Hyaluronic Acid is a popular ingredient in skincare but what is it? What does it actually do for our skin? Read more to find out how Hyaluronic Acid provides a burst of hydration to your skin.
What is hyaluronic acid
Hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, is a clear and gooey sugar molecule that is naturally produced by our body. It is present in our joints, eyes, and mostly on our skin in a large amount. Their water-retaining properties help our tissue to retain moisture. Surprisingly, hyaluronic acid can hold a thousand times its weight in water. As water is an essential part of our normal bodily function, keeping them moisturised is never a bad idea.
Where it can be found in our skin
More than half of the hyaluronic acid in our body is present in our skin. It helps our skin to retain water giving that plump and dewy-looking skin. Most of our skins hyaluronic acid content is located in the dermis / deeper area than the epidermis. The hyaluronic acid here regulates water balance and holds up the skin structure. It is bound to collagen on one end and links to water on the other end to give it a plump and bouncy-looking effect on your skin.
However, just like the amount of collagen in our skin, hyaluronic acid production reduces as we age, and the existing hyaluronic acid present in our skin starts to degrade. As our skin loses the major molecule responsible for water retention it loses its moisture and therefore leading to age-induced dryness and accentuates premature signs of ageing, wrinkles.
Benefits of Hyaluronic acid
There are so many benefits of hyaluronic acid for our skin and it is more than just holding water to keep our skin moisturised, hydrated and plump. It has also been known to show antioxidant activity, promote skin barrier repair on the epidermis and has wound healing properties. As it helps repair the skin barrier, it will help provide relief for redness and also irritation.
Who is it for?
Hyaluronic acid is generally suitable for all skin types from a wide range of ages no matter what their skin concern is. This is because it is dealing with skin hydration/water content which is one of the basic fundamental components of everyone’s skin.
How do you know if your skin needs hyaluronic acid? Let’s look through this list and see how many you check off:
- Is your skin feeling dry?
- Is your skin feeling tight and uncomfortable?
- Is your skin feeling rough, flaky, or textured?
- Is your skin looking red and irritated?
- Early signs of premature fine lines or wrinkles on your face?
If you are checking off any of this list of signs, you may want to give hyaluronic acid a shot in your skincare routine. This one hero ingredient may become your skin-saviour.
Hyaluronic acid for dehydrated skin and how it affects our skin
Hyaluronic acid is great for dehydrated skin. Dehydrated skin is a condition that means our skin is lacking water. This is a common condition that we can encounter from time to time. When there is an increased amount of transepidermal water loss (TEWS) due to a damaged skin barrier, our skin will be at a higher risk of dehydration. How do you know if you have dehydrated skin? You may want to look back at the checklist we provided above and see whether you check any of the lists.
On top of that, you can do a simple pinch test at home which is an easy and practical way to check whether if your skin is properly hydrated and plump. If you pinch a small portion of your skin around your cheek area, and it doesn’t bounce back properly after you let go, there is a higher chance that your skin is dehydrated.
Adding hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine when you are having dehydrated skin may be a great idea. Hyaluronic acid will help your skin retain as much water as it can while your skin activates the skin barrier self-repair mechanism.
How to apply it
Hyaluronic acid product is available in a lot of skincare from toners, essences, ampoules, or even moisturisers. They are mostly mixed together in a cocktail of humectants, emollients, or occlusives to create a variety of textures.
The other beauty of hyaluronic acid is that it is so versatile, and it is safe to combine with any other actives. However, if you are wondering how to incorporate your hyaluronic acid in your routine, we got you covered here. We will list some basic rules for you to maximize the benefit of your hyaluronic acid-based product:
It is always better to apply your hyaluronic acid-based product like a toner on damp skin. You can pat the toner on your damp skin and the water that is remaining on the top of your skin will be attracted by the hyaluronic acid molecule to help hydrate your skin rather than just evaporating and leaving your skin feeling tight and dry.
Rule of thumb: Thinnest to thickest
Hyaluronic acid pairs well with a lot of other common active ingredients: retinol, vitamin C, niacinamide. If you have different actives in different products, you just have to remember the rule of thumb: “Apply from the thinnest to the thickest”. Depending on the consistency of your hyaluronic acid-based serum, layer them on a step before anything that is thicker and occlusive in consistency.
Layer with occlusives / emollients
However, if you are someone with a damaged skin barrier and dehydrated skin, or someone who is living in a dry climate, it is important not to just rely on a hyaluronic acid-based toner or serum as a standalone product for hydration. You will need other occlusive or emollient products such as lotions or creams to trap in the moisture from your hyaluronic acid products.
These conditions are more likely to cause a higher chance of dehydration. The dry air will cause hyaluronic acid to pull out moisture from your skin instead of the air which will dehydrate your skin even more.
How to use it
There is no certain rule on how you can use your hyaluronic acid. You can use it either morning and/or night. If you use it at night, just make sure you layer them with another occlusive / emollients product like a moisturiser to help lock in the moisture.
Librarian Tip: Use a room humidifier at night to keep the air in your room moist so your skin won’t get dry and dehydrated.
Different form and sizes
Not all hyaluronic acids are created equal. There is a different weight of hyaluronic acid which determines how deep it can penetrate the skin. Let’s first talk about the weight which ranges from a size of 6 to 1500 kDa, with one recent study showing that a 130 kDa hyaluronic acid is the best in terms of increasing skin elasticity and improving skin texture. Depending on their molecular weight, hyaluronic acid can be divided into:
- High molecular weight (HMW): 1000 – 1500 kDa
- Low molecular weight (LMW): 800 – 1000 kDa
- Extra-low molecular weight (ELMW): 80 – 100 kDa
- Super low molecular weight (SLMW): 50 kDa
- Ultra-low molecular weight (ULMW): 6 kDa
A combination of low and high molecular weight hyaluronic acid is common in a lot of skincare products since they can complement each other’s benefit to make our skin more hydrated, plump, and dewy.
Most over the counter hyaluronic acid molecules in cosmetic products are 3000nm in diameter, meanwhile, the intracellular space in our skin cell is only around 15- 50nm which means that most large topical hyaluronic acid can’t pass the cutaneous barrier so it only works on the epidermis layer and not the dermis. That’s why there is some limitation in their anti-ageing benefits in comparison to the injectable form of hyaluronic acid since it only works on the superficial layer of our skin.
Hyaluronic acid vs Sodium Hyaluronate vs Sodium acetylated hyaluronate
Have you ever wondered: what are the differences between hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate? We know that they often are used interchangeably. Sodium hyaluronate is the salt form of hyaluronic acid. The salt form of ingredients is more stable and less likely to oxidize. Sodium hyaluronate has a smaller molecular size, it has a higher chance of penetrating deeper into the skin layer and hydrates it. On top of that, sodium hyaluronate that come in solution form is usually pricier than hyaluronic acid.
Lastly, sodium acetylated hyaluronate is also called the super hyaluronic acid which is a derivative from the sodium hyaluronate form. It is non-sticky, more cosmetically elegant, and has powerful moisturising properties. In terms of its water retaining benefits, it can retain more moisture than the same concentration of hyaluronic acid and penetrate deeper, so the benefits are longer-lasting.
The hyaluronic acid drawbacks
Hyaluronic acid as a standalone ingredient is not likely to cause any adverse reaction. However, a very low molecular weight hyaluronic acid is able to penetrate the skin and become a ‘carrier’ for other possibly irritating ingredients for your skin. So, if you are someone with a compromised skin barrier and your product contains any specific extracts that your skin is not keen on being mixed together with hyaluronic acid, you may experience some irritation. Hyaluronic acid works like the water that moisturises a dry sponge which makes everything else that touches the sponge to be absorbed deeper, including some of the irritating ingredients.
Hyaluronic acid on skincare and injectables, how is it different?
As we have mentioned before, most Hyaluronic Acid molecules in over the counter topical products are large and mostly work on the epidermis layer of our skin since it can’t pass through our skin’s epidermal barrier layer. This is where an injectable form of hyaluronic acid can fill in that gap. Different from topical hyaluronic acid, their injectable form works more semi-permanently on the dermis layer of our skin through the delivery system of needles. This will result in a more significant and visible plumping of skin that can last for several months after the injection. The injectable and topical hyaluronic acid-based skincare can work synergistically to keep your skin looking plump, dewy, and hydrated for a longer period of time.
Hyaluronic acid product curation by skin library
Keep Cool Soothe Bamboo Toner
This hydrating and soothing toner contains sodium hyaluronate to help hydrate your skin. It also contains bamboo water and Japanese honeysuckle flower extract with their anti-inflammatory properties.
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask
This Vitamin E mask is rich in antioxidants as well as skin barrier repairing ingredients such as niacinamide, sodium hyaluronate, and ceramide. If your skin is looking dull and dehydrated, apply this at night before you go to sleep and see how your skin becomes plumper overnight.
Acwell Licorice pH Balance Intensive Eye Cream
Are you looking for a deeply nourishing and hydrating eye cream to help plump up the skin around your eye area? This nourishing eye cream contains licorice root water, niacinamide and also two types of hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate and hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid). It also packed with several skin beneficial plant extracts and ceramide. Make sure to apply it gently and it will keep your makeup from creasing around your eye area.
Sheet Mask set for Dry Skin
Hydrating sheet mask set from Skin Library is curated to give that burst of hydration for your dry and dehydrated skin. All these sheet masks contain different types of hyaluronic acid to plump up your skin.
GLOSOME All Day Glow Solution Tencel Sheet Mask
Included in the dry skin sheet mask set, this biodegradable tencel sheet mask from glosome is perfect for dry and dehydrated skin. They are not only packed with marine water, but also with seven different types of hyaluronic acid (Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Hyaluronic Acid, Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Acetylated Hyaluronate, Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hyaluronate). This wholesome sheet mask will fulfil your skin need for hydration.
Takeaway: Are you a fan of Hyaluronic Acid? Let us know your favourite Hyaluronic Acid skincare product to treat dry skin. With this article we hope you get a better understanding of what Hyaluronic Acid is and what it actually does for our skin. Remember to fortify your skin barrier to ensure irritants do not cause any damage to your skin as Hyaluronic Acid can act as the carrier.
- By Claudia Christin (@funskincare)
Seoul based Dermatology Post Graduate