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How Paula's Choice BHA Exfoliants Work

How Paula's Choice BHA Exfoliants Work

Extensive research has made it abundantly clear that taking the best possible care of your skin means needing to exfoliate it every day to remove the built-up of layers of accumulated dead surface skin. That’s because with age and years of unprotected sun exposure (among other reasons), our skin can’t exfoliate as it did when we were young.

BUT to help your skin exfoliate doesn’t mean using a scrub! Not only isn’t that how skin exfoliates naturally, it’s harsh and damaging. One of the best ways to exfoliate gently and more naturally is to use a perfectly formulated leave-on BHA exfoliant. Adding this step will unclog pores and reveal the beautiful, bump-free, young-looking skin hiding under the layers of dead skin. Paula’s Choice Skincare has several BHA options for your exact skin type and skin concern!


What is BHA & How Does it Work?

BHA is an acronym for beta hydroxy acid but don’t let the word "acid" in the name scare you. BHA is completely non-abrasive, which is a big reason why this leave-on exfoliating ingredient is gentler on your skin than most scrubs or cleansing brushes could ever be!

How a BHA leave-on exfoliant works on skin is fascinating. It’s one of the most amazing, powerful skincare ingredients for treating a surprising number of concerns from anti-aging to anti-acne. Exfoliating with a BHA product can transform your skin in ways you may have thought weren’t possible—but it’s absolutely possible.

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 bumps, clogs, and the size of pores that have become enlarged.

Before we go on, we should mention this important point: With any BHA exfoliant, the pH of the product matters greatly! Salicylic acid works best at a pH between 3 and 4. Many BHA exfoliants do not adhere to this tight pH range, which means they’re less effective or possibly not effective at all. Every Paula’s Choice Skincare BHA exfoliant is formulated in the ideal pH range so you’ll experience the best results.

BHA has a couple other benefits that aren’t often mentioned: Calming properties to minimize redness and hydrating ability to soften skin, helping it to hold on to precious moisture.

Taken together, all of these benefits are why this exfoliating step is so important—and so superior to a scrub or cleansing brush, especially for oily, congested skin that may be showing signs of aging.

Is a BHA Exfoliant Right for You?

Many people wonder if they should be using a BHA or AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) exfoliant. Although some people use both, it’s fine to use one or the other. BHA is probably best for you if you are concerned about any of these things:

  1. Clogged pores and bumps: BHA is oil soluble, so it can reach in to exfoliate the excess oil and other substances that clog pores. The result is fewer bumps and, in a short period of time, minimized pore size.
  2. Clogged pores and hard bumps on your body: The way BHA works makes it perfect for alleviating this problem, and it is even suitable for skin prone to Keratosis Pilaris, especially when paired with a gentle, water-soluble body wash.
  3. Sensitive, redness-prone skin: BHA’s natural soothing properties are ideal for someone with sensitive, reddened skin, whether your skin type is oily, combination, or dry.
  4. Signs of aging and sun damage from years of unprotected sun exposure: BHA exfoliates to noticeably minimize the look of uneven skin tone and soften fine lines and wrinkles to visibly diminish signs of aging.
  5. Dehydration and dry skin: BHA’s built-in hydrating properties soften and reignite radiance as it exfoliates to gently alleviate flaking and eliminate signs of rough, dry texture.

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

Paula’s Choice Skincare offers nearly a dozen BHA exfoliants that can be used on the face and body! Clearly, we’re impressed with what this multi-tasking ingredient can do for a broad range of skin types and concerns.

Check out this article to find out which Paula’s Choice Skincare BHA is best for your skin type and concerns.

Why Not Use a Scrub?

BHA can be confusing because we often think of a scrub as the way to exfoliate skin, but BHA is not in any way like a scrub, and that’s a good thing. An abrasive scrub is always a bad idea for skin, as it tears at skin’s surface, causing damage that leads to a host of problems you wouldn’t otherwise see or feel.

However, a gentle scrub (applied with a gentle touch) or using a soft washcloth with your cleanser or a very soft-bristled cleansing brush can be an option for more thorough cleansing but that still isn’t the range of benefits a BHA exfoliant can provide. As stated above, BHA is the gentle, more natural way to exfoliate skin!

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. Here’s how to work a BHA exfoliant into your morning and evening routine, but keep in mind you may find using it to exfoliate just once per day (usually at night) works great:


  1. Cleanse
  2. Apply toner
  3. Apply your BHA exfoliant
  4. Apply your serum and/or booster
  5. Apply your daytime moisturizer with SPF


Same order as above, except your daytime moisturizer would be replaced with your nighttime moisturizer and eye cream (you can use your eye cream during the day, too but you will need to apply a sunscreen over it). It’s fine to apply your BHA exfoliant to your undereye area.

Here are some further BHA tips that can help transform the look of your skin:

  • 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, targeted solution, eye cream, sunscreen, immediately afterwards.
  • Consider one of our more potent BHA exfoliants for special needs like extra-stubborn clogged pores or advanced signs of aging. RESIST BHA 9 is excellent for spot application of imperfections, while RESIST Weekly Retexturizing Treatment 4% BHA can dramatically improve signs of aging and rough, bumpy skin.
  • It’s fine to alternate BHA and AHA exfoliants; some people find this works even better for them. You do not need to apply them at the same time; try one in the morning and the other at night, or use on alternate days.

For more on the benefits of BHA exfoliants, see our article How to Exfoliate Skin (and Why It’s So Important).

References for this information:

Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, pages 451-455
Dermatology Research and Practice, February 2015, ePublication
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, April 2007, pages 651-663
International Journal of Toxicology, 2003 Supplement, pages 1-108
Archives of Dermatological Research, June 1997, pages 404-409

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!