What Are BHAs? The Essential Skincare Alphabet

It’s only been a day since I started this series, with What Are AHAs and today we are tackling BHAs.

The aim of this series is to give you a brief but essential description of what all these ingredients can do for you. Also, at the end of each post, you’ll find a list of products containing these ingredients with a comprehensive summary of their INCI lists.

All of these posts are gearing up to become a complete directory of skincare ingredients, which when ready, I will be so excited to share with all of you.

However, because my skincare alphabet directory is not yet ready, you will be able to find all of these posts under my Skincare Glossary.


What are BHAs?

Another acronym, BHA, stands for beta hydroxy acid, and yes they are different from AHAs. Although they both chemically exfoliate the skin, they differ because BHAs are oil-soluble and AHAs are not.

The oil-solubility of BHAs is an important distinction to note because this means they tend to work deeper in the pores of the skin than AHAs.

It is also why BHAs are often marketed toward oily, acne-prone skin.

The most common BHA used in skincare is salicylic acid.

Where are the sources of BHAs?

As is the case with most skincare ingredients, BHAs are both synthetically and naturally made.

In nature, BHA’s can be found in papaya, pineapple and berries. They are also found in dairy products like milk and yoghurt, sweet birch and wintergreen leaves.

Are BHAs vegan?

They can be but because they can also come from dairy products then there is a high chance they aren’t.

However, they are synthetically made too, which means it is heavily dependent on the manufacturer.

What are BHAs uses and potential side effects?

Beta hydroxy acids are extremely useful for oily, acne-prone skin. This, as mentioned previously, is because it is oil soluble.

This property allows BHAs to go deep into your pores, cleaning and drying out excess oils.

Similar to AHAs, the most common side effect of using beta hydroxy acids is irritation. This varies greatly for each individual and should be tested before committing to a product. Always ask for samples of products if possible, especially if the product is expensive!

Another side effect is an increase in sun sensitivity. This is a common side effect of ingredients that are popular now. It is why sun screen is an essential product in everyone’s skincare regimes.

Product recommendations

I actually found it difficult to find products that contained a good amount of BHA on Cult Beauty (used because they have international shipping). These are the two best I could find!

Clear Skin Tonic Alpha-H

  • silicon-free
  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • EU-allergen-free
  • reef-safe

InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment Murad

  • alcohol-free
  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • oil-free
  • reef-safe
  • fungal-acne safe

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