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Clearer skin with BHA

If there’s one thing I’d recommend to keep your skin clear, it’s using BHA. Sure, clear skin is always down to a couple of different things together. But let’s say, if you want to start with something, start with BHA.

Contents of this post:

What is BHA?

I’ve talked about BHA on the blog several times before, and it’s an abomination really that I only talk about it in more detail now. But to summarize the facts:

BHA is short for Beta Hydroxy-Acid, and also goes under the name salicylic acid. It is a chemical exfoliant, breaks down the glue that holds dead skin cells together, and thereby loosens dead skin and other debris so they can be washed off. Exfoliating with BHA will reveal younger skin underneath, clear the skin from sebum, oil, dirt and product residue build up, as well as stimulate accelerated cell turnover.

The latter happens naturally in our skin anyway, which means our skin renews itself and produces new collagen all the time. But with age, this process continually slows down. The consequence can be fine lines, or that post-acne scars and dark marks take longer to disappear. Again, regular exfoliation can counter this.

What’s special about BHA, however, is that in contrast to other chemical exfoliants, such as AHA, glycolic acid or lactic acid, it is also lipophilic. This simply means that it has the ability to dissolve fats, oils, waxes and other lipids = sebum!

Plus, BHA is antibacterial! It kills off unwanted bacteria from our skin and inside our pores.

In short, BHA fights pore clogging, dull, lackluster skin, visible signs of aging, post-acne marks and inflammations. Sounds good?

Possible “side-effects” of BHA

You can over-exfoliate your skin with BHA as much as you can with a peeling scrub or brush. Either way, if it burns, or if you get rashes, experience redness, increased roughness, extreme dryness or tightness of the skin, back off again for a while. It could be because you’re exfoliating too often, or because your skin is not yet used to it. It can also make sense to start with lower concentrations of chemical exfoliants, such as 1 % instead of 2 % BHA, then work yourself up over time. Remember that 2 % BHA is the highest you should ever use, though.

But there is another possible side-effect to BHA: purging. If you’ve been dealing with clogged pores and acne for a while, chances are there are still a lot of dormant clogged pores underneath your skin’s surface. Once you go at them with regular BHA, the exfoliation will inevitably bring those up. The result could be increased breakouts or small pus-filled spots. This is normal, though, and even welcome! It means that all your old baggage will finally come to light and gets shed. Think decongested pores and clearer skin once your spots have healed!

Still one more thing: BHA is not known to photosensitize the skin like AHA. Nevertheless use sunscreen during the day if you use BHA regularly anyway. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Why and how to specifically use BHA against acne?

If you are fighting an ongoing outbreak, use BHA once daily right after cleansing, wait twenty minutes, then continue with your routine. Or use it as a spot treatment and apply to single zits. Repeat until your breakout has subsided, or inflammations have died down completely.

Why it works: BHA is antibacterial, so it will kill off the bacteria causing the inflammations. It will furthermore clear out your clogged pores, and you will notice a faster decrease of swelling as well as redness while deep-seated zits will come to head in a much shorter amount of time.

However, as I said above, do remember to closely observe your skin in case it has a bad reaction to the sudden onslaught of BHA. For more, refer again to the “Possible ‘side-effects’ of BHA” section above.

If you want to prevent pore clogging and outbreaks, or want to address blackheads, white heads and/or lighten dark sebaceous filaments, (the stuff on your nose!) use your BHA exfoliant of choice two to three times a week nightly after cleansing. Wait 20 minutes, then continue with your skin care routine.

Never overdo it with the frequency of using BHA and possibly risk over-exfoliation. Better find a rhythm your skin feels 100 % comfortable with, and if necessary allow it to get used to it slowly. Also don’t forget to moisturize afterwards so as to counter the drying effect of BHA, and flaking, especially around the zits.

BHA and I

I started using BHA about one and a half years ago. It cleared up my white heads completely, something I found impossible to achieve until that point. So that is one of my BHA success stories.

Then until half a year ago or so, I also got regular hormonal outbreaks with mean cystic acne. BHA helped me get these outbreaks under control faster when they occurred. But once I also established a steady routine during which I use BHA bi-weekly, outbreaks have actually stopped for good!

How do I know this is really down to the BHA for me?

I’d gotten lazy about skin care the last couple of months. I wasn’t washing my face every day, or taking care of it much at all. My skin took it alright, though, didn’t act up, didn’t break out, didn’t do much of anything in fact.

Until I also neglected my bi-weekly BHA routine. Several times, I went five days to a week or so without, maybe more even. And two of those times my perfectly clear skin finally decided to slightly break out again with a huge cystic spot to boot.

So these two instances served me a lesson, and I’ve been diligent about my BHA ever since. My skin is clear and trouble-free again ever since as well. It’s also softer and even, and any deeper lines have yet to surface.

Where to find BHA

Considering its benefits, BHA is surprisingly hard to come by over the counter or in more expensive products even.

Philosophy has a salicylic acid line called clear days ahead. Then COSRX from South Korea has a couple of products with betaine salicylate, a milder but similarly effective form of BHA. (Can therefore be present in higher concentrations than 2 %.) And then there’s Paula’s Choice.

I personally use the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant, and it delivered everything I’ve described about BHA above. Great thing also is, I’m still on my first bottle even after one and a half years, even after I used it once to twice daily for a month, still use it regularly, and share it with M occasionally. And I still have something left! One to one and a half pumps is enough for the entire face, and one light pump is good for single spots.

Once I finally run out of the Paula’s Choice gel, however, I already have the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid in the waiting with 4 % betaine salicylate. According to rumors on the Internet, the COSRX gel is just as effective as that by Paula’s Choice, but with the positive exception of being less drying. We’ll see about that!

Don’t bother with BHA infused facial cleansers, by the way. The amount of time those stay on your face will hardly make a difference, so if anything I’d always recommend a leave-on product.

All of the products and lines above are available online only – at least in Germany. If anyone ever finds a BHA product available offline, though, do let me know!

Have any experience with BHA? Share in the comments!


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