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Exploring BHA: Definition, Benefits, Types, Usage Guidelines, Research, Recommendations, and User Experiences

Last updated: Aug 2023
In this article:

What is BHA?

Definition and Chemical Structure: BHA, or Beta Hydroxy Acid, is a commonly used skincare ingredient known for its exfoliating and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a salicylic acid derivative and is widely used in various skincare and beauty products. The chemical structure of BHA consists of a hydroxyl group ( -OH) attached to a carbon atom which is part of a benzene ring.

BHA works by penetrating the skin's surface and dissolving excess oils and dead skin cells that can clog pores. Due to its oil solubility, it can effectively work inside the pores, making it particularly beneficial for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. BHA also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help calm and reduce redness and irritation.

History and Discovery

The discovery of BHA dates back to the late 19th century when scientists were investigating the properties of salicylic acid, a compound found in Willow Bark. It was during this period that salicylic acid was identified as an effective treatment for various skin conditions, including acne and psoriasis.

In the 1950s, scientists developed a method to produce synthetic salicylic acid, which led to the creation of BHA. The introduction of BHA into skincare products revolutionized the treatment and management of acne-prone skin.

Initially, BHA was primarily used for medicinal purposes, but its benefits in skincare soon gained recognition. Today, BHA is widely incorporated into a variety of skincare products, including cleansers, toners, serums, and exfoliants.

Using BHA in Skincare

  • When using skincare products containing BHA, it is important to consider a few essential points.
  • Firstly, BHA can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is crucial to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Secondly, start with a lower concentration of BHA and gradually increase as tolerated, especially if you have sensitive skin.
  • Lastly, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating BHA into your skincare routine.

Benefits of BHA

BHA, or beta hydroxy acid, is a powerhouse ingredient in skincare products that offers several impressive benefits. From exfoliation to acne treatment, BHA is a versatile compound that can significantly improve the health and appearance of your skin. In this guide, we will explore five key benefits of incorporating BHA into your skincare routine.

1. Exfoliation and pore cleansing

One of the primary benefits of BHA is its exfoliating properties. BHA gently removes dead skin cells and unclogs pores, allowing for clearer and smoother skin. It penetrates deep into the pores, dissolving sebum and other impurities, making it an effective solution for those struggling with excessive oiliness or blackheads.

To incorporate BHA into your routine, look for products containing salicylic acid, a common form of BHA. Using a BHA-based cleanser or toner once or twice a day will help keep your pores clean and promote a brighter complexion.

2. Acne treatment and prevention

BHA is particularly effective in treating and preventing acne. It helps to reduce inflammation, unclog pores, and fight bacteria, making it an ideal choice for individuals with acne-prone skin. BHA also helps to regulate oil production, minimizing the occurrence of breakouts.

Consider using BHA-based spot treatments or serums to target areas of concern or applying a BHA-infused moisturizer to your entire face to prevent future breakouts.

3. Reduction of blackheads and whiteheads

BHA is renowned for its ability to reduce the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads. By dissolving the keratin plugs that clog the pores, BHA effectively clears these blemishes.

To specifically target blackheads and whiteheads, opt for BHA in gel or liquid forms. These formulations can better penetrate the pores, providing effective treatment.

4. Anti-inflammatory properties

BHA possesses anti-inflammatory properties, making it beneficial for individuals with sensitive or redness-prone skin. By calming and soothing the skin, BHA can help alleviate inflammation and redness, resulting in a more even complexion.

Look for products that combine BHA with soothing ingredients like aloe vera or green tea extract to maximize its anti-inflammatory effects.

5. Anti-aging effects

BHA also offers anti-aging benefits, making it a valuable addition to mature skincare routines. By promoting cell turnover and collagen synthesis, BHA helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dullness.

Consider using BHA in the form of serums or creams as part of your nighttime skincare routine to harness its anti-aging properties.

Types of BHA

BHAs, or beta hydroxy acids, are a popular ingredient in skincare products due to their ability to help unclog pores, exfoliate the skin, and improve overall complexion. There are several types of BHAs available, each with its own unique benefits. In this guide, we will explore three common types of BHAs: salicylic acid, betaine salicylate, and tropically-derived BHAs.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is perhaps the most well-known and widely used BHA in skincare products. It is derived from willow bark and has excellent exfoliating properties. Salicylic acid works by penetrating the pores and dissolving excess oil and dead skin cells, effectively preventing acne breakouts and minimizing the appearance of blackheads. Additionally, it has anti-inflammatory properties, making it beneficial for those with acne-prone or sensitive skin. Salicylic acid can be found in various concentrations, ranging from 0.5% to 2%, depending on the product and individual needs.

Betaine Salicylate

Betaine salicylate is a milder form of BHA that is gaining popularity in the skincare world. Derived from sugar beets, betaine salicylate offers similar exfoliating benefits as salicylic acid but with less potential for irritation. It is an excellent option for individuals with sensitive skin or those who are new to using BHAs. Betaine salicylate helps unclog pores, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and promote a smoother complexion. It is often found in facial toners, serums, and creams.

Tropically-Derived BHAs

Tropically-derived BHAs, such as willow bark extract and wintergreen extract, are natural alternatives to synthetic BHAs. These extracts contain a compound called salicin, which your skin converts into salicylic acid when applied topically. Willow bark extract has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory and skin soothing properties. Tropically-derived BHAs provide the same benefits as synthetic BHAs, but with the added advantage of being naturally sourced.

Incorporating BHAs into Your Skincare Routine

When incorporating BHAs into your skincare routine, it is important to start slowly and gradually increase usage to prevent any potential irritation. It is also crucial to follow up with a moisturizer and SPF, as BHAs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

How to Use BHA in Skincare: A Comprehensive Guide

BHA, or beta hydroxy acid, is a powerful ingredient commonly used in skincare products to exfoliate the skin and clear clogged pores. If you're new to using BHA in your skincare routine, here's a comprehensive guide to help you get started.

Choosing the Right BHA Product

  • When selecting a BHA product, consider your skin type and concerns.
  • Look for a product with a concentration of 1-2% salicylic acid, the most common BHA.
  • If you have sensitive skin, start with a lower concentration or opt for a gentler derivative, such as betaine salicylate.
  • Check for additional soothing ingredients like aloe vera or niacinamide to minimize potential irritation.

Application and Usage Guidelines

  1. Cleanse your face thoroughly before applying BHA to remove any dirt or makeup.
  2. Pat your skin dry and wait for it to completely dry before applying the BHA product. Moist skin can hinder its absorption.
  3. Dispense a small amount of the product onto your fingertips and gently apply it to the affected areas.
  4. Avoid applying it to the entire face initially to assess any potential adverse reactions.
  5. If it's your first time using BHA, start by using it every other day to allow your skin to acclimate. Gradually increase the frequency to once or twice a day if your skin tolerates it well.
  6. Let the product absorb for a few minutes before applying any other skincare products or makeup.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

  • Mild tingling or stinging is normal, especially during the initial application. However, if you experience excessive redness, irritation, or itching, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.
  • BHA increases sun sensitivity, so it's crucial to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 every day, even on cloudy days.
  • Avoid using BHA alongside other strong exfoliating ingredients like retinol or alpha hydroxy acids, as it can lead to excessive dryness or irritation.

Combining BHA with Other Skincare Ingredients

  • Niacinamide: This ingredient works synergistically with BHA to regulate sebum production and keep the pores clear.
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Apply a hyaluronic acid serum after using BHA to hydrate and plump the skin.
  • Vitamin C: If using vitamin C in your routine, apply it in the morning and BHA in the evening to avoid any potential interaction.


Incorporating BHA into your skincare routine can help improve the appearance of clogged pores and acne-prone skin. By choosing the right product, following application guidelines, being aware of potential side effects, and combining it with compatible ingredients, you can make the most of this powerful skincare ingredient. Remember, consistency is key, and it may take a few weeks to see visible results.

Efficacy and safety studies:

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of BHA in treating various skin concerns, including acne, blackheads, and clogged pores. Research has shown that BHA penetrates the pores deeply, exfoliating the skin and reducing inflammation. Moreover, BHA has been proven to have antimicrobial properties, making it an effective ingredient for acne-prone skin. Safety studies have also shown that BHA is generally well-tolerated and only minimal side effects have been reported, such as mild irritation or dryness.

Comparisons with other skincare ingredients:

Several comparative studies have evaluated BHA alongside other popular skincare ingredients, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and retinol. These studies have found that BHA has unique properties that distinguish it from other ingredients. Unlike AHAs, BHA has an oil-soluble nature, allowing it to penetrate into the pores and target oil buildup effectively. When compared to retinol, BHA has been shown to have fewer side effects and is generally better tolerated by individuals with sensitive skin.

Long-term effects and usage studies:

While short-term studies have provided significant insights into the efficacy and safety of BHA, long-term studies are still ongoing to determine the effects of prolonged usage. Current research suggests that BHA, when used as directed, does not cause any long-term harm to the skin. In fact, it has been found to improve skin texture, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and even prevent the signs of aging.

Current and ongoing research:

Researchers continue to explore the potential benefits of BHA in various areas of skincare. Some ongoing studies are focused on investigating the use of BHA in treating other dermatological conditions, such as psoriasis and rosacea. Additionally, researchers are studying new formulations and delivery systems to enhance the efficacy and user-friendliness of BHA-based products.

Recommendations and Reviews

Top Recommended BHA Products

BHA, or beta hydroxy acid, is a powerful exfoliating ingredient that can improve the texture and clarity of your skin by removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores. If you're looking to incorporate a BHA product into your skincare routine, here are some top recommendations based on effectiveness and user reviews:

  1. Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid:

    This cult favorite BHA product is beloved by many for its gentle yet effective formula. It contains 2% salicylic acid, the gold standard in BHA, which helps to minimize pores and reduce blackheads. Users praise its ability to deliver noticeable results without causing irritation or dryness.

  2. Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid:

    Another popular option, the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid is an affordable and effective choice. With 4% natural BHA derived from willow bark water, it helps to unclog pores and control excess oil production. Users have reported visible reduction in blackheads and smoother skin texture after incorporating this product into their routine.

  3. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution:

    Known for their affordable yet efficacious products, The Ordinary offers a simple but potent salicylic acid solution. This oil-free formula penetrates deep into pores to clear congestion and prevent breakouts. Users have praised its ability to control acne and refine skin texture.

User Reviews and Experiences

When it comes to skincare products, hearing from other users can be invaluable in making an informed decision. Here are some common user reviews and experiences with BHA products:

  1. Reduced Acne and Breakouts:

    Many users have reported a significant reduction in acne and breakouts after incorporating a BHA product into their routine. The exfoliating properties of BHA help to unclog pores and prevent the formation of acne-causing bacteria, resulting in clearer skin.

  2. Smoother Texture and Improved Skin Tone:

    BHA's exfoliating action not only unclogs pores but also helps to improve the overall texture and tone of the skin. Users have noticed a smoother, more refined complexion and a reduction in the appearance of blackheads and rough patches.

  3. Increased Sensitivity and Irritation:

    While BHA can work wonders for most people, some users with sensitive skin have reported increased sensitivity and irritation. It's essential to introduce BHA products slowly into your routine and monitor your skin's reaction to avoid any potential adverse effects.

In conclusion

Incorporating a BHA product into your skincare routine can help to unclog pores, reduce acne, and improve skin texture. The Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, and The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution are among the highly recommended options. However, it's crucial to consider your specific skin type and potential sensitivities when selecting and using these products. Always consult with a dermatologist if you have any concerns or questions about adding BHA to your skincare routine.


Benefits of BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)

BHA (beta hydroxy acid), commonly known as salicylic acid, is a popular ingredient used in skincare products for its exfoliating properties.


  • Treating Acne: BHA has the ability to penetrate the skin's pores, making it effective in treating acne, blackheads, and whiteheads. It helps to unclog pores and reduce the formation of new acne breakouts.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Properties: BHA possesses anti-inflammatory properties, making it suitable for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin. It helps to calm redness and reduce swelling associated with acne.
  • Exfoliation: BHA is also known for its ability to exfoliate dead skin cells, promoting cell turnover and improving skin texture. This can result in smoother, brighter, and more even-toned skin.
  • Versatility: BHA can be used in various forms, such as toners, serums, and spot treatments, allowing for targeted application on specific areas of concern.
  • Gradual Usage: While BHA is generally safe to use, it is important to start with a lower concentration and gradually increase dosage to avoid potential irritation.
  • Sun Protection: It is also recommended to use sunscreen during the day when incorporating BHA into your skincare routine as it can increase skin's sensitivity to the sun.