What is Hyaluronic Acid?: The Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid and A Few Caveats.

If you use hyaluronic acid properly in a routine, it can be your BFF, but there’s a lot of marketing BS and caveats that people don’t tell you about as well.

What is hyaluronic acid, and what does it do?

Hyaluronic acid is a clear and gooey substance, and our bodies produce it naturally. There is a considerable amount of it in our skin, eyes and connective tissues. It works to retain water and to keep our tissues well lubricated.

Hyaluronic acid is one of the most popular ingredients in skincare, and for that reason, many claims made about the ingredient are untrue, especially when it comes to of serums and moisturizers. For example, hyaluronic acid is loved for its hydrating properties, and supposed "incredible ability to hold 1000 times its weight in water, making it a literal magnet for moisture."

Whilemany brands claim this, this is not true. Hyaluronic acid does have the ability to hold up to a thousand times its weight in water, but that’s when it’s in the body. When hyaluronic acid is in the body, it’s normally in our joints and synovial fluid. That's what cushions our knees and our backs. It’s also in our connective tissue, and in the tissues of our body. On the other hand, it functions very differently  when applied topically to the skin. In serums and moisturizers, the most it holds up is 50 times its weight water (if even). At the same time though, holding 50 times its weight is still really good. 

Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule so it does love to hold onto water but not "a thousand times its weight" like a lot of brands claim. This claim comes from the fact that hyaluronic acid is a humectant, meaning it grabs moisture from the air, brings it into the skin, and holds onto it. 

But, even though its a humectant, it’s ability to grab and holds onto moisture and water has a few caveats. There are a lot of hyaluronic acid products that dry out the skin and lead to dryness and irritation.

If the hyaluronic acid can’t pull from a humid, external environment or from other ingredients in the formula, it will pull water from the lower layers of the skin. This is called trans epidermal waterloss.

How hyaluronic acid works also depends on its type. There are some with low molecular weights, and there are some with high molecular weights.

What are some types of hyaluronic acid?

Our skin is a barrier. So, in order to get hyaluronic acid in, sometimes you have to get small enough that can be absorbed. 

For example, as opposed to the more expensive hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate is the salt form of hyaluronic acid. Sodium hyaluronate is synthesized to create a smaller molecular structure for stability and increased resistance to oxidation (resistance to degrading). Its smaller molecular structure and water solubility allows it to penetrate more deep into the skin and provide hydration beyond the skin’s surface.

Secondly, hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate is chemically chopped up version of sodium hyaluronate, and it can penetrate the deeper layers better. 

Sometimes hyaluronic acids with different molecular weights are combined into one formula so it can hydrate different layers of the skin.

All hyaluronic acids are humectants, but if there is not moisture in the formula itself or if you don’t use an occlusive to seal it in, your skin can lose moisture.  A hyaluronic acid product that’s not formulated well is more prone to doing that and causing redness.

Is hyaluronic acid good for dry skin?

Another thing people say is that hyaluronic acid is supposed to be great for dry skin, and as we mentioned before, unless you’re in the right environment, it may be problematic. However, using hyaluronic acid with other ingredients or other products can actually give it the moisture it needs to keep the skin hydrated, plump it up, and avoid transepidermal water loss. 

Moreover, people don’t talk about how most hyaluronic acid has a very short timespan of keeping the skin hydrated. Those humectant properties have about 6-8 hours, then, you have to reapply. However, there are some wonderful hyalurnoic acid formula products that last the entire way through.

Also, as a side note, hyaluronic acid is not exfoliating in any way. It called “acid,” but it’s does not work in an exfoliating way. 

Is hyaluronic acid good in cleansers?

With hyaluronic acid as a cleanser, you’re not really getting the benefits of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, and it’s meant to help plump the skin upon penetrating it. It’s meant to help with would healing through angiogenesis or making little, new blood vessels. Hyaluronic acid is supposed to support the skin, and when you have hyaluronic acid in a leave-on product that sits on top of or goes slightly into the epidermis, it has a chance to do that. However, with cleansers, it doesn’t have a chance to go super deep and do work. Hyaluronic acid cleansers are more of a “ it feels good in the moment” product. 

Overall, hyaluronic can be a wonderful ingredient to add to your skincare routine, and you can even seel it in with a moisturizer and SPF!

Coverphoto cred: deposit photos mjth