Skincare ABCs: ‘B’ is for Beta Hydroxy Acid

Happy Halloween y’all- and welcome to the second week of ‘The Skincare ABC’s’ on The Amanda Kennedy Blog!

I know last weeks post was a long one, so buckle up. This week, we are covering a similar topic. Beta hydroxy acids, or BHAs.
WHAT are BHAs?
As far as cosmetics go, BHAs refer to the ingredient ‘salicylic acid’. BHA’s are incredibly popular for those suffering from acne, blackheads, or just general oily skin. Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark.
As you may remember last week, we discussed AHAs, which are water-soluble chemical exfoliants. **If you haven’t read that post, I suggest checking it out before going any further** BHAs are similar to AHAs, as they are both exfoliants. However, BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning they can penetrate deep into your pores (into the sebum!) end get out any of the ‘gunk’ hanging out down there, which could be causing acne or breakouts.
To get a little more scientific: salicylic acid penetrates into your pores and breaks down the ‘glue’ holding together all your dead skin cells and sebum. It’s oil-soluble property allows salicylic acid to loosen desmosomes (the fibers that hold your skin cells together), which releases the excess sebum (oil) that more oil skin types tend to hold on to.
WHO could benefit from their use?
Anyone with oily skin, acne, blackheads or whiteheads – AKA pretty much everyone on the planet – can benefit from the use of BHAs. I personally very rarely have breakouts, but still use a BHA liquid exfoliant several times a week, especially when I start to notice and blackheads on or around my nose. My husband has very oily skin, so he uses a BHA product of some sort almost daily.
WHEN should I use BHAs?
Similar to AHAs, BHAs can be used either day or night. If you are just starting out with BHAs (or acids in general) I would start with a lower concentration of BHA in your products, and use every 2-3 days, and gradually use BHAs more often as your skin adjusts. Some people may be able to jump straight into using a 2% BHA daily, while others may experience sensitivity initially.


HOW Should I use BHAs?
BHA products come in many forms: liquid toners, gels, creams, serums, oils, moisturizers and masks. BHAs also come in cleanser form, but I suggest steering clear of those- the acid doesn’t stay on your skin once you are done washing your face, so your acids, exfoliating benefits and money go down the drain along with the rest of the cleanser. My personal favorite way to use BHA is in a liquid toner form; specifically, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA toner. I’ve gone through several bottles of this stuff, and it is hands-down my favorite BHA product out there. I simply pour a little of the liquid on a cotton pad and swipe it over my face after cleansing the skin.
However, there are plenty of good BHA options out there. When you are shopping for your own BHA product, here are some things to consider:

  • pH: Just as we discussed with AHAs, acids need to be kept at a certain pH to ensure they are effective. The most effective range for BHAs is a pH of 3-4.
  • Concentration: In general, you won’t see products containing much more than 2% BHA. I would say 2% is on the ‘stronger’ side, but still totally reasonable for a beginner. This typically means you will see ‘Salicylic acid’ listed much lower on the ingredient list of a BHA product compared to an AHA product.

Another MAJOR thing to consider when using products containing BHAs (or ANY acid) is that you MUST use sunscreen or a product with SPF during the daytime. As I’ve said before, you are exfoliating your skin when using an acid- this gives us the glowing, soft and beautiful new baby skin we all love. You don’t want to burn that new beautiful skin, or cause sun damage (and wrinkles!) by exposing it to UV radiation. This fresh skin is much more susceptible to sun damage, so be sure to protect it by using an at least SPF 30. I personally use SPF 50 every single day. Please also keep in mind that if you are going to be in the sun for more than a few hours, you will need to reapply your sunscreen!

Good/Recommended BHA products
Paula’s Choice- Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
A liquid exfoliant, and my personal favorite out there. The pH and concentration of BHA in this product are stellar, and its gentle enough to be used daily. I use after cleansing, then proceed with the rest of my skincare routine. Also fairly affordable, and Paula’s choice almost always has some sort of sale/deal going on where you can get it at a discount.

Sunday Riley- UFO Ultra-clarifying facial oil
This would be my husbands absolute favorite BHA treatment. UFO is really a BHA housed in oil form and contains some soothing ingredients along with the 1.5% salicylic acid. pH of this product isn’t posted anywhere, but from my experience, it works fine, although it’s on the pricier side.
Drunk ElephantTLC Sukari Babyfacial
This is a once a week wash-off mask containing both BHA and AHA. It is a cult favorite, and Allure best of beauty winner. Definitely not for daily use, but a great product. Due to the higher price point and the fact that it can only be used once a week, it wouldn’t be ideal for someone just starting to get into acids.
The Ordinary- AHA 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution
This is a combo treatment used as a 10-minute mask once a week. It also includes a high concentration of AHA, and shouldn’t be used by anyone until they’ve become more experienced with acids. I’ve included it because it works similar to the Drunk Elephant Babyfacial, but the price point is amazing.

Well, that was certainly another long blog post! If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe and follow me on Instagram (@amandadev4) so you don’t miss any posts!
Also- please feel free to comment or message me with any questions 😊
-Amanda Kennedy

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