The Ultimate Guide to Acid Exfoliation: AHA, BHA, and PHA for Sensitive and Dry Skin

For those with dry or sensitive skin, the term “acid exfoliation” can often be intimidating. However, acid exfoliation can offer numerous benefits, including brighter skin, reduced pores, and diminished acne scars. Let’s explore how to incorporate AHA, BHA, and PHA into your skincare routine safely and effectively.

Table of Contents

Acid TypeBenefitsSuitable For
AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)Brightening, collagen production, anti-agingNormal to dry skin
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)Oil control, acne treatment, deep pore cleansingOily and acne-prone skin
PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid)Gentle exfoliation, hydration, anti-inflammatoryAll skin types, including sensitive skin

Understanding Acid Exfoliation

Acid exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells gently, promoting the growth of new, glowing skin. Compared to physical exfoliation, which can sometimes cause irritation, chemical exfoliation with acids is often more controlled and gentle.

Common Types of Acids

There are several types of acids used in skincare, each with unique benefits. Many brands now include these acids in their daily skincare products, making it easier to incorporate them into your routine.

AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)

AHA, commonly derived from fruits, is water-soluble and quickly penetrates the skin. The most popular AHAs include glycolic acid from sugarcane and mandelic acid from bitter almonds. AHAs are effective at stimulating collagen production, reducing fine lines, and brightening the skin. They are best suited for normal to dry skin types.

  • Glycolic Acid: A small molecule that penetrates deeply and stimulates collagen.
  • Mandelic Acid: A larger molecule that works on the skin’s surface, suitable for sensitive skin.
  • Lactic Acid: Derived from milk, it offers excellent moisturizing properties.

Note: AHA is water-soluble and works on the skin’s surface, targeting sun damage and fine lines.

BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)

BHA, or salicylic acid, is oil-soluble and can penetrate deep into the pores. It is excellent for controlling oil, treating acne, and reducing blackheads. BHA is particularly beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin.

Note: BHA is oil-soluble and works both on the skin’s surface and inside the pores.

PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid)

PHA is the newest and gentlest type of acid. It is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, eczema, and rosacea. PHAs provide gentle exfoliation, hydration, and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Note: PHA is suitable for all skin types and offers gentle exfoliation with additional hydrating benefits.

Recommended Acid Products

Here are some top acid products that can help you achieve a brighter, clearer complexion.

1. Bioderma 12% Super C Acid Resurfacing Serum

This serum combines 10% glycolic acid (AHA) and 2% salicylic acid (BHA) for effective exfoliation and acne treatment. It also includes 2% vitamin C for added brightening benefits. This product is perfect for those looking to improve skin texture and reduce dark spots.

2. Kiehl’s Laser Focus Triple-Acid Resurfacing Serum

Ideal for oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin, this serum combines lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid. Its multi-acid formula allows for comprehensive and gentle exfoliation, promoting a brighter and smoother complexion.

3. Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Dual Acid Polishing Solution

This solution features 6% mandelic acid and 2% lactic acid, both part of the AHA family. It offers a gentle yet effective exfoliation, suitable for those who prefer a mild approach to skin renewal.

4. Guerlain Royal Jelly Radiance Essence

This essence combines AHA from glycolic acid with Hawaiian white honey and vitamin C derivatives. It is perfect for those with dry or sensitive skin looking for a gentle exfoliation that also provides hydration and skin brightening.

5. Benefit POREfessional Good Night Tight Mask

This innovative overnight mask contains AHA and PHA for gentle exfoliation and pore tightening. Its honey jelly texture provides intense hydration and helps reveal a smoother, brighter complexion by morning.

6. CNP Anti-Pore Blackhead Clear Kit

This targeted treatment for enlarged pores and blackheads combines multiple acids, including mandelic acid and salicylic acid. It effectively clears pores, reduces blackheads, and is suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin.


Incorporating AHA, BHA, and PHA into your skincare routine can offer significant benefits for all skin types, including sensitive and dry skin. By understanding each acid’s unique properties and selecting the right products, you can achieve a brighter, clearer, and more youthful complexion.


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