How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

The benefits of using beta-hydroxy acid in your skincare routine

Battling acne breakouts? Beta-hydroxy acids might just be what you’re looking for!

Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team
Nov 11, 2022 · 5 min read

Share
BHA acid drops from pipette on pastel pink background
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
  1. blog
  2. > Ingredients
  3. > The benefits of using beta-hydroxy acid in your skincare routine

Wondering how to unclog pores? If so, we have three letters for you: BHA—aka beta-hydroxy acid. If you’ve ever scanned the list of ingredients in skincare products (and we’re guessing you have), chances are you’ve seen the name. But what are BHAs, and how do they work? If you have acne-prone skin, this chemical exfoliant might be exactly what you’re looking for to treat and help prevent breakouts. Here we’ll explain what BHAs can do for your skin and how to use beta-hydroxy acids in your skincare routine—as long as they’re a good fit for your skin.

What are beta-hydroxy acids?

BHAs are similar to alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)—they both chemically exfoliate your skin to help buff away dead skin cells. That said, BHAs and AHAs work differently. BHAs like salicylic acid, one of the most common types of BHAs, are oil-soluble and penetrate deep into your skin’s pores to dissolve sebum (oil) and remove dead skin cells. This makes them effective for treating acne and helping improve skin texture. On the other hand, AHAs like lactic acid and glycolic acid are water-soluble, working on the surface to help remove dead skin cells while promoting collagen production.¹

What are the benefits of BHAs?

BHAs like salicylic acid are primarily used to treat and help prevent acne because their deeply exfoliating properties help remove the buildup of dead skin cells, dirt, and oil within the skin’s pores. But they can also treat conditions like psoriasis, ichthyosis, dandruff, corns, calluses, and warts on the hands.² As an added bonus, BHAs also have an anti-inflammatory effect, which can make them less irritating than AHAs.³ 

Here are some of the benefits of using skincare products with BHAs: 

  • Treat and help prevent acne breakouts 

  • Reduce excess oil on the skin

  • Smooth skin texture

  • Reduce the appearance of enlarged or visible pores

Types of BHAs

Salicylic acid is arguably the most well-known over-the-counter BHA on the market today. But you can find BHAs in many skin care products, particularly those designed for acne-prone skin. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, in addition to salicylic acid, BHAs may be listed as any of the following:⁴

  • Salicylate, sodium salicylate, or willow extract

  • Beta hydroxybutanoic acid

  • Tropic acid

  • Trethocanic acid

Their names may differ, but they all target anti-aging and acne skin concerns the same way— going deep into the pores to help clear out dead skin cells and oil.

Young happy female washes face against pink background - The benefits of using beta-hydroxy acid in your skincare routine

How often to use BHAs

BHAs have many aliases, but salicylic acid is one that’s most commonly found in over-the-counter cleansers, moisturizers, serums, toners, and masks. The strength of most over-the-counter BHAs usually range from 0.5% to 5%. The way you apply depends on the product, so always follow the instructions. 

Some products are formulated for daily use, while others, like serums or masks, are meant to be used less frequently. As always, a licensed dermatologist or dermatology provider is your best resource should you have any questions regarding how often you can use any skincare product with BHAs.

BHA product recommendations

If you’re looking to incorporate BHA into your skincare regimen, Curology’s dermatology experts approve of any of the following: 

Are there side effects of BHAs?

BHA products are chemical exfoliants that may cause redness, dryness, and irritation. Some people experience irritation when they first begin using BHAs on the face. But in most cases, side effects are rarely serious and tend to go away on their own once your skin adjusts. Still, it’s best to help prevent them from happening in the first place. The best way to do that is to introduce BHAs into your skincare routine slowly. Start by using them once or twice weekly, and as your skin adjusts, you use them more. 

Custom acne treatment by Curology

Curology Custom Formula - The benefits of using beta-hydroxy acid in your skincare routine

When it comes to treating and helping prevent acne, we’ve got you covered from head to toe. Founded by dermatologists in 2014, Curology’s mission is to offer accessible dermatology service to all for skin concerns like rosacea, acne, and signs of aging. Our licensed dermatology providers work with you to help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by examining your skin, assessing your goals, and providing custom treatment options. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
curology bottle
curology bottle

Getting started is easy. Just answer our online questionnaire and snap a few selfies to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our licensed dermatology providers, who will create a personalized prescription formula that’s designed for you. They’ll also recommend any of our other products, like the Curology acne body wash or the Curology sunscreen for acne-prone and sensitive skin. And should you have any questions, they’ll be there to accompany you along your skincare journey (because that’s exactly what skincare is—a journey!). Best of all, it’s free for the first 30 days.* Just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling.

FAQs

What are beta-hydroxy acids?

BHAs chemically exfoliate your skin to help buff away dead skin cells. BHAs like salicylic acid, one of the most common types of BHAs, are oil-soluble and penetrate deep into your skin’s pores to dissolve sebum (oil) and remove dead skin cells. This makes them effective for treating acne and helping improve skin texture.

What are the benefits of BHAs?

Here are some of the benefits of using skincare products with BHAs: 

  • Treat and help prevent acne breakouts 

  • Reduce excess oil on the skin

  • Smooth skin texture

  • Reduce the appearance of enlarged or visible pores

How do I know if a product contains BHAs?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, in addition to salicylic acid, BHAs may be listed as any of the following: 

  • Salicylate, sodium salicylate, or willow extract

  • Beta hydroxybutanoic acid

  • Tropic acid

  • Trethocanic acid

Their names may differ, but they all target anti-aging and acne skin concerns the same way— going deep into the pores to help clear out dead skin cells and oil.

How often can I use BHAs?

Some products are formulated for daily use, while others, like serums or masks, are meant to be used less frequently. The way you apply depends on the product, so always follow the instructions.

As always, a licensed dermatologist or dermatology provider is your best resource should you have any questions regarding how often you can use any skincare product with BHAs.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Moghimipour E. Hydroxy acids, the most widely used anti-aging agents.Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products. (Winter 2012).

  2.  MedlinePlus. Salicylic acid topical. (n.d.). 

  3.  Moghimipour E. Hydroxy acids, the most widely used anti-aging agents.Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products. Ibid.

  4.  US Food and Drug Administration. Beta hydroxy acids. (2022, February 25).

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. Results may vary. 

Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

Related Articles

What is retinol and where does it come from?Ask the experts: How to treat miliaHow jojoba seed oil can benefit your skinExpert-approved tips to help you control oily skinHow you can prevent acne with an effective (and simple) skincare routine

Popular Articles

Seasonal summer foods for healthier skinMoisturizers for sensitive skinFoundation matching: how to find your skin tone?How to shrink a cystic pimpleAcne vs. rosacea: what’s the difference?
30-day trial. $4.95 S&H. Subject to consultation.
Get StartedWhy CurologyGuidesOur StoryCommunity
SupportBlogReviewsCareersContact Us
Follow @curology
Vegan and Cruelty Free Stamp, est. 2014
Terms of ServicePrivacy Notice
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
All Rights Reserved © 2022 Curology