We don't like to pick favourites, but if we had to, hyaluronic acid would probably be it. It's a must ingredient for absolutely everyone. Chances are, it’s already in at least one of your daily skin care products. And if not, it should be.
While this powerhouse ingredient does get plenty of mention in skin care circles, we wouldn’t blame you for not knowing exactly what hyaluronic acid is, and why it’s that important that you apply it liberally to your skin. Considering it has the word ‘acid’ in the name is enough to make anyone weary.
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a water-holding molecule that occurs naturally in the body, preserving moisture in areas like the skin so it remains supple, plump and younger-looking.
No surprise, the more we age, the less of it our bodies naturally create. So, it’s up to you to top it up. Unless you like dry, haggard skin? We didn’t think so.
Well, that’s the simple answer out of the way. But really, hyaluronic acid does so much more than that.
Why is hyaluronic acid so good for your skin?
Where do we begin?! Hyaluronic acid benefits the skin (and even the body) in a number of ways. “Hyaluronic acid (HA) is an excellent humectant, attracting vital moisture into the skin from the surrounding environment,” explains Dr Howard Murad M.D., founder of Murad skin care, dermatologist, trained pharmacist and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. And it slows the rate at which water evaporates from skin.
Then there are its anti-ageing abilities. The look and depth of fine lines and wrinkles are more apparent when skin is dehydrated, and you know what nixes dehydration fast? Yep, hyaluronic acid. Its water binding and attracting nature helps fill the gaps between connective fibres of collagen and elastin to re-plump the look of skin.
See, we weren’t kidding about it being a true skin care hero.
How does HA work in our skin care?
“Because each molecule of hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, it allows topical moisturisers to provide the sustained supply of water needed to keep skin plump, smooth and well hydrated,” says Dr Murad. To put this stat into perspective, one gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six litres of water. Insane!
Why hyaluronic acid molecular weight is important
Often we talk about hyaluronic acid generally, but hyaluronic acid actually comes in varying weights. Low weight hyaluronics are the smallest molecules, and are able to sink deeper into the skin to hydrate and restore collagen. High weight hyaluronics are bigger molecules that stay on the skin’s surface to superficially plump skin. Medium weight hyaluronics cover the middle ground. Obviously, having a balance of all three will give you the best all-round defence against dehydration.
Unfortunately, most products with HA won’t tell you the molecular weight of the hyaluronic acid in its formula, but some are starting to. Intraceuticals, for example, have a Rejuvenate three-step set of products formulated specifically around hyaluronic layering: The first step uses low weight hyaluronics, the second utilises mid-weight hyaluronics and the final product contains high weight hyaluronics to seal in and protect the results of the first two layers.
Niod Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex is one of the best hyaluronic acid serums to try because it contains all three hyaluronic acid molecule weights in its formula. Dr Murad notes that his skin care also uses combinations of high and low molecular weight hyaluronic acids to spread its benefits out to all layers of the skin from the deeper layers of the epidermis to the primary barrier layer in the surface/stratum corneum.
How long does it take for hyaluronic acid to work?
“Once applied, HA can go to work almost immediately,” Dr Murad says.
Who should be using hyaluronic acid?
HA is one of those rare ingredients that doesn’t come with a ‘but’. “Hyaluronic acid is suitable for all skin types, especially those with dryness and dehydration,” says Dr Murad. Basically, if you’ve got skin, you’re a candidate for hyaluronic acid. “Regardless of your skin type, once you reach adulthood, your skin becomes a little drier every day. How you respond to that loss of moisture may be the single most important factor in determining how old you look,” says Dr Murad. Good to know.
Is hyaluronic acid beneficial for acne-prone skin?
Absolutely, says Dr Murad, adding that dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water (not oil), meaning dehydrated skin can still be oily and acne-prone. “When skin feels dehydrated, it can flip oil glands into overdrive to offset the missing water. Often people with acne-prone skin are tempted to use drying products to prevent excess oil and reduce blemishes, when instead they should focus on hydrating the skin in an attempt to balance the excess oil production. This is where hyaluronic acid comes in,” notes Dr Murad.
For acne-prone skin, he recommends Murad’s Time Release Blemish Cleanser, which is designed to fight blemishes while maintaining hydration. “It’s packed with amino acids and hyaluronic acid, which attracts and binds moisture to the skin for a more plump, youthful-looking complexion,” says Dr Murad.
How much hyaluronic acid should we use in our skin care routine?
We’ll let you in on a secret: You can never have too much hyaluronic acid. When we asked Dr Murad if there is any benefit to having HA in more than one product in our routines, he answered, “There is absolutely a benefit to having multiple formulas at different points in your routine. You may find benefit in using a daily moisturiser or hyaluronic acid serum, as well as a hyaluronic-rich mask once per week for additional support.”
Hyaluronic acid side effects
More good news: there are none. It’s safe, with no risk of an adverse reaction. Like we said, the more the merrier.
How to use hyaluronic acid
Anywhere there is skin, hyaluronic acid can be beneficial. And there’s no short supply of hyaluronic acid-enriched products. But some are definitely better than others. A great hyaluronic acid for skin that’s extra dry is SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier, which contains a high concentration of pure hyaluronic acid and has been found to boost skin’s hyaluronic acid levels by 30 per cent over 12 weeks. We also love budget-friendly Neutrogena Hydro Boost Serum Anti-Oxidant Capsules; and L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Filler [HA] Moisturiser, which contains fragmented hyaluronic acid in the cream that is more easily absorbed by skin.
Hyaluronic acid products are generally lightweight, so apply them after other water-based serums but prior to heavier oils and moisturisers. For more tips on the best order to apply specific products into your routine, read this invaluable guide.
Hyaluronic acid supplements are also a thing, and have been found to be beneficial in reducing the signs of ageing. A 2017 Japanese study found that participants who orally consumed daily hyaluronic acid tablets over a 12-week period showed significantly diminished wrinkles and their skin lustre and suppleness also improved.
What hyaluronic acid products do you use in your skin care routine? Share with us your top product picks below.
Main image credit: Getty
Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.