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How BHA Exfoliants Work
Extensive research has made it clear that daily exfoliation is essential for smooth, even-toned, hydrated skin—and a leave-on BHA product is among the best ways to exfoliate.
Leave-on exfoliants gently and quickly remove built-up layers of dead surface skin to reveal the softer, younger-looking complexion hiding beneath. But, our BHA products go even farther, helping with blemishes, blackheads, and enlarged pores; they also benefit skin with hydrating and anti-aging ingredients.
And, because Paula’s Choice Skincare has many BHA options to choose from, one is sure to be perfect for your skin type and skin concerns.
What is BHA?
BHA is an acronym for beta hydroxy acid, also known as salicylic acid. But don’t let the word “acid” scare you. BHA is completely non-abrasive, and has soothing and calming properties—so this leave-on exfoliating ingredient is gentler on your skin than virtually any scrub or cleansing brush could be.
How Does BHA Work?
A leave-on BHA exfoliant works on the uppermost layers of skin’s surface, loosening the bonds between dead surface layers and the radiant skin beneath them. But BHA also works inside the pore. So, while BHAs (like AHAs) have benefits for all skin types—hydrating, diminishing the look of lines and wrinkles, improving skin’s firmness, texture, and tone—its multi-tasking, standout properties make it ideal for those with normal to oily, bumpy or congested skin that may be showing signs of aging. They’re even suitable for skin prone to milia.
Because BHA exfoliants help with such a large number of skin concerns, they’re in nearly all of our collections, including our RESIST line for anti-aging, our CLEAR line for anti-acne, and our CALM line for anti-redness. BHA exfoliants can change the look and feel of your skin in ways you may have thought weren’t possible; they’re suitable for skin prone to milia, and their soothing and calming properties make them gentle enough even for skin prone to rosacea.
Our BHA Formulas
The pH of any BHA exfoliant is crucial. Salicylic acid works best at a pH between 3 and 4, so any product not adhering to this tight pH range will be less effective, or possibly ineffective. Every Paula’s Choice Skincare BHA exfoliant, however, is formulated in the ideal pH range so you’ll experience the best results.
Why Not Use a Scrub?
The word exfoliation often brings to mind abrasive face or body scrubs, but most scrubs are too harsh, and actually harmful to skin. They almost always contain rough-edged ingredients that create micro-tears in skin’s surface, leading to visible damage over time. BHA is not in any way like a harsh scrub, and that’s a good thing.
A gentle scrub (applied with a light touch), a soft washcloth, or a very soft-bristled cleansing brush can be good options for a more thorough cleansing; but those techniques can’t unclog pores or reveal even-toned, bump-free, young-looking skin the way a BHA exfoliant can.
Is a BHA Exfoliant Right for You?
Many people wonder if they should be using a BHA exfoliant, an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) exfoliant, or a combination of both. Although some people do use both, it’s fine to stick with one or the other.
If you're only concerned with issues that affect the surface of skin—and you aren't dealing with sensitivity, redness, or clogged pores—an AHA exfoliant may be the right choice. BHA is probably best if you’re concerned about:
- Clogged pores and bumps on your face or body: BHA is oil soluble, so it can reach in to clear excess oil and other substances that clog pores. The result is fewer bumps and, in a short period of time, minimized pore size. It’s even suitable for skin prone to Keratosis Pilaris, especially when paired with a gentle, water-soluble body wash.
- Sensitive skin: BHA’s natural soothing properties are ideal for those with sensitive, reddened skin, regardless of skin type.
How to Apply A BHA Exfoliant
Whichever exfoliant you choose, it should be applied after cleansing and toning. The other products in your routine, like serums, boosters, and moisturizers, go on after your exfoliant in order from thinnest to thickest texture. (Don’t forget to finish with sunscreen during the day.)
Tips to Get the Best Results from a BHA Exfoliant
- You don’t need to wait between steps for each product to absorb. The BHA will work even if you apply another product immediately before or after.
- It’s fine to apply an exfoliant to your undereye area, up to the edge of the orbital bone.
- Although daily exfoliation is optimal for many people, you might find that exfoliating every other day works best for you. Again, it takes some experimentation.
- Consider one of our more potent BHA exfoliants for special skincare needs. RESIST BHA 9 is excellent for spot application of imperfections, while RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA can dramatically improve signs of aging and rough, bumpy skin.
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
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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:
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!