We don't like to pick favourites among the skin care gang, but if we had to, hyaluronic acid would probably be in the top spot. It's a must-have ingredient for absolutely everyone. Chances are, it’s already in at least one of your daily skin care products. And if not, it definitely 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. We get that the word 'acid' may seem like a red flag, especially if you're looking for something hydrating, but bear with us: it's the opposite of abrasive.
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 youthful-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? Yeah, 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.
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 helps banish dehydration fast? Yep, hyaluronic acid. Its water binding and moisture-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 hyaluronic acid 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, which affect how it works.
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 luckily, some are starting to specify, so we advise keeping an eye out for mentions of weight in any product lowdowns.
How long does it take for hyaluronic acid to work?
“Once applied, HA can go to work almost immediately,” Dr Murad says. Effective and quick; the ultimate combo.
Who should be using hyaluronic acid?
HA is one of those rare ingredients that doesn’t come with a ‘but’; everyone (even oily skin types) can benefit from added moisture.
“Hyaluronic acid is suitable for all skin types, especially those with dryness and dehydration,” confirms 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, according to Dr Murad, who adds 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, recommending the use of a hyaluronic-powered balancing face wash like the Murad Blemish Control Clarifying Cream Cleanser ($65 at Active Skin) to keep both acne and dehydration at bay.
Are there any side effects with using hyaluronic acid?
More good news: there are none. It’s safe, with no risk of an adverse reaction. Like we said, the more the merrier.
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. In fact, the more of your products it's in, the better. “There is absolutely a benefit to having multiple formulas at different points in your routine," shares Dr Murad. 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.”
Some of our favourite hyaluronic formulas? Laneige Water Bank Hydro Gel Moisturiser ($52 at Sephora), Tarte Sea Mermaid Skin Hyaluronic H20 Serum ($62 at Sephora), and Esmi Skin Minerals Hyaluronic Hydrating Booster Mask ($95 at Sephora).
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.