What is the best acid for exfoliating? The answer depends on what concern you want to resolve.
For example, the best BHA exfoliant for acne-prone skin is salicylic acid. It dissolves the oil that clogs pores and reduces inflammation.
You might see salicylic acid listed as willow bark extract or sodium salicylate. It’s chemically related to aspirin (so if you’re allergic to aspirin, don’t use it).
In general, BHA is beta hydroxy acid. It’s also suitable for treating keratosis pilaris (KP). That’s the bumpy skin that some people have on their legs or the back of their arms. That’s because it exfoliates dead skin by dissolving the bonds between cells. It eliminates the need for scrubbing.
It’s why BHA is equally good for clearing up ingrown hairs and smoothing wrinkles. It can benefit all skin types and all ages of people.
- Is BHA safe for exfoliating?
- What are the different kinds of BHA exfoliants?
- Best BHA Exfoliant in 2021
- Paula’s Choice–SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant
- Paula’s Choice RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA with Salicylic & Hyaluronic Acid
- Humane Clarifying Toner BHA Salicylic Acid 2% Pore Minimizer & Facial Exfoliant Pads
- Humane Clarifying Toner BHA Salicylic Acid 2% Pore Minimizer & Facial Exfoliant
- COSRX BHA 4% Blackhead Power Liquid
- Glytone Acne Clearing Toner with 2% Salicylic Acid
- Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA, Salicylic Acid & Chamomile Lotion Exfoliant, for Keratosis Pilaris (KP)
- PURITO BHA Dead Skin Moisture Gel
- Murad Resurgence Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel – AHA / BHA
- Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne-Clearing Gel
- Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads
- Serious Serum – AHA BHA Liquid
- Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Oil-Free Facial Cleanser
- Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Cleanser
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne and Redness Facial Cleanser
- Bioré Witch Hazel Pore Clarifying Acne Face Wash
- The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
- Clean & Clear Essentials Dual Action Facial Moisturizer
- ASDM Beverly Hills 20% Salicylic Acid Peel
Is BHA safe for exfoliating?
Yes, beta hydroxy acid is safe to use for exfoliating.
The FDA recommends that people who use beta hydroxy acid also apply sunscreen when outdoors. That’s because the acid makes the skin more sensitive to sunburn (1).
It improves skin tone and texture, removes excess oil, and calms redness. Try it if you want to get rid of milia, blackheads, pimples, razor rash, fine lines, and dullness.
What are the different kinds of BHA exfoliants?
Most BHA exfoliants contain salicylic acid. The maximum over-the-counter strength is 2% concentration. (Anything stronger than that requires a prescription and is usually designed for treating warts and calluses).
Those with oily and normal skin usually tolerate products with 2% salicylic acid without issues. Those with dry or sensitive skin may wish to start with a low concentration, like .05%.
Since BHAs are oil-soluble, you can find them in all sorts of skincare products like serum, toner, moisturizer, and cleanser.
Best BHA Exfoliant in 2021
Let’s begin the reviews with one of the best BHA liquid exfoliants.
Paula’s Choice–SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant
We’ve included multiple products from this brand for two reasons. First, they offer varying concentrations of BHA exfoliant targeted at specific concerns. And second, they don’t include undesirable ingredients like parabens or artificial fragrances.
If you prefer a low-maintenance approach to exfoliation, apply the serum with a cotton pad after cleansing. It doesn’t have to be rinsed. You can put your moisturizer on top.
While you wear it, it’s working at a microscopic level to unclog pores and shrink blackheads. It gets rid of dead skin to smooth wrinkles and fade acne scars. It also helps calm redness.
It features both salicylic acid and green tea. Salicylic acid is the exfoliator, while green tea provides antioxidants to keep the skin young.
When this product was tested by an independent consumer panel, 91% of the users said they had “noticeably healthier skin”.
Paula’s Choice RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA with Salicylic & Hyaluronic Acid
What’s the difference between this serum and the one above? This BHA exfoliant has anti-aging benefits.
It contains hyaluronic acid, one of the best moisturizers around. It attracts and holds up to a thousand times its weight in water.
Next, there are peptides to fade discoloration, firm the skin, and calm sensitive spots.
Apply the exfoliant daily with a cotton pad to refine pores and renew the skin’s texture.
Humane Clarifying Toner BHA Salicylic Acid 2% Pore Minimizer & Facial Exfoliant Pads
These exfoliating pads are saturated with green tea extract and salicylic acid. They are ideal for rejuvenating the complexion and getting rid of blackheads, blemishes, and whiteheads.
The formula is designed to balance the skin’s pH as it’s naturally acidic. It’s also rich in antioxidants to soothe redness and inflammation.
If you’re new to using this type of exfoliant, limit yourself to using it once every couple of days for the first week. Gradually build up to daily use. It may sting at first, but most people gain a tolerance. Remember to use moisturizer and sunscreen while using any kind of BHA exfoliator.
Happily, this is a cruelty-free product with no alcohol, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, petrolatum, formaldehyde, synthetic fragrances, dyes, and so on.
Humane Clarifying Toner BHA Salicylic Acid 2% Pore Minimizer & Facial Exfoliant
This is the same formula as the one above, only it’s straight liquid, not packaged in a jar with pads. It allows you more control over how much you use.
It comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee with the promise of a full refund if you’re not pleased with the results.
COSRX BHA 4% Blackhead Power Liquid
Here is a milder BHA exfoliant from a Korean manufacturer. It contains 4% betaine salicylate, which works about the same as salicylic acid – it’s just a little weaker. Therefore, it still removes excess sebum and cleanses pores to prevent breakouts.
It’s best for nighttime use on oily and combination skin. Try it once every other day until you can tolerate twice-daily use.
To protect against skin irritation, don’t use this product at the same time that you utilize treatments with alpha hydroxy acids, retinol, or vitamin C.
Like other cosmetics from this brand, it’s hypoallergenic and free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
Glytone Acne Clearing Toner with 2% Salicylic Acid
Here’s a toner that makes it easy to include BHA into your skincare routine. Put a dab on a cotton ball and massage it in a circular motion. Focus on the T-zone and hairline or anywhere you tend to have breakouts.
It can also release ingrown hairs and treat bumpy skin.
The refreshing formula includes a hydro-gel matrix that prevents dehydration. But users say you still need a moisturizer. Drying out the skin will simply lead to excess oil production and more pimples.
Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA, Salicylic Acid & Chamomile Lotion Exfoliant, for Keratosis Pilaris (KP)
Put down the loofah and the scrub. You don’t need to scour your skin to solve the problem.
This body lotion works wonders for all skin types. It will get rid of bumpy skin and ingrown hairs, leaving it distinctly smoother and softer.
Moreover, it promotes healing and soothes with chamomile, green tea, and vitamin E.
PURITO BHA Dead Skin Moisture Gel
The name makes us think of skincare for zombies. But this Korean moisturizer has a soothing, lightweight texture that does miracles overnight.
It’s based on 3. 2% betaine salicylate, an exfoliator similar to salicylic acid. It cleanses pores by dissolving oil, thereby helping them shrink and become less noticeable.
It also has tea tree extract, which is naturally anti-inflammatory. It helps control oil production, too.
Finally, there are aloe and hyaluronic acid for much-needed moisture.
Murad Resurgence Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel – AHA / BHA
We haven’t gone rogue. We are still focused on the best BHA exfoliants, but some of these contain alpha hydroxy acids as well.
Take this facial peel, for example. It has the BHA called tranexamic acid instead of salicylic acid. What’s the difference?
It turns out that tranexamic acid stops the skin from becoming discolored. Consequently, it’s excellent for treating hyperpigmentation like acne scars and melasma.
When the BHA is paired with the blend of alpha hydroxy acids it creates a potent exfoliator that gets results fast. This is a much more potent product than the typical toner or serum. Users say it’s essential to follow the directions to avoid irritation.
What’s more, it’s made without harsh ingredients like parabens, phthalates, gluten, formaldehyde, and petrolatum.
Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne-Clearing Gel
What if you could get a dermatologist to come to your house? This chemical peel provides a similar experience, yet it’s safe for home use.
It’s described as a “deep pore clearing gel”. It has 2% salicylic acid with 10% glycolic acid plus natural extracts like licorice and arnica.
As you might imagine, it rapidly resurfaces the complexion. Users say that it helps them get rid of blackheads and cystic acne.
Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads
These peach-scented pads offer both 10% glycolic acid with 2% salicylic acid to clear up blemishes as fast as possible. They are much more effective on blackheads long-term than pore strips because they clarify the complexion.
At the same time, the formula encourages cellular renewal to erase lines and spots. Plus, there’s chamomile and allantoin to relieve redness.
The pads are double-sided. One side is textured for physical exfoliation.
Serious Serum – AHA BHA Liquid
Here’s a BHA exfoliant with a mild concentration for sensitive skin. It contains 1% salicylic acid, 3% glycolic acid, and 6% lactic acid. The latter two ingredients are alpha hydroxy acids that moisturize while they exfoliate.
This alcohol-free toner treats facial and body acne, ingrown hairs, bumpy skin, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging.
It’s fortified with several natural extracts that promote healthy skin and a youthful complexion. For instance, it has tazetta bulb from France to tame oily skin. Then, there’s chia, rich in omega-3 to defy wrinkles.
Lastly, green tea encourages cellular repair while peppermint calms redness.
Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Oil-Free Facial Cleanser
Which is the best drugstore BHA exfoliant? We found that Aveeno’s cleanser is an excellent introductory product. It has a low concentration (0. 5%) of salicylic acid, making it gentle enough for most people.
It’s mild enough to use twice a day. Furthermore, it doesn’t contain soap, oil, or common allergens. It’s strong enough to keep acne at bay, and it brightens the complexion, too.
Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Cleanser
Why not combine forces and enjoy the exfoliating action of salicylic acid and charcoal together? This cleanser also has jojoba beads to help remove dead skin.
Use warm water to massage the cleanser and let it foam away grime and makeup. Reviewers say it leaves the face extra smooth and soft. It also seems to help with blackheads and pimples.
The formula is 97% natural, avoiding parabens and sulfates.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash
If you have acne-prone skin, it’s time to get acquainted with the Effaclar lineup. Start with this medicated face wash that’s free of artificial fragrances and parabens. It’s proven to reduce surface oil by 47%. The active ingredient is 2% salicylic acid.
The cleanser creates a soothing, pleasant lather without stinging the skin. It rinses clean, leaving no residue.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne and Redness Facial Cleanser
If you’re tired of fire engine red breakouts, switch to this face wash. Neutrogena uses Micro-Clear Technology to send salicylic acid deep into pores.
The result is clearer, smoother, healthier skin, and less shine throughout the day.
Bioré Witch Hazel Pore Clarifying Acne Face Wash
Witch hazel is an excellent toner for acne-prone skin because it doesn’t dry it as alcohol does. That’s why we recommend trying this inexpensive cleanser with salicylic acid and witch hazel.
What’s interesting is that it deep-cleans up to 99% of the dirt and oil that cause acne. But it’s mild enough to use every day.
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
This mask only takes 10 minutes to make a noticeable difference. It treats blackheads, blemishes, uneven skin tone, and fine lines.
The formula is black because it contains clay and charcoal. Don’t worry, it won’t discolor the skin. Instead, it balances the pH and leaves the face refreshed and cleansed.
Clean & Clear Essentials Dual Action Facial Moisturizer
Here’s a moisturizer with BHA. It has a low concentration of only 0. 5% salicylic acid. That’s just enough to keep pores clear without causing irritation if used with other acne treatments.
The manufacturer recommends combining it with the face cleanser and astringent for maximum benefits. It’s appropriate for all skin types.
ASDM Beverly Hills 20% Salicylic Acid Peel
We mentioned earlier that there is a maximum concentration of salicylic acid allowable in over-the-counter products. Chemical peels and callus treatments are the exceptions.
This chemical peel has the maximum amount of 20% salicylic acid, and it will burn the skin if left on for too long. The point of a peel is to literally strip layers off the skin. It’s meant to be an occasional treatment only. But there’s nothing like it for providing maximum exfoliation.
This peel is free of parabens and artificial fragrances. The ingredients consist of salicylic acid and propylene glycol to enhance the absorption into the skin. Please follow the directions exactly to get the desired results.
When it comes to exfoliating with beta hydroxy acids, you have a lot of choices. They’re available in facial cleansers, body washes, serums, and moisturizers.
The key to finding the best exfoliant is to consider the concentration or potency. Then, check to see if the other ingredients meet your needs.
We hope you discovered the right exfoliant for your skin today. Come back soon to see new reviews of the best skin care products.
1 https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/beta-hydroxy-acids published August 24, 2020, accessed March 4, 2021