BHAs are incredibly popular in skincare products, but do you know their purpose and how they are used to treat the skin?

Read on to learn more about these types of acids, as well as the best BHA products.

What is BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)?

BHA, which stands for beta hydroxy acid, is a type of chemical exfoliant.

BHAs are commonly used in a variety of skincare products, such as: includes serums, cleansers, and masks. The most common BHA used in skincare is salicylic acid, although some forms of citric acid are also considered to be BHAs.

BHAs are oil-soluble and penetrate deeper into the pores (while also working on the outer layer of the skin). Therefore, they are preferred for dealing with skin issues such as acne and blackheads.

What are the Benefits of BHA?

BHAs are an excellent exfoliant, which ultimately helps the skin:

  • remove dead skin cells (which ultimately helps prevent acne breakouts)
  • minimize the appearance of wrinkles and pores
  • improve the skin’s overall texture

Are BHAs Good For Acne and Blackheads?

Yes - BHAs are great for preventing acne. Since BHAs are able to work deep in the pores, they are particularly useful for those with oily skin and acne.

The oil-soluble acid is able to break up and dissolve pore-clogging debris, meaning it is effective for treating acne and preventing new breakouts from forming.

BHAs also have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, adding to their acne-fighting effectiveness. Additionally, the hydroxy acids have natural calming properties, so BHA products are suitable for those with skin that is sensitive and prone to redness.

Best BHA Products

If you are thinking about using a beta hydroxy acid in your skincare routine, these are some of the best BHA products available on the market:

1. Stridex Maximum Strength Daily Care Acne Pads

Stridex Maximum Strength Daily Care Acne Pads (Best Drugstore BHA Product)

Best drugstore BHA product

These alcohol-free cleansing pads have a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, which is the highest available strength without a prescription. This Stridex product is one of the most affordable BHA products available, and is easy to find online or in drugstores – making it one of the best drugstore BHA products for those on a budget. The pre-soaked pads are textured, which increases the product’s ability to sweep away debris and exfoliate the skin.

How to Use: Cleanse and dry the skin. Sweep a pad across the entire face. Follow with a moisturizer.

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2. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid

Best BHA product for acne and and blackheads

The Paula’s Choice line of exfoliating products contain some of the best BHA products available on the market, and this BHA serum is one of the most popular chemical exfoliating products. It has a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, which is effective but still gentle on the skin. The formula also has green tea leaf extract, which helps to calm the skin. This product has a lightweight texture that absorbs into the skin quickly.

How to Use: Cleanse and dry the skin. Saturate a cotton pad with the product, and then sweep all over the face. Follow with a moisturizer.

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3. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion (Best BHA product for dry skin)

Best BHA product for dry skin

While similar to the BHA Liquid mentioned above, this BHA Lotion from Paula’s Choice provides extra hydrating benefits. It has a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, as well as emollients that hydrate and soften the skin. The calming hydrating lotion makes it the best BHA product for those with dry skin. Although it is considered a lotion, it has a very lightweight texture that absorbs easily into the skin and dries quickly.

How to Use: Cleanse and dry the skin. Dispense the product into your hands, and then massage all over your face. Follow with a moisturizer.

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4. COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (Best 4% BHA Product)

Best 4% BHA product

This BHA liquid from COSRX both exfoliates while hydrating the skin. It has been clinically proven to reduce the formation of blackheads, and dissolves excess sebum to keep breakouts at bay. The formula includes a 4% concentration of betaine salicylate, a BHA derived from the sugar beet plant.

It is considered to be gentler than salicylic acid, but just as effective. This makes it one of the best BHA products for those with more sensitive skin, although it is appropriate for all skin types. The product also has white willow bark water, which soothes the skin. Additionally, the formula is free of parabens, coloring, or artificial fragrances.

How to Use: Cleanse and dry the skin. Saturate a cotton pad with the product, and then sweep all over the face. Follow with a moisturizer.

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5. ZAPZYT Acne Wash Cleanser

ZAPZYT Acne Wash Cleanser (Best BHA product for body acne)

Best BHA product for body acne

This is considered one of the best BHA products for washing your face and body. The cleanser has a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, which works to unclog pores. It also has aloe and chamomile, which soothe the skin and reduce irritation. The formula is hypoallergenic and free of fragrances and dyes. It may be used on the face, as well as other areas that are prone to acne, such as the back and chest.

How to Use: Wet the skin, and then gently massage the product in. Rinse the cleanser thoroughly when done.

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6. Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial Mask

Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial Mask (Best BHA mask)

Best BHA mask

This cult favorite exfoliating mask packs a powerful punch of both BHAs and AHAs. It has a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, as well as a 25% concentration of an AHA blend. The AHA blend includes glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acid. Together, these exfoliating acids remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, soothe redness, smoothe, and brighten the skin. The formula also contains a variety of plant extracts that calm the skin.

How to Use: Cleanse and dry the skin. Apply an even layer all over the skin, and then leave it on for up to 20 minutes. Rinse the product thoroughly when done.

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How to Use BHA Products

Since BHAs prevent the formation of acne (and improve the skin’s overall texture and tone), aim to use BHA products on a regular basis all over the face – rather than solely when you are dealing with breakouts.

1. BHA Exfoliants

In general, you should aim to use a gentle BHA exfoliating product 1 to 2 times per day. The leave-on products mentioned above (the Stridex pads, the Paula’s Choice products, and the COSRX liquid) are all gentle enough to use on a daily basis.

However, some people may find that daily or twice daily use leads to dryness or irritation. If this is the case with your skin, scale back to every other day.

2. BHA Masks

BHA masks on the other hand (such as the Drunk Elephant mask) are created for use once a week. Since the Drunk Elephant mask has a high concentration of acids, it is used as a treatment, rather than daily maintenance. Avoid applying a BHA serum after using this mask (or a similar exfoliating mask) – it will be exfoliation overkill, and will likely lead to irritation.

3. Use Sunscreen and Moisturizer with BHAs

It is also important to note that hydroxy acids increase sun sensitivity, so it is important to use sunscreen during the day. You should also use a moisturizer after using a BHA product, as it will help fight off potential dryness.

Tips for People New to BHAs

If this is your first time using BHAs (or acids in general), it is a good idea to start modestly and then build up from there.

Pick out one gentler BHA product (such as a BHA cleanser or leave-on product) and use on your skin every other day to see how it reacts. If you don’t experience dryness or irritation, you may want to build up to daily use.

More intensive masks with higher concentrations of acids are more suitable for those who have experience with acids, as products that are too strong could irritate skin that hasn’t been exposed to acids.

FAQ

How often should you use a BHA product?

BHA products can be used 1-2x daily, depending on how your skin reacts. Start with a daily application (at night), and work your way up to twice a day. If dryness or irritation occurs, scale back usage to every other day. There is no hard rule here - it ultimately depends on how your skin reacts.

How long does it take BHA to work?

When using one of the best BHA products, it is important to give them time to take full effect. Generally, you should see results in around 4 to 6 weeks, although it may take up to 2 to 3 months.

Can you combine other products with BHA products?

You should apply a moisturizer after applying a BHA product to fight dryness and hydrate the skin. Hydrating products, such as a hyaluronic acid serum, may also be combined with BHA products for a boost of moisture. To avoid irritation, it is best not to use BHA products at the same time as other more active ingredients like retinol. You can, however, alternate use between these products.

Can you use BHA if you have dry skin?

BHAs are generally recommended for oily and acne-prone skin, while AHAs are recommended for dry skin. That being said, those with dry skin may benefit from BHA products. Try using every other day to avoid drying the skin further.

Summary: Best BHA Products

The Bottom Line

Beta hydroxy acids fight acne and prevent future breakouts, remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, minimize the appearance of fine lines and pores, and improve the overall texture and tone of the skin. These chemical exfoliants are commonly found in over-the-counter serums, cleansers, and masks.

BHAs are great products for oily skin and large pores, but all skin types may benefit from incorporating BHAs into their routine.