Hyaluronic acid is everywhere these days. From your daily eye cream and hydrating skin serum to your weekly sheet mask and injectable fillers, it seems you can’t escape this ‘miracle’ skincare ingredient. But what exactly is hyaluronic acid? And why is it gaining popularity by the hot minute?
Now don’t let the word ‘acid’ fool you because hyaluronic acid could not be more different from the many other skincare acids (glycolic, lactic, salicylic, etc.). A chemical exfoliant it is not.
But a skincare essential? You bet it is. We believe that hyaluronic acid is an extremely effective skincare must-have, but it is not without its faults. Use it wisely, however, and the benefits far outweigh its flaws.
Let’s take a deeper look at the ingredient that is widely regarded as the secret to a soft, glowy, and youthful complexion.
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
Otherwise known as hyaluronan, hyaluronic acid (HA for short) is a type of sugar that is produced naturally by the body and found specifically in your skin, eyes, and joints. Like chondroitin sulfate and keratin, HA belongs to a group of polymers known as glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are vital components of the skin and have many important functions including hydration, healing, cell growth, and proliferation.
Quite the skin superhero, hyaluronic acid is a powerful, gel-like substance that works like a sponge to bind and retain moisture within your cells. Research shows that HA can hold more than 1,000 times its weight in water, which is why it is so effective at keeping your eyes and joints well lubricated and your skin soft, plump, and hydrated.
How Hyaluronic Acid Benefits Your Skin
Its ability to retain water makes hyaluronic acid one of the skin’s most important components for maintaining hydration. But its moisturizing powers are not the only thing HA boasts on its resume. This plumping, moisturizing effect also strengthens the natural lipid barrier of your skin to help protect it from environmental stressors. HA also works in harmony with valuable collagen in your skin to ensure it remains supple enough to stretch and move without breaking. This means it’s not only vital for the overall strength and structure of your skin, but it also works hard to aid healing and help keep fine lines, wrinkles, and other visible signs of aging at bay.
Hyaluronic acid also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties – and you know how much we love antioxidants here at Glomance. Antioxidants are essential for the health of your skin because they help prevent damage caused by free radicals – nasty little particles that are produced by the skin when it becomes exposed to stuff it hates, notably UV radiation, pollution, a poor diet and cigarette smoke. Free radicals are unstable, super-reactive atoms that try to suck all the life out of your skin by stealing valuable electrons from your DNA, collagen or elastin. This theft causes major damage to your skin and can result in anything from redness and dryness to dark spots and wrinkles.
The good news is that antioxidants work to reduce this damage by offering up electrons of their own to neutralize those thieving free radicals. This leaves all the good stuff in your skin free to do what it’s there for – to protect, replenish, heal, and rejuvenate.
How HA is Used in Skincare Products
You may understandably be confused right now because if the skin naturally produces its own hyaluronic acid, why do you need more of it in your skincare routine? Well, if you’re under the age of 18, you probably don’t need to because your HA receptors are still functioning well enough to produce the right amount of hyaluronic acid to keep your skin healthy. But herein lies the problem because as you age, your rate of HA production starts to slow down. In fact, research shows that levels may drop by as much as 50 percent by the time you hit 40. This is one of the main reasons skin becomes drier and more susceptible to damage as time goes on.
Thankfully, studies show that you can help prevent this decline in your natural stores of hyaluronic acid by taking an HA supplement, such as GliSODin Skin Nutrients Advanced Anti-Aging Formula. Eating a healthy diet that’s high in antioxidant-rich fruit and veggies like dark grapes, berries, kale, and carrots is not a bad idea either.
You can also introduce a synthetic form of hyaluronic acid as a major player in your skincare regime. Many moisturizers and serums include a certain dose of HA (chances are at least one of your skincare products contains it), but keep your eyes peeled for sodium hyaluronate as well. This is the salt form of HA and just as effective; some say even more so. Most forms of hyaluronic acid used in skincare are relatively large molecules and work primarily at a surface level to smooth and hydrate your skin. Sodium hyaluronate, on the other hand, has a smaller molecular size, so it can penetrate the skin at a slightly deeper level. It’s also a more stable ingredient and why our Overnight Star Lactic Acid Treatment contains sodium hyaluronate, rather than regular hyaluronic acid. We truly believe it’s more effective, especially when blended with three other powerful humectants – glycerin, aloe, and lactic acid.
Word of Warning: Too Much Hyaluronic Acid can Cause Dryness
Both forms of hyaluronic acid are well tolerated by the skin (and safe for use during pregnancy or while breast feeding), but if you’re super-sensitive, irritations such as redness or flare-ups are never out of the question. The best way to avoid this is to always perform a patch test when applying any form of HA for the first time.
Also, you can’t just throw a large amount of hyaluronic acid onto your face and think you’ve found the secret elixir to perfect skin. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way. Most dermatologists agree that one product containing some form of topical HA is enough and that you should always stick with a lower concentration (0.2-0.5 percent is ideal) for the most effective results. As with retinol and other active ingredients, you should always start low and slow to allow your skin to acclimate.
HA’s ability to retain water does have its downsides. If you live in an area of low humidity, for example, HA won’t be able to pull moisture from the air. Instead, it will suck it up from the deeper layers of your skin. From here, it will draw moisture up to the epidermis where it will literally evaporate into thin air, leaving your poor complexion drier and more compromised than it was in the first place.
Similarly, if you don’t combine HA with an emollient or occlusive ingredient like squalane, shea butter, lecithin, or dimethicone to lock in all that moisture, this could cause similar drying effects (Overnight Star Lactic Acid Treatment contains both dimethicone and squalane to ensure our HA works effectively and efficiently). Check out the label of your HA serum to see what else is in the bottle. If you don’t see an occlusive or emollient listed to help seal in moisture and enhance fluid retention, invest in a face oil or moisturizer and always apply this over the top of your serum. Not sure what all those confusing ingredients even are? You can find a helpful list of emollients and occlusives here.
Injectable Hyaluronic Acid Fillers may be a Good Option
As well as being a very effective ingredient in oral and topical form, hyaluronic acid can be injected into your skin at the doctor’s office, and it’s a great option if you’re looking for a little extra help in the anti-aging department.
Not to be confused with injectable toxins like Botox and Dysport, which paralyze muscles to reduce expression lines like crow’s feet and frown lines, HA fillers work by filling or plumping up underlying tissues to replace lost proteins (namely collagen and elastin). This helps smooth the skin while adding volume and youthfulness.
Collagen fillers, using collagen extracted from cows, used to be popular back in the day, but chances of an allergic reaction to bovine collagen were notoriously high. This is why hyaluronic acid fillers (which show very few side effects) have totally stolen the limelight in recent years and why brands like Restylane and Juvéderm have become household names.
Depending on the thickness of the hyaluronic acid used, HA fillers can last anywhere from six to 24 months, and they’re very effective at smoothing out deep wrinkles. They can also help improve poor skin texture or add volume to sagging hands, sunken cheeks, thin lips, and even painful balls of the feet. Side effects are always possible, however, so the most important thing to remember is to do plenty of research and only ever receive injections from a board-certified aesthetician.