Next, we have BHAs, or beta-hydroxy acids. These chemicals are lipophilic, meaning oil- and fat-loving. Thanks to that property, BHAs are especially beneficial for those with oily or acne-prone skin. They’re also anti-inflammatory and may help control sebum production. The most common BHA is salicylic acid, well-known for its ability to reduce breakouts.
Finally, we have PHAs, formally called poly-hydroxy acids. These gentle acids help to buff away dead skin cells leading to smoother, brighter skin. A few common PHAs, according to Bowe, include lactobionic acid and gluconolacctone.
So how do you use these chemical exfoliants to maximize their benefits? “In my opinion, you really want a blend of all three if you want to get the most comprehensive, most effective form of exfoliation,” Bowe explains.
See, AHAs like glycolic acid have smaller molecules, which means they penetrate deep into the skin; BHAs like salicylic acid dive into the pores; and the PHAs finish off the process by gently exfoliating the epidermal surface and add a boost of hydration.
This doesn’t mean you should layer potent serum after serum (that’s a recipe for irritation). Instead, look for a product with a pre-formulated blend of all three. This way, you’re not left experimenting like a chemist in your bathroom. Here’s our top pick: