Should I use an AHA or BHA?


Glycolic acid, an AHA, is a good choice for combination skin. Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule of all the AHAs, so it is able to penetrate without encouraging more sebum production. This acid is derived from fruit sugars. AHAs are water soluable, so they also work well for areas that are not as oily. 

For a mild nightly cream that is inexpensive and highly rated, I really like Reviva's 10% cream. Lots of people rave about this. I've also found this at Ulta on sale occasionally.

For a bi-weekly or monthly peel, I like Skin Obsession's 40% Glycolic Acid Peel. This peel really works well, but it stings and itches A LOT. I use this about once a month.

Be cautious when performing superficial chemical peels; acne can, ironically, be a side effect. [1] Avoid occlusive moisturizers if possible, which will help.

Acne Prone

Salicylic acid is the only BHA available; it encourages skin exfoliation and penetrates deeper than AHAs, so it's a good option for acne-prone skin. This acid is oil soluble, so it's a great option for oily skin that is plagued by acne. 

Beware with BHA: this can increase sun sensitivity by 50%, which can easily result in hyper-pigmentation. Salicylic acid also seems to cause more irritation. 

When to Use

Do NOT choose a daily moisturizer with BHA since it increases sensitivity to sun. Also, avoid cleansers with BHA because the acid must have time to penetrate the skin, and the cleanser will be rinsed too quickly. This is best used in a night-time moisturizer or serum--or monthly chemical peel. Remember to use sunscreen regularly with BHA. 

Dr. Heather Brannon recommends solutions with BHA at 1-2% and pH of 3-4. [2] This 2% Salicyclic Acid by Refresh Skin Therapy is well rated and is naturally derived.

Glycolic acid, an AHA, is another good choice for mild acne-prone skin. See Combination above for more.

Dry and/or Aging

Lactic acid chemical peel  is better suited to aging and/or dry skin because it encourages sebum production, among many other benefits, such as reducing age spots, freckles, sun spots, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles. This acid is derived from milk sugars. For peels, I like the Lactic Acid by Perfect Image. It has high ratings at a descent price.

For a daily lactic acid lotion, I like AmLactin 12% Lotion. This is also a great body exfoliation lotion that will help retain moisture while increasing cell turnover.

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