Mixing AHA and BHA exfoliators is the quickest way to reset your complexion


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There are so many different exfoliating acids out there that I often feel like a witch mixing a special potion whenever I’m deciding which one to swipe on my face. You’ve got your AHA fruit acids, like glycolic and lactic, which slough dead skin cells and stimulate collagen production, and then you’ve got your BHAs, like the acne-fighting salicylic that you’re likely to find in all of your favorite spot treatments. These powerhouse ingredients are so effective at doing their thing, it can often be hard to choose between them. But the good news, according to the pros? You don’t actually have to pick just one, because they’re better when they’re together.

“All exfoliating acids are good, but I like to mix alpha and beta hydroxy acids because they all do something a little different,” says Dennis Gross, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. “I’m a firm believer in getting multiple acids that combine to a high concentration rather than just using one single acid at a high concentration because of how your skin receptors work.”

The receptors of your skin cells can only take so much of one ingredient, so you’re better off treating your skin to a double dose of acids to avoid giving them too much of a single good thing. “You want to tantalize receptors—you want to use multiple gateways to get to skin as opposed to overloading one,” says Dr. Gross. “There’s a thing called saturation, and once you’ve maxed out on one receptor, the gateway says, ‘okay, enough, door’s closed.’ Anything more than that doesn’t get absorbed—it spills over and irritates.” He likens the situation within your skin to Madison Square Garden—imagine a whole crowd trying to get in through one door. “Why would you ever do that?” he says. “There’s only so many that can fit through, so the backup spills over into the street. Then if you have six doors, for example, then you get in much more effectively—it’s just a more calm, efficient way to move, whether it’s an ingredient into the skin or people into a concert hall.” Well, my mind is blown.

This is precisely why Dr. Gross created his uber-famous Alpha Beta Peel pads ($88), which combine both AHAs and BHAs in a comprehensive blend that work to attack various skin receptors to keep your pores clear and happy. (I swear by them.) Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology, agrees about mixing various acids for a better effect. “My recommendation is to use AHAs more regularly since it’s easier to tolerate and BHAs occasionally,” she says, though she does agree that the Alpha Beta Peel pads give you “the biggest bang for your use.” So rather than giving your skin too much of a single good thing, concoct your own mix of both AHAs and BHAs for a more effective exfoliation—and therefore more radiant skin. Trust me.

Speaking of sloughing off dead skin cells, here’s the deal on micro exfoliation for your skin. And, guess what? You might want to consider exfoliating your nails, too. 

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