How Paula's Choice BHA Exfoliants Work


In This Article:

How a BHA leave-on exfoliant works for skin is fascinating. It’s one of the most amazing, powerful skincare ingredients for treating a variety of concerns and yet it’s completely gentle! Adding a BHA exfoliant to your routine can transform your skin in ways you may have thought weren’t possible—but it’s absolutely possible!

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What is BHA & How Does it Work?

BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid but its actual ingredient name is salicylic acid. It’s a leave-on, completely non-abrasive exfoliant that helps shed built-up dead surface skin just as skin did when we were younger.

As we age and because of unprotected sun exposure, the surface of skin stops shedding naturally causing dull, rough, uneven, dry skin and clogged pores. BHA steps in and changes all that, helping skin to do what it can no longer do on its own. The result is unbelievably smooth, hydrated, radiant skin!

BHA is a multi-tasking standout among skincare ingredients. Not only does it exfoliate the surface of skin, it also exfoliates in the pore, remarkably improving clogged pores. BHA also has calming properties so it minimizes redness. Its hydrating ability softens skin, helping to smooth away roughness. No scrub can come close to achieving all of this, and in such a gentle manner!

BHA can be confusing because we often think of an exfoliant as a scrub but BHA is not in any way like a scrub. First, an abrasive scrub should never be an option for skin, as it tears at skin’s surface, causing damage. However, a gentle “scrub” or using a soft washcloth with your cleanser or a very soft-bristled cleansing brush can be a good extra cleansing option. Just to be clear, though, they can't in any way replace what a well-formulated BHA exfoliant can do.

Is a BHA Exfoliant Right for You?

Many people wonder if they should be using a BHA or AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) exfoliant. BHA is right for you if you are concerned about these things:

  1. Clogged pores and bumps: BHA can penetrate to exfoliate the excess oil and other substances that clog pores, which makes for a better pore lining. The result? Fewer bumps, less clogged pores, and minimized pore size.
  2. Clogged pores and hard bumps on your body: The way BHA works makes it perfect for alleviating this kind of problem, especially when paired with a gentle, non-soap body wash.
  3. Sensitive, redness-prone skin: BHA’s soothing properties are ideal for someone with sensitive, reddened skin.
  4. Signs of aging and sun damage from years of unprotected sun exposure: BHA exfoliants work to noticeably minimize the look of uneven skin tone and visibly improve signs of aging.
  5. Dehydration and dry skin: BHA has hydrating properties and exfoliates gently to alleviate flaking and rough, dry texture.

If you're only concerned with issues that affect the surface of skin—and you aren't dealing with sensitivity factors or clogged pores—an AHA exfoliant and its anti-aging benefits may be perfect for you.

Which Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliant Should You Use?

We are one of the only lines to offer multiple BHA exfoliants in different strengths and with varying textures—all formulated within the correct pH range research has shown salicylic acid need to work as an exfoliant.

The question is, how you do decide which is right for your needs? These are some options to help you get started to find the best BHA for your special skincare needs:

If you have extra sensitive, redness-prone skin with minimal or occasional clogged pores, our CALM 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant is a great option for you.

If you have signs of aging and stubborn clogged pores you will love our best-selling SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid.

If have signs of aging, clogged pores, and dryness a lotion formula will feel beautiful on your skin. Our SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Lotion will be perfect for you.

If you have hard, stubborn, clogged pores with some redness and bumps on your body (especially your arms and legs) our RESIST Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA can make an astounding difference, often from the very first application.

How to Apply a BHA Exfoliant

It takes experimenting to see which BHA exfoliant works best for you and how often you should apply it. These are some ideas that can help transform the look of your skin.

  • You can apply the BHA exfoliant every other day, once a day, or twice per day.
  • You can apply a 1% or 2% concentration of BHA around the eye area, but not on the eyelid or directly along the lower lash line.
  • BHA exfoliants work best when applied after cleansing and toning.
  • You do not need to wait for your BHA exfoliant to dry—you can apply any other product in your routine, such as moisturizer, serum, booster, eye cream, sunscreen, immediately afterwards.

For more on BHA and AHA exfoliants, as well as how BHA differs from AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) products, see our article, How to Exfoliate Skin.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula's Choice Skincare products. You'll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula's Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Exfoliants.

References for this information:

  • Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, April 2007, pages 651-663.
  • Archives of Dermatological Research, June 1997, pages 404-409.
  • Dermatology Research and Practice, February 2015, ePublication.
  • International Journal of Toxicology, 2003 Supplement, pages 1-108.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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