Cosmetic Ingredients Class: Beta Hydroxy Acids 101

Class is in session! Part of a healthy skin care journey involves understanding which cosmetic ingredients will actually help your skin.

BHAs are anti-inflammatory oil soluble chemical exfoliants. Since they are oil soluble, they can easily penetrate pores which are clogged with oily cells and sebum and are commonly used in the prevention and treatment of acne. Unlike AHAs which are humectant, BHAs can be drying and irritating for sensitive or dry skin. If you do have dry skin with clogged pores, you can use AHAs and BHAs in tandem.

Common BHAs in Skincare

  1. At 2% concentration, salicylic acid loosens dead skin cells deep within pores to prevent acne and reduce the appearance of pores.
  2. Gentler than salicylic acid, at a concentration of 4%, betaine salicylate is effective at loosening dead skin cells deep within pores to prevent acne and reduce the appearance of pores.

How to Include BHAs in your Skin Care Routine

BHAs work best on clean bare skin. Ideally, one would cleanse, pat dry, tone and air dry the skin before using the BHA. After the BHA you would apply a serum, moisturizer and sunscreen. Unlike AHAs, photo sensitivity is not an issue when using BHAs on your skin but that doesn’t mean you should not use sunscreen!

While BHAs are oil soluble and easily penetrate the skin, it makes more sense for your BHA product to be a leave on i.e. left on the skin like a serum instead of rinsed away like a cleanser. This will let it have more time to actually work on the skin.

It’s commonly heard that after using your BHA, wait about 20 to 30 minutes for it to sink into your skin before using your serum or moisturizer. This depends on whatever brand you’re using so just follow the instructions on the label. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to skin care.

Just like any other new skin care product, it is important to start out with a patch test. Some people are able to use BHAs every night while others use them twice or only thrice a week. It all depends on your skin, listen to it. You could start out using your BHA sparingly, once a week or every other day and once your skin can tolerate it, build up from there.

pH and Concentration of BHA products

Just like AHAs, the pH and concentration of BHA products will make or break a product. In regard to pH, in order to exfoliate, BHA products must be at a pH between 3 and 4. If the pH is below 3, the product is too acidic, and you’ll run the risk of chemical burns, if the pH is higher than 4, it just won’t work.

In skin care, salicylic acid works best in a concentration of up to  2% while betaine salicylate works best in concentrations of up to 4%.

Before you make any BHA product purchase, make sure to discover the pH and concentration from the manufacturer.

Try BHAs in…

wolfandmoroko cosmetics ingredients class bhas

  1. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  2. COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid 


Please note that I can’t guarantee that all of the make-up and skincare products I recommend will suit you. Everyone’s skin is different and it’s possible to be allergic to anything. Wherever possible, patch test your products before purchasing.

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12 thoughts on “Cosmetic Ingredients Class: Beta Hydroxy Acids 101

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