What Acid Is For You Part 1: Beta Hydroxy Acids

Skincare products



Hey, Evening Islanders! 


So, we all know that a little bit of exfoliation here and there is essential for soft, clear, and glowing skin - but how do you know if you’re exfoliating with the right acid, in the right way, for the skin that you want?


There’s all kinds of ways to keep your exfoliation game strong - physical scrubs (not recommended), peeling gels, acidic toners, and even chemical peels. 


To understand the benefits of each one, the ingredients that are in them, and which one is right for you, follow along with my exfoliating series and hopefully you’ll walk away knowing exactly what you need for gorgeous skin!


Today, we’re gonna start with taking a look at What exactly a beta-hydroxy acid is, What kind of products you might find it in, and Who would get the most out of it.


Feel free to comment with any questions that you have at the end and I’ll try my best to help!


So, what is a Beta-Hydroxy Acid?

Pyunkang Yul Peeling Gel

The only Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHA) used in skincare are Salicylic Acid, and it’s gentler cousin, Betaine Salicylate. As you may have guessed, Salicylic Acid and Betaine Salicylate are extremely effective chemical exfoliants.


But, don’t let the words ‘chemical exfoliant’ scare you - using a product with BHA is one of the best ways to get glowing, flawless skin without risking over-irritation, like with a physical scrub. Put the apricot shell scrub down and join the BHA club!


You may have already seen these ingredients in products targeted specifically for acne-prone skin, as they’re super effective at quickly zapping acne spots, unclogging pores, and reducing oil. 


That’s exactly how Pyunkang Yul Peeling Gel results in faded blemishes and a facial-like glow in less than 2 mins. 


Of course, not all formulas are created equal so let's further refine your skincare-alchemist vocabulary and get into how BHA works and whether you need it at all!


Which skin type is BHA best for?

Salicylic acid is perfect for gals like me with oily, acne-prone skin.


The molecular structure of salicylic acid means that its lipophilic; in other words, it more readily dissolves oil and can penetrate deeper into pores and clear them of excess oil and blockages.


It’s also a super efficient keratolytic - it encourages exfoliation by loosening the topmost layer of skin and dissolving sebum plugs, clearing out dead skin and reducing the appearance of pores.


It’s also a really great natural anti-inflammatory. At lower concentrations, it’s great at reducing visible redness in your skin. 


Because salicylic acid is exceptionally great at exfoliating away excess, pore-clogging oil and skin debris, it’s ideal for skin types that are oily and congested with blackheads and inflammatory acne.


If you’re facing one of the oily mess (skin troubles) I listed above, I would highly recommend a BHA product to help.


If you’re already on a prescription skin care product such as Retin-A or a retinol serum, I don’t think that a BHA is necessary - it could be far too much for your skin.


What about you normal to drier skin type people out there?

If you’re on the normal to drier side of the skin spectrum, salicylic acid products are too drying for your skin, and should be avoided.


You would be better off using a product containing an Alpha Hydroxy Acid or Poly Hydroxy Acid - these two are both great options for both drier and more sensitive skin.


I’ll break them down for you next in this series!


What are my options and how should I start?

You can find salicylic acid in products targeted for acne-prone skin as exfoliators, spot treatments, medicated face washes, and even foot peel masks (these are super strong though and should DEFINITELY only be used on feet *insert shampoo direction joke here*)


Cleansers with any acids aren’t ideal because they often spend too little time on the skin to be effective, yet just enough time to irritate your skin (the combination of acid and cleansing agents just don't harmonise.. believe me, I’ve been there)


A great, gentle starter BHA product to pick up is the Pyunkang Yul Peeling Gel. It is formulated with the gentlest form of BHA in the most hydrating formula, leaving the most sensitive skin softer, clearer and treated without a tinge of irritation. Guaranteed no purging, sensitivity whatsoever for the extra cautious extra pampered souls ;)

*Bonus: It does the job with optimal speed and strength then rinses off instead of lingers on skin so no irritation occurs. You'll also only need to use it twice a week!




For on-going acne that's triggered by oil care, a dedicated daily BHA Toner is the way to go. It can resolve existing acne, and help prevent more from forming in the future - a win-win situation!


An exfoliating toner is the best form (in my opinion, as I use two on the regular) to get the best out of all acids, and especially BHAs because you’re able to work it in to your routine as a recurring treatment step.


You’re best off looking for a product that’s between 0.5%-2% Salicylic Acid, or up to 4% Betaine Salicylate. Remember, higher isn’t always better - high percentage peels are best left to the professionals.


Two BHA toners that I’ve had really great results with are the CosRx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (which contains the gentler Betaine Salicylate) and Stridex BHA Acne Pads, which contain 2% Salicylic Acid.


Stridex Pads


Both are super affordable options for those that are ready to step up their exfoliation game for glowing, clear skin. 


The best way to use a BHA toner or peeling gel is directly after cleansing, as your skin is clean, prepped, and ready for any treatments. When I use a toner, I pour a 20c coin sized amount and gently pat that all over my face. For more control, you can use a cotton pad, but this can be slightly more irritating for some skin types and uses up more product. I do take care to let any exfoliating toner dry (about 15 minutes) before moving on to the next steps in my routine - I do this to make sure that I disrupt the exfoliation process as little as possible.


If you’re new to using any BHA product, I suggest starting off really slow, as with any new exfoliating product.


Like, literally once every 2 days would suffice for the first 2 weeks then increase frequency as you see fit - once daily... twice daily... (no more than twice daily though)


Mornings or evenings are fine for BHAs, as they don’t increase your sun sensitivity like other exfoliating acids do (but you should be wearing SPF on the daily anyway)


When you take a slow and careful introductory approach, you can gauge how well it’s working for your skin. 


It’s easier to increase usage if things are working well, than to go in too hard and too fast and end up with over-exfoliated, dry skin. I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty!


So take it nice and slow - remember, the tortoise beat the hare. 


I hope you’ve found this post informative and helpful, and a little bit less lost when it comes to what a BHA is how to start incorporating without the jitters. 

Till next time,

Alexis B.


Next in the series - What Acid Is For You Part 2: Alpha Hydroxy Acids


  • Alexis

    That’s so great to hear, Brenda! Thank you!

  • Brenda Lin

    Hi Alexis! Thoroughly enjoyed this lesson :D

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