Chemical Exfoliators: AHA & BHA: Paula’s Choice, Alpha-H, Drunk Elephant, Renee Rouleau: Review & Comparison

I’ve been wanting to compare some chemical exfoliators for a while. Physical exfoliation is like a scrub, chemical is a type of peel, toner or serum that uses Alpha Hydroxy Acids(AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acids(BHA) or both. The purpose is to remove dead surface skin cells to encourage cell renewal and turnover. They help with acne, pigmentation and dark spots, overall texture of the skin as well as brightness and an even tone, and fine lines and wrinkles. They’re what I wish I had known about in my 20s. Glycolic acid is an AHA and it also helps with adding moisture to the skin. Always use a sunscreen when using these products as they can make your skin more sensitive to sun damage.

AHA(glycolic and lactic acids) benefits: Helps with sun damage, adds moisture by binding water to skin, removes upper layer of skin revealing more even, smoother skin. This helps with pigmentation and fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid commonly comes in 5, 10, 15 or 20% concentrations and is OK to use during pregnancy. I never see a percentage on lactic acid products.

BHA(salicylic acid) benefits: Best for acne and breakouts, large pores, black heads, it’s anti-inflammatory,  and antibacterial which can make it good for rosacea as well. It really unclogs oils in pores and helps reduce oil overall on the skin. Usually comes in 1, 2 and 4% concentrations. I did avoid BHA’s during pregnancy even though 2% concentrations are supposed to be safe.

I’m leaving out discussing peels as that’s a separate post as you wash them off, these are leave on AHA/BHA products. Some of my favorite or current ones I’m using:

Paula’s Choice Resist Weightless 2% BHA Body Treatment-This is great for my upper arms on those ‘chicken bumps’ as it takes care of them easily. It’s a lotion, non-greasy, and it’s cheap for a large tube.
Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA-This is a great toner if you’re breaking out or have acne. I use it around my nose at night to help clear my pores. I don’t need it all over my face. I will use it on my chin or something if needed during a break out.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant-This is a great all around glycolic acid gel. It’s not sticky and absorbs quickly. It doesn’t sting and is cheap and packaged in a pump. Check out all the Paula’s Choice BHA/AHA products here.
Alpha-H Instant Facial-This is a glycolic acid toner spray. I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought it, I would never spray it on my face directly to avoid spraying my eyes with glycolic acid. I spray it on a cotton pad then apply it. It should just come in a toner bottle vs a spray. I’ll stick with the Paula’s Choice and Drunk Elephant serums.
Alpha-H Liquid Gold-This is a pretty strong glycolic acid toner. It has alcohol in it, which I hate, and this dried my skin out too much as well as was too harsh from the alcohol. I wasn’t a fan.
Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum-This I love. It’s a staple. It has all three main acids: glycolic, lactic and salicylic. It’s a non-greasy, quick absorbing gel that doesn’t sting. It also has loads of other great beneficial skin ingredients, and has 12% glycolic acid. I emailed Drunk Elephant when I was pregnant and they confirmed it has 2% or less on the salicylic acid so it could be used during pregnancy. I don’t know the lactic acid or citric acid percentages. You can check it out here.
Renee Rouleau Anti-Cyst Treatment-This is a lactic acid spot treatment. It’s a thicker liquid. I love this. It isn’t a miracle your cyst/blemish is gone overnight product, but it will help reduce it quickly and keep one from geeting out of hand if you apply it at first sight of a cyst. I like it better than benzoyl peroxide which is too drying for me. It’s also pregnancy safe. You can check it out here.

L to R: Paula’s Choice Body Treatment, Paula’s Choice AHA Gel, Drunk Elephant, Renee Rouleau:

I apply these at night. Overall, my favorite is the Drunk Elephant serum with the combination of acids, and the Renee Rouleau for spot treatment. Paula’s Choice makes really great BHA/AHA products and they’re cheap. The Daily Pore-Refining Treatment is my favorite to help the pores around my nose and the Body Treatment is nice. I could use the toner on my arms to only have one BHA product, but at the cheap price might as well have both. I could do without the 8% AHA Gel but it was necessary during pregnancy. Renee Rouleau also makes good AHA/BHA products. I started with her stuff when I got into them. The AHA products are nice but honestly Paula’s Choice is so similar and cheaper. The Renee Rouleau BHA Clarifying Serum is amazing for acne though, I used many bottles of it when I went through my hormonal cystic acne phase a few years back. It has lactic, glycolic and salicylic acid. I don’t use it now as the salicylic acid is 3% and it was a touch too drying for me without acne now. This stuff will unclog some pores well. I would recommend it to anyone with acne.

I love AHA and BHA products, they really have made a huge difference in being able to keep my skin looking great. I highly recommend adding one or more to your routine. You just need to pick what’s best for your skin and preference of applying(toner, gel, etc).


  1. You finish your post with “the bha clarifying serum is amazing for acne, though”…

    Which product are you talking about specifically?

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