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What is Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid Chemical Structure

Ah, the complex debate of the most popular and over-marketed ingredient of 2020 – HA’s or more properly known as Hyaluronic Acid. Just what is Hyaluronic Acid, you ask, in layman’s terms, HA is a sugar found naturally in our skin that holds water and helps keep it hydrated and plump. Hyaluronic acid is found in both the epidermis and the deeper dermis, where it’s important in hydration, metabolic processes, skin repair, and protection against free radical and UV damage. Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan, a class of chemicals that can hold onto water very efficiently, due to its very polar nature.

HA within our bodies holds a thousand times its weight in water to not only retain all that moisture in our skin and joints, but also prevent all that moisture from evaporating into the air. Just like collagen and elastin, the amount of naturally-occurring hyaluronic acid in our bodies decreases as we get older. There are, however, ways to help stimulate production of HA in our bodies.

HA is a Powerful Humectant.

When used in skin care products like creams and serums, hyaluronic acid brings moisture to the surface of your skin. Because of its ability to draw and hold water, it can be used as a humectant in your skin care regimen, and is supposed to continually keep skin moisturized throughout the day.

Check the labels of your favorite skincare—chances are you’re already using it in some form or another. As a topical product, as long as it is in the right formulation, it will make the skin appear more dewy and younger because it’s supposed to improve skin elasticity.

Hyaluronic acid is so powerful at pulling moisture to the surface of your skin, you likely don’t need to use it in more than one product in your routine.

Hyaluronic acid plays well with most other ingredients and can be paired with peels, retinols, vitamins, and other acids. The only exception would be acids with low pH levels, like glycolic acid, because it may degrade the HA and make it ineffective.

In skincare, hyaluronic acid is mostly used for its incredible ability to hold onto moisture: it’s included in moisturisers and serums as a humectant ingredient. Humectants hydrate the skin, and since one of the effects of dehydrated skin is fine lines and wrinkles, this can make your skin look dramatically younger and less tired. Another popular and cheaper humectant moisturiser is glycerin, but glycerin can feel sticky and heavy. Hyaluronic acid is frequently combined with glycerin to make it feel lighter on the skin. But I personally love glycerin over HA’s.

But picking the right hyaluronic acid product is tricky. The molecule is often times too large to effectively deliver hydration deep into skin layers. But when the molecule is micronized or where HA is in a vehicle that penetrates the skin (but can only penetrate into the lower epidermis even at the deepest of penetration) in order to be effective there have been more recent studies showing that it can be prone-inflammatory. Which is sort of ironic since, Hyaluronic acid comes in all sizes, and in general, the smaller in molecular size, the more penetrate-able, therefore more expensive. One size literally does not fit all.

So please becareful when using HA at every stage of your skincare. And if your skin barrier is compromised, a multi-molecular-sized hyaluronic product is best avoided as it can contribute to inflammation if those smaller molecules are used on broken skin. This is key.

Adding to that is the difference between hyaluronic acid (hydrolyzed) and sodium hyaluronate. Both are low in molecular weights; one is a hydrolized hyaluronic acid, while SH is a salt derived from HA. Sodium hyaluronate is cheaper to produce, so is used more widely, but it’s more easily absorbed than HA, so it’s good to have both options if you can. In truth there are so many differing options for HA and SH that it’s best to test if you can, and remember that not all HA products are created equally.

+DOI: 10.3390/ijms20163894
+A Hyaluronic Acid 101

And to my Clean/Natural Beauty enthusiasts, also note that Hyaluronic acid can also come from different sources. The two main sources are biofermentation (made by bacteria) and rooster combs, which contain about 15 times as much hyaluronic acid as human skin. Yes those dangly things on chickens. So if you’re vegetarian, you’ll want to look into the source of the hyaluronic acid in your products.

Because it’s lightweight, and oil-free, alot of acne-prone skin types love this ingredient. And when you have dry/normal skin this ingredient is heavily marketed to you, therefore you must becareful as not to over do it. And most often than not, you will find this ingredient in at least one of your skincare products in one molecular form or another.

And in other areas of skincare, chemically modified hyaluronic acid is also used in injectable fillers like Voluma or Juvéderm Restylane to plump up deep wrinkles. It’s also the basis of Macrolane, a controversial filler that’s been used for breast and buttock enhancements. Oral supplements of hyaluronic acid are sold in nutrition stores but there have been NO proven benefits yet (questionable whether hyaluronic acid survives digestion, and can make it from the digestive tract to the skin).

So having said all this, what are some decent Hyaluronic Acids on the market today? From affordable to luxury price range (left to right).

Just remember to check the ingredients list on your existing skincare products, and if you already have some form of Hyaluronic Acid in there, it is less likely that you want to over-do it by layering more of it. Too much of any good thing can cause irritations too. And always apply Hyaluronic Acid onto damp skin, and apply a moisturizer on top to really seal-in any hydration and moisture to your skin. I hope you found this to be helpful!

The views expressed on this site are that of my own and are provided for informational purposes only. I make no warranties about the suitability of any product or treatment referenced or reviewed here for any person other than myself and any reliance placed on these reviews or references by you is done so solely at your own risk. Nothing on this site shall be construed as providing dermatological, medical or other such advice and you are always advised to seek the advice of a suitable professional should you have any such concerns.