Including a Drew Barrymore-approved mask.

Courtney Leiva Pia Velasco
Updated Jun 11, 2021 @ 2:07 pm
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Credit: Paula's Choice, Mario Badescu, Drunk Elephant

Beauty products with AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) are everywhere in skincare lately, with many popular skincare brands incorporating these super-powered, complexion-smoothing ingredients into their products. If you are stumped on what AHA and BHA are and what they do for your skin, though, we asked Nathan Rivas, the Director of Education for Drunk Elephant, to answer all of our most pressing questions around the buzzy ingredients.

What are AHAs?

Rivas explains that AHAs are usually lactic, citric, and glycolic acids, which are derived from vegan and non-vegan sources. These sorts of acids function as leave-on exfoliants, which work to gradually dissolve the bonds holding dead skin cells together.

If you are interested in adding AHAs into your beauty routine, Rivas recommends using AHA products at 8% and 15%. However, he warns that glycolic acid (the most common AHA) at 10% is already strong enough, so you'll want to be cautious with how much you actually apply to your face, especially if you have sensitive skin.

What are BHAs?

According to Rivas, these acids gradually exfoliate the skin while also working to penetrate and exfoliate deep into your pores, making them ideal for people with acne.

Salicylic acid is one the most common forms of beta hydroxy acids. It decongests pores of dead skin cell buildup on the surface level, which helps reveal brighter skin. This form of BHA can also go beyond the surface of the skin and into the pore, where its secondary function as an antimicrobial comes into place to help treat existing acne and prevent future blemishes.

It can be a hero ingredient when used correctly, but Rivas cautions users not to go overboard. "A little salicylic acid goes a long way," he says. "Concentrations of 0.5% to 2% (1% is a great middle-ground for most) are all that is needed for daily use."

What are the benefits of AHAs and BHAs?

Rivas says that both hydroxy acids are very beneficial to the skin. When used on a daily basis, they help manage breakouts, fix uneven tone, and make skin glow. AHAs, in particular, work well in improving skin texture and tone and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Yet while AHAs have many benefits, they're not the best at unclogging pores. Beta hydroxy acids go deeper into the skin than AHAs do and unclog pores more effectively. Additionally, these acids help your skincare products absorb better. They also have soothing properties and can correct uneven skin texture.

Now that you know how to AHA and BHA like a pro, here are the best skincare products with AHAs and BHAs that will reveal brighter and firmer-feeling skin.

Best AHA and BHA cleansers:

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
$42.00
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Sephora

The first step to a clear and smooth complexion is a cleanser, so using an AHA and BHA-infused one just makes sense. Apart from its chemical exfoliants, this product also uses jojoba beads to gently buff away any dry and dead skin cells.

CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser
$9.47
($18.99 save 50%)
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Amazon

This isn't your typical stripping acne-treating face wash. This salicylic acid and fragrance-free cleanser also contains ceramides, which nourish and soothe skin to help prevent it from over drying.

Best AHA and BHA face masks and peels:

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
$80.00
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Sephora

This resurfacing face mask has a cult following, and for good reason. As the product name alludes, it will give you baby-smooth skin with continued use. Yes, really. Plus, it works to smooth out uneven skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles. (Just ask Drew Barrymore!) Leave it on for 20 minutes and use once a week for best results. Even better? Use the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum for daily upkeep.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
$7.20
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Ulta

This exfoliating mask will help keep breakouts under control, and at such an affordable price, it's such a steal. It combines glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid, has a 4.5 star-rating from over 1,000 reviewers, and went viral on TikTok, too. To use, apply a thin layer onto clean skin and leave it on for 10 minutes before washing off with lukewarm water. For best results, use twice a week.

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
$80.00
($102.00 save 22%)
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Sephora

Almost every skincare enthusiast has heard of or tried (and loved!) this product. Each wipe is infused with lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid and helps skin achieve its smoothest complexion. To use, first use the exfoliating pad and wait two minutes before using the neutralizing pad which helps to smooth and hydrate the skin. Unlike some other AHA/BHA products, this one is recommended for daily use. If you don't drop want to drop serious cash, though, you can test it out with the brand's mini version that includes five treatments for $17.

Derma E Overnight Peel
$18.99
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Ulta

Clean beauty lovers will love this overnight peel that uses fruit acids and 5% AHAs to diminish age spots and blemishes like a pro.

Best AHA and BHA exfoliants:

Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
$29.00
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Nordstrom

Our Senior Beauty Editor swears by this game-changing product, which she says skyrocketed her confidence. To use, apply a generous amount to a cotton ball and swipe it across clean skin. Let it sit and absorb into the skin before applying another product, like your favorite moisturizer or eye cream. "You'll probably see results very quickly," she says. "In my case, I saw a massive improvement in skin texture after using it for just one night."

Best AHA and BHA serums:

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
$90.00
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Sephora

This intensive serum uses 12% AHA and BHA blend to keep your complexion smooth and ultra radiant. Use it every day for best results.

Ambari Beauty PM Active12 Serum
$98.00
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Neiman Marcus

If you're looking for a powerhouse skincare ingredient to smooth out even the most pesky dark spots, this serum is for you. It has a 12% AHA/PHA (polyhydroxy acids) blend that mixes in antioxidant-rich shiitake and anti-aging bakuchiol.

Best AHA and BHA toners:

COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
$19.00
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Ulta

We love a convenient skincare product, and this toning mist is everything our face needs right now. This exfoliating liquid uses AHA and BHA acids to keep your skin acne-free—just spritz throughout the day!

Summer Fridays Soft Reset
$54.00
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Sephora

As the name suggests, this toner helps set the "refresh" button on dull, tired skin. Using a concentrated 16% AHAs, this powerhouse product brightens, exfoliates, and softens your skin. We were so impressed by it that we gave it a 2021 Beauty Crush Award. "I applied this at night and woke up to my face feeling so smooth—I couldn't stop touching it," reported one tester for the awards. We're sold.

Versed Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Solution
$17.99
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Dermstore

The formula includes exfoliating azelaic acid, renewing AHA, brightening vitamin C, toning kojic acid, and bearberry extract to help fade dark spots. "It's a great option for someone with sensitive skin that has a dull complexion or post-acne scars, like mine," noted an HG tester for our annual Beauty Crush Awards.

Best AHA and BHA moisturizers:

OLEHENRIKSEN Cold Plunge Pore Remedy Moisturizer with BHA/LHA
$46.00
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Sephora

The mix of salicylic acid and LHA (liphodroxy acid) are part of what makes this cream so good. That combo helps detoxify the skin, minimize the appearance of large pores, even out skin texture, and with continued use reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Plus, the cooling effect helps to de-puff the skin. (For even more intense cooling, throw it in a skincare fridge to keep its temperature chill.)

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion with Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15
$9.12
($11.49 save 21%)
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Amazon

Yes, you need to use sunscreen everyday, even when you're indoors. This multi-vitamin and alpha hydroxy acid blend keeps your face smooth and shielded from harmful sun damage.

Best AHA and BHA body treatments:

Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap
$8.00
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Amazon

Remember, body care is important, too. This rejuvenating AHA-based formula helps soften and brighten dull skin, and it's so easy to use in the shower.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment Peel
$58.00
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Sephora

If you're not a fan of using physical scrubs on your body, try these award-winning exfoliating body peel wipes with AHAs and BHAs instead. "They made my skin so soft," noted a tester. "The rough, bumpy skin on the back of my upper arms is smoother than ever before."

Paula's Choice RESIST Skin Revealing Body Lotion
$28.00
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Dermstore

Keep your leg and arm bumps at bay with the help of this AHA-rich body lotion. This leave-on exfoliator has a really nice slip, hydrates the skin, and quickly absorbs into the skin to prevent stickiness. It's especially good for preventing and smoothing out ingrown hairs and dead skin cell buildup.