The Big COSRX BHA Comparison

August 10, 2015

Hi there!

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you had a good head start into the week – I started mine by doing laps together with a friend and a huge breakfast afterwards. Was utterly exhauted but so happy yet at the same time.

As you all probably know by now, I am a huge fan of COSRX ever since I tried their A-Sol that worked its magic on my then cystic acne ridden face. Since then, I have tried the majority of what this brand has to offer and one of their most popular product line is definitely the one that caters to chemical exfoliation.

To add to the confusion that might arise when someone (still pondering of whether or not to go down that deep deep skincare nerd rabbit hole) wonders about the potential and risks of chemical exfoliation, COSRX offers three different products that all are advertised as having the chemical exfoliator BHA. I get many questions about which product does what and which one should be used for a specific skin concern so I figured it is way past time to do a comprehensive comparison review of all three products.
Chemical Exfoliation: The Magic Potions of Skincare

The still less commonly used sister of physical exfoliation is chemical exfoliation. Now, chemical sounds very harsh and unappealing at the first look – I certainly gasped a little bit when I read about it the very first time! But don’t just panic yet. As the name implies, chemicals are used in order to exfoliate the skin such as enzymes, alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHA & BHA’s) and vitamin A, also known as retinol or retinoids. 
All these chemicals are usually used in low doses in order to gently exfoliate and minimize the risk of irritation. This kind of exfoliation should be used after the cleansing step of your routine. As the pH-level of your skin changes with cleansing however, it is advised to wait ~15 minutes after cleansing before using any chemical exfoliators – the skin has time to adjust its natural pH-level which is slightly acidic and the perfect environment for acids to work its magic on your skin.
AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids: AHAs are a great choice for dry skin – they all have some humectant properties (meaning they hold moisture to the skin) and are water-soluable. This means they work best on bare, clean skin and work mainly on the surface of the skin. This means, they are a great weapon of choice against wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and an uneven skin tone or texture.

BHAs or Beta Hydroxy Acids: BHAs are very different in natura than AHAs. They work by penetrating the pore, are oil-soluable and essentially „degunking“ the skin. This is what makes them great for oily and acne-prone skin. They can be more drying but I personally found most AHAs more drying – your mileage may vary though.

Overall, the first product I initially tried from COSRX is still my favorite out of the bunch because it works the best for me: the Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol. It does contain quite a high amount of alcohol though, so it may not be the best option for everyone who suffers from acne; please patch test and introduce slowly the first times. For my cystic acne, it works wonders though and nothing calms my skin quite like this product.

No waiting time is needed after application as the percentage of BHA (less than 1%) is not high enough nor is the pH low enough for any exfoliation magic. However, I personally feel that it works a bit better with some waiting time in between. That being said, just because the pH isn’t low enough doesn’t mean that this doesn’t work; it just means it won’t work as a BHA. (I mainly refer to this as a propolis essence.) In terms of skin calming, this is still one of the best products that worked for me personally. I did use this as a spot treatment on my acne when I first introduced it up to three times a day (I was desperate.) but somewhen switched to using this as my toner. I mainly use it in the AM part of my skincare routine now.
Running up for second place is the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. I have been using this for several months now and it works well. That’s it. I am not crazy about this, I don’t have any issues with it. It just works well, which is why it has a slightly lower rating than the A-Sol which I’m just madly in love with (and probably why I never sat down and made a single review about this one.)

In contrast to the A-Sol, this is a fully effective BHA exfoliant that requires to be used on bare skin and a waiting time from 15-20 minutes (30 if you’re feeling really generous.) The pH-level of 4.0 is at the higher and for exfoliation magic to happen, so this product in general is received as more gentle than for example the BHA line from Paula’s Choice (which I’ve never tried, btw.) Since I incorporated this in my routine, I have less severe acne breakouts, but I do still get acne. It is important to acknowledge that probably no single product in the world will fix your acne situation completely. However, this is a good step in the right direction. I really appreciate the short and sweet ingredient list and that there is only a faint chemical smell (in contrast to the COSRX‘ AHA Whitehead Power Liquid that just stinks.) I will probably try other BHAs in order to find the one and only one, but this is a trusted alternative that I would come back to if my adventures prove to be unsuccessful. If you’re looking for a gentle product that cleans your pores and has a minimal ingredient list, this one is for you.
The newest addition to my COSRX family is the Summer Pore Minish Serum. At first I thought this would be a great „newbie“ product for anyone who feels anxious to dive head first into the scary-sounding world of chemical exfoliants. With a low percentage of only 0,5% of BHA it would be a good product to introduce the skin to BHAs in general – or so I thought. The problem is, that the pH-level of this is actually 6-7 according to my own (crappy) pH-strips, the results from Fräulein Schnee and the Wishtrend page where it states a solid 7. Since this is marketed as a gentle BHA product for minimizing pores, I was quite disappointed as the 0,5% Betaine Salicylate can’t really do anything for your skin with such a high pH-level for actives (and probably even at the right pH, as 0,5% is an insanely low percentage.)

Since there is powder on the bottom of the product, you’ll have to make sure to give it a good shake before use. I love to store mine in the fridge, especially in this summer heat right now. To get to the core: I’m not really sure if it does anything special for my skin. I like to use it, my pores look good but I am not 100% sold on how much influence this toner has on my skin, especially considering the pH-level. If you look at the ingredients you’ll notice that this is a stripped-down version of the original BHA Blackhead Power Liquid and stretched out with mainly Centella Asiatica Leaf Water and Cassia Obtusifolia Seed Extract, so I like to use it but it doesn’t do enough for me to consider to repurchase nor recommend it. I’d rather settle with the two other options instead.

Extreme short version: The only fully effective chemical exfoliant out of the bunch is the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid; however, the BHA Skin Returning A-Sol works the best against my constant struggle of acne. Both products are fabulous in my opinion, but only the former has the right percentages to actually exfoliate effectively. The BHA Summer Pore Minish Serum is a nice and refreshing toner for the summer time but nothing more.

Still have any questions left..? Feel free to let me know in the comments! Also, if you have any other BHA favorites, I’m always interested in falling head over heels for the one and only one. 🙂 Have a great start into the week!

Lots of love,


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