra strength version with 2% salicylic acid.
Origins Clear Improvement Moisturizer
Multitasking oil-free moisturizer that clears and prevents acne breakouts and blemishes, purifies pores, and gently exfoliates. It also provides long lasting hydration. Some of the acne fighting ingredients include 1% salicylic acid, bamboo charcoal and witch hazel. And some of the advanced hydrating agents are sodium hyaluronate, squalane, and glycerin. Overall, you can use it daily on normal, combination and acne-blemish prone skin.
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 is a great option for you. Moreover, this body exfoliant also doubles as a lightweight hydrator. It is formulated with 2 % salicylic acid, chamomile extract, vitamin E, green tea, and other hydrating and smoothing ingredients.
Not only it gently exfoliates the build-up of dead skin, but also softens bumpy and rough skin. Also, it 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. One of the best BHA products for body.
Related: Face emulsion: lightweight moisturizer for oily, combo and acne-prone skin
How To Use BHA Products
The strength of BHA skin care products depends on the concentration of salicylic acid or willow bark. If you are new to BHAs, start with only one BHA product in low concentration (0.5% – 2%).
Dermatologists suggest starting using BHA products each other day and gradually making your way up as your skin builds tolerance to the acids. If you noticed that your skin is peeling or oilier than usual, it is a sign of over-exfoliating. In this case reduce use of your BHA products, and give your skin more time to adjust.
Keep your skincare routine balanced by using only 1 or 2 BHA products on daily basis. Using even the best BHA products frequently and in high concentrations might cause skin irritation, dryness and peeling. Thus, it is important to use few hydrating and soothing products in conjunction with other BHA products. For example, you can choose BHA cleanser and BHA serum, and add hydrating toner and calming moisturizer into the mix.
Important! If you dehydrate your oily, combination or acne-prone skin, the skin will naturally overcompensate and start producing more sebum. So you might need to adjust your skincare routine and use BHA products less frequently or in lower concentration.
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