If you’re a skincare geek, chances are you know all about Hyaluronic acid and its benefits. Hyaluronic acid is such a popular ingredient that you can’t walk past a moisturizer shelf in the drugstore without spotting at least half a dozen products that contain it. In fact, hyaluronic acid is so popular that there are over 300,000 Google searches monthly for the keywords ‘hyaluronic acid’ and its derivatives. And that’s just in the US.
So, what does hyaluronic acid do? Ask any skincare influencer or self-professed beauty addict, and they will rattle off a list of benefits and factoids: Hyaluronic acid is hydrating! Hyaluronic acid has a plumping effect on your skin! One gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six liters of water! While all these might technically be true, it’s a gross oversimplification to purely look at the benefits of hyaluronic acid without considering how it actually works, and what is the right way to use it in your skincare routine. (Yes, there is a right way to use hyaluronic acid.)
Want to find out if you are misusing hyaluronic acid or plain mistaken about what it does? Read on to find out more:
1. Hyaluronic Acid is not an Acid
Why would something with the word ‘acid’ in its name not be an acid? It’s confusing, we know. According to its chemical structure, hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, is actually a complex sugar that is naturally present in our body. In fact, you should avoid using Hyaluronic Acid in combination with acids such as glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid as acid below pH 4.0 can degrade your Hyaluronic Acid and render it ineffective.
2. Hyaluronic is naturally produced by our body, by bacteria, and by chickens
In its natural state, hyaluronic acid is a clear, viscous substance that is found in our skin, joints, connective tissues, and eyes. It can also be commercially manufactured through bacteria fermentation or extraction from animal tissues (usually from rooster combs). For the vegans out there, it will be a relief for you to know that (most probably) no chickens were harmed in the manufacturing of your skincare product, as Hyaluronic Acid tends to be more commonly extracted from bacterial fermentation rather than animal tissues. This is because the bacterial method results in a higher extraction yield, better extract quality, as well as reducing contamination risks.
3. Hyaluronic Acid in our skin decreases with age
Like the collagen and elastin levels in our skin, our skin decreases in its natural Hyaluronic Acid levels as we get older. Fortunately, research has proven that taking Hyaluronic Acid supplements can result in a significant increase in skin hydration levels, skin elasticity, skin luster, and the reduction of wrinkles.
4. Hyaluronic Acid does more than just hydrate our skin
While hyaluronic acid can be found in various parts of our body, about half of the total amount of hyaluronic acid in the body is found in the skin. This is great news when we consider how significant it is for the health AND aesthetics of the skin. Hyaluronic acid acts as a humectant that is capable of binding to a thousand times more water than its molecular mass.
When bound to water, hyaluronic acid forms a jelly that acts as a soft cushion between different fibers in the skin and keeps the skin moisturized and plumped. This jelly also plays a significant role as a lubricant and shock absorber to protect our joints from wear.
Additionally, the hydrophilic (water-loving) nature of Hyaluronic Acid actually helps to slow down the rate of water-loss from your skin, otherwise known as Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). Now, before you’re tempted to slather on layers of Hyaluronic Acid skincare products, you might want to want to read on as we dive into the caveats you need to know when it comes to the use of Hyaluronic Acid.
5. Hyaluronic Acid can dehydrate your skin
Hyaluronic acid soaks up water like a sponge, but that can be a bad thing when it draws moisture away from your skin rather than into it. If you live in a humid climate, hyaluronic acid will wick water vapors from the surrounding air into your skin. However, in dry summer climates or during winter, when the surrounding air is dry, Hyaluronic Acid could actually work against you by siphoning water away from your skin instead. The same drying effect of Hyaluronic Acid also takes place if you’re in an air-conditioned environment.
To prevent skin dehydration, there are few simple tips you’d want to follow when using hyaluronic acid products:
- Always apply hyaluronic acid skincare products on a damp face. That means, as soon as you get out of the shower or wash your face, apply your hyaluronic acid serum or ampoule
- To further limit any potential water-loss from your skin, particularly if you’re in a dry environment, apply a layer of moisturizer or oil over your Hyaluronic Acid product. Moisturizers and face oils are occlusives; this means that they create a protective layer that reduces water evaporation and hence moisture loss from your skin.
6. Less is More
According to Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, hyaluronic acid has a strong ability to draw and hold water, keeping our skin moisturized throughout the day. This means that you only really need hyaluronic acid in one item in your skincare routine.
Similarly, most skincare products contain a maximum of 2% hyaluronic acid in their formulation. Any higher than 2% and it could actually cause adverse effects like drying or irritation of the skin. When asked by online magazine BYRDIE about high percentages of hyaluronic acid touted by skincare, esthetician, and founder of Stacked Skincare, Kerry Benjamin, has this to say: “If a product were actually made with 90% HA, it would be a salt rock. It’s not truly 90% HA—it’s 90% of the total solution, which is primarily water.”
7. The Molecular Weight of your Hyaluronic Acid matters
Popular brands like Hada Labo have popularised the concept and use of multi-molecular weight hyaluronic acid in their skincare products. But have you ever wondered what’s high molecular weight and low molecular hyaluronic acid? And how do they each do for your skin?
High molecular weight Hyaluronic acid (or HMWHA), is the most commonly used form of HA in skincare products. It has the best water-binding and water-retention properties. However, HMWHA molecules are around 3,000nm(nanometers) whereas the intercellular space in our skin is only around 15-50nm. This makes it impossible for HMWHA to penetrate into the deeper layers of our dermis.
Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (LMWHA), or sometimes nano hyaluronic acid, are much smaller in their molecule size- even as small as 5nm. This allows the molecules to penetrate deeper beyond the epidermal layers of the skin. Studies conducted with LMWHA have shown its remarkable ability to reduce wrinkle depth and achieve high levels of skin hydration and elasticity.
What does this mean for your choice of HA skincare product? It’s best to choose HA serums that have a blend of both High and Low Molecular weight HA so you can reap the benefits that they each can provide for your skin.
8. Sensitive skin? You may want to avoid Hyaluronic Acid
If you have sensitive skin or a damaged skin barrier, you might do well to lay off the Hyaluronic Acid products. When your skin’s moisture barrier is damaged or compromised, the use of any Hyaluronic Acid products can worsen your skin’s dehydration. This might result in dry, itchy, and flaky skin.
LMWHA acts as a ‘delivery vehicle’ that allows other ingredients to better penetrate the skin, and this can cause increased skin irritation for those with sensitive skin. This is especially so if the products you use contain sensitizing ingredients. Additionally, LMWHA may also cause inflammation and irritation due to the immune response it triggers from our body, as explained by this article.
If you’re not sure if you should be using Hyaluronic Acid skincare products, just conduct a patch test first. Make sure you leave the product on for at least 24 hours to allow sufficient time for any irritation to surface.
You might also want to read our other article if you’re planning on using hyaluronic acid with retinol.
Finding the best Hyaluronic Acid supplement for skin
Studies have shown that taking hyaluronic acid pills daily for at least one month can dramatically enhance skin hydration and alleviate dry skin in adults. In a 2014 study, the participants were given daily dosages of either 120 mg or 240 mg of hyaluronan (HA).
Researchers found that consuming either dose contributed to increased skin moisture and improved dry skin (compared to a placebo group). Thus, their lowest recommended dose for Hyaluronic Acid supplements is 120 mg per day.
If you are looking for the best Hyaluronic Acid supplement for skin, OLLY Collagen Gummy Rings dominates Amazon and is considered the #1 Best Seller in Hyaluronic Acid Nutritional Supplements. Delivering a clinically-tested dose (2.5 grams) of Bioactive Collagen Peptides, it’s said to support collagen production, boost skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of worrisome wrinkles in as little as 4 weeks.
Another Amazon’s Choice is NatureBell Hyaluronic Acid Supplements that boasts 250mg Hyaluronic Acid with 25mg Vitamin C per serving. If you haven’t read about this combination yet, we’ve got another article to explain why you should use Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin C together.
If you want to check out more Hyaluronic Acid supplements that you can add to your daily skincare routine, make sure to read our comprehensive guide on the best Hyaluronic Acid supplements out there on the market.
Over to You
Hyaluronic Acid has been present as a skincare ingredient for a long time, and it seems that the trend will not change. It is a gentle but effective ingredient, which, if used adequately, can significantly enhance skin hydration, contribute to the anti-aging effect and make the skin look much more plumped and radiant. You can find it in many products on the market — you might also want to check out our review on The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid or you may want to compare your options: hyaluronic acid supplements or serum.
Having done that, the only thing left is to visit your favorite drugstore and find a product with Hyaluronic Acid that works best for you!