POSTED: 2 Jun 2023

Demystifying Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) in Skincare: Should You Use Them & Why?

In the world of skincare, it can be confusing what different products do and which is suitable for you. At City skin clinic, we champion personalised skincare as we don’t believe in a “one size that fits all” approach. We’re focusing on beta hydroxy acids which seem to be everywhere but few people know how and when to use them! Commonly known as BHAs, these are a type of exfoliant widely available across a variety of skincare products. BHAs most commonly derived from salicylic acid and particularly beneficial for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. We shed some light on how beta hydroxy acids work and how to use them for best effects.

Beta Hydroxy Acids Penetrate Deep for a Thorough Cleanse

One of the main benefits of BHAs is that they are oil soluble. This gives them the ability to penetrate deep into the pores. Unlike alpha hydroxy acid exfoliants which only remove dead skin cells on the surface, BHAs reach the layers underneath. BHAs can remove excess oil, dirt, and other impurities that can clog pores and lead to breakouts. This deep-cleansing action helps to prevent the formation of new acne and improve the overall appearance of the skin.

Anti-inflammatory and Antibacterial Properties of BHAs

In addition to their ability to cleanse the pores, BHAs also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. This makes them effective at reducing redness and swelling associated with acne. They can also help kill the bacteria that cause acne breakouts.

BHAs for Texture Enhancement and Anti-aging

A key benefit of BHAs is they can work on both the superficial layers of the skin and reach deep into the pores. Through this mechanism they can speed up exfoliating dead cells and unclogging pores. This helps smooth out rough, uneven skin and improve overall skin texture. Through the same mechanism BHAs can also fade dark patches due to hyperpigmentation caused by acne or sun damage. BHAs are also able to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They do so by exfoliating the skin and stimulating collagen production. All this helps to give a more radiant and youthful-looking complexion.

How to Use BHAs Safely

Unlike other exfoliants that can be harsh and irritating, BHAs are gentle and effective. This can make them a great for people with sensitive skin and for a skincare routine that has other active products. They however can not be used if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have an allergy to salicylic acid. Although BHAs are generally considered safe for most people to use, they can cause some side effects. The most common side effects include dryness, redness and irritation. Although, like any skincare product there is also the risk of allergic reaction. As with any topical treatment, you should always perform a patch test to check if it agrees with your skin. If you experience any of these side effects, you should discontinue use and immediately consult with a doctor.

The Main Types of BHAs in Skincare

BHAs are found in a wide variety of products including cleansers, toners, serums and moisturisers. They can be found alone or formulated in combination with other ingredients, such as other exfoliating acids, retinol, and vitamin C. The main types of beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) in skincare are:

  • Salicylic acid: although not technically a true BHA, Salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA in skincare. It is derived from willow bark and is an oil-soluble acid that can penetrate the skin to dissolve dead skin cells and excess oil. Salicylic acid is effective in treating acne, blackheads, and whiteheads. It can also help to reduce inflammation and improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
  • Beta hydroxybutanoic acid (Betaine salicylate): this is a newer BHA that is derived from sugar beets. It is similar to salicylic acid in its properties, but it is less irritating to the skin. Betaine salicylate is a good option for people with sensitive skin who are looking for a BHA treatment.
  • Trethocanic acid: this less common BHA is derived from pine bark. It is similar to salicylic acid in its properties, but it is more potent. Trethocanic acid may be a good option for people with severe acne who have not responded to other treatments.

Using BHA with Other Skincare Products

One of the main benefits of BHAs is their ability to work well with other skincare products such as Tretinoin to treat conditions like acne, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. BHAs also work alongside pigment suppressors such as arbutin, Kojic acid and hydroquinone or brightening agents like Vitamin C. This helps fade dark patches and even out the skin tone.

When introducing BHAs into your skincare routine, its very important to take stock of any other active products you’re using as that will impact how often and when you can use beta hydroxy acids. For example, if you regularly use a retinol or retinoid at night, then it would make more sense to use a BHA in the morning or on nights you aren’t using your retinoid to avoid irritation. The same is true if you are using a Vitamin C in the morning but no active products in the evening. In that case, you may find it best to use your BHA in the evenings.

Regardless of when you use it and what other active products you have, exfoliating acids can have a drying and irritating effect on the skin. To counteract this and maintain the skin’s barrier, its best to incorporate them gradually and use alongside hydrating serums and occlusive moisturisers in your skincare routine.

The benefits of BHAs for the skin are numerous. They are able to penetrate deep into the pores, removing excess oil and impurities that can cause acne breakouts. They also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making them effective at reducing redness and swelling associated with acne. BHAs can also improve the texture of the skin, to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles. They can even be gentle enough for individuals with sensitive skin. Overall, BHAs are a powerful and effective addition to any skincare routine if used responsibly and introduced gradually. 

If you would like to learn more about personalised skincare then book a virtual consultation with City Skin Clinic. Contact us today to schedule your consultation and take your first step towards better skin.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

Connect with us

  • Facebook Logo
  • Twitter Logo
  • Instagram Logo
  • Pinterest Logo
  • YouTube Logo
  • LinkedIn Logo

Start Your Online Consultation

The journey to great skin starts here. Start your online consultation for personalised prescription-strength skincare.

Start Consultation