For a while, hyaluronic acid is pretty much established in the skin care world. It is revered for its profound hydrating properties. However, despite its widespread availability and a general consensus that its crucial to have in your skincare routine, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what it actually does! In this article we review what exactly is hyaluronic acid and its benefits for your skin. We also explore whether it really holds the key to smooth, flawless and hydrated skin as well as how to use it properly.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body, predominantly in the skin, connective tissues, and eyes. Its main function is to retain moisture, aiding in keeping tissues well-lubricated. It’s remarkable ability to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water positions it as a superior hydrator for the skin. In the body, hyaluronic acid also plays a role in tissue repair, inflammation response and cell migration. As we age, our skin’s natural hyaluronic acid levels diminish, leading to a loss of elasticity and moisture. However, with the right hyaluronic acid skin care products, it is possible to replenish your skin’s moisture barrier, ensuring it remains supple and youthful.
Origins & Evolution in Skin Care
Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan that has a huge capacity to bind and retain water molecules. It was first isolated in 1934 and its initial applications were in the medical field. To this day, clinical uses of hyaluronic acid include:
- Ophthalmic Surgery: Hyaluronic acid is used in cataract extraction, corneal transplantation and repair of a detached retina. It helps maintain eye shape, form a protective barrier and assist in tissue healing.
- Joint Disorders: In diseases like osteoarthritis, Hyaluronic acid is injected into the joint spaces where it acts as a lubricant and a shock absorber. This helps to reduce pain and improve joint function.
- Wound Healing: Due to its ability to promote tissue repair and hydration, hyaluronic acid is used in various wound healing formulations. It’s particularly beneficial in chronic wound management and post-surgical healing.
- Drug Delivery: Hyaluronic acid is sometime used as a carrier to deliver drugs into tissues.
- Burn Treatment and Skin Ulcers: Hyaluronic acid wound dressing can be used to treat burns and skin ulcers. They help to maintain moisture and promote faster healing.
Despite widespread medical use, it wasn’t until the 1990s that hyaluronic acid began gaining traction in skin care. Recognised for its exceptional ability to retain moisture, it quickly became a coveted ingredient and available in a range of skincare products, including serums, creams and moisturisers. These all aimed at delivering intense hydration and anti-aging benefits. Beyond topical skin care, hyaluronic acid also has pivotal applications in non surgical aesthetics. These days, the bulk of facial dermal fillers are made from hyaluronic acid. Furthermore, innovative hyaluronic acid skin boosters like Profhilo injections are used to stimulate collagen and elastin to smooth and firm up the skin.
Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid for Skin
Hyaluronic acid is known for its intense hydration capabilities, anti-aging properties and soothing effects. It’s particularly effective in enhancing skin texture and providing a plumper and more radiant complexion. Hyaluronic acid’s ability to attract and retain moisture makes it essential for maintaining skin hydration. It is also key to how it benefits the skin. Its anti-aging properties are actually indirect and due to its capacity to fill the skin with moisture. When the skin is hydrated it plumps op and hence reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. As such, it does not address the underlying skin ageing but rather improves the appearance of the skin which makes wrinkles less noticeable. This is the same mechanism by which it improves skin texture. Lastly, hyaluronic acid is useful for sensitive and blemish-prone skin due to its soothing properties. As such, it can help reduce redness or congested looking skin.
How it Compares With Other Hydrators
Hyaluronic acid is not the only ingredient that helps hydrate the skin or lock in moisture. There are a number of competitors that often receive less attention:
- Glycerin: Like hyaluronic acid, this is a humectant. Whilst glycerin is cheap and effectively hydrates the skin, hyaluronic acid holds more moisture and depending on the formula may penetrate the skin more deeply.
- Collagen: In our bodies, this usually provides structural support to the skin. There is no evidence that using collagen in skincare benefits the skin. However, hyaluronic acid in skin care does hydrate and hence give the skin a plumped and more youthful appearance.
- Squalane: This is an emollient and hence seals in moisture rather than hydrates. As such it works well with humectants like hyaluronic acid which attracts moisture to the skin and squalene locks it in.
- Polyglutamic Acid: This is a huge competitor to hyaluronic acid. Polyglutamic acid is a more potent humectant but is newer and hence not as commonly available.
- Ceramides: These help maintain the skin’s barrier function by providing a protective layer to prevent moisture loss. Ceramides work well with hyaluronic acid and products that contain both directly attract and retain moisture to enhance skin hydration.
Choosing the Right Hyaluronic Acid Product for You
There are a huge number of different brands and preparations of hyaluronic acid. So it can be super confusing to know what the best way to add it in to your skin care routine. As with anything in skin care, the way to find the best product for you is to start by understanding your skin type and specific concerns. This will help you choose the most appropriate hyaluronic acid product to benefit your skin needs.
Generally, serums contain higher concentrations and smaller molecular sizes of hyaluronic acid. Hence they may be capable of penetrating deeper into the skin. Hyaluronic acid serums are suitable for all skin types but they are especially effective for aging, dry or dull skin. If you have oily skin, a lightweight serum may be best. For very dry skin or ageing skin, always follow up with a rich moisturiser.
Creams & Lotions
These creams and lotions combine hyaluronic acid with other moisturising agents like emollients, occlusives and even other humectants. As such, hyaluronic acid creams and lotions provide surface hydration and lock in moisture. They are particularly good for dry, sensitive or combination skin types that need extra moisture.
Hyaluronic acid masks offer intensive hydration and are great following active skin treatments like LED therapy, exfoliating acids and chemical peels. They are excellent for a hydration boost and an overall temporary skin plumping effect. They make a great addition to a weekly at home facial or as a quick skin pick me up. You can find a suitable mask for any skin type.
In general, the best tip for picking a product is find one that you can easily use every day with minimal disruption to your routine. Don’t waste money on cleansers or products that wash off with hyaluronic acid as these won’t have much benefit for your skin. Look for products with a combination of different sizes of hyaluronic acid to help with both surface and deeper skin hydration. Also, make sure that you perform a patch test before using the product on your face to check for allergies. Also, remember that hyaluronic acid only draws water to your skin. So if you are using it as a serum, make sure you use a moisturiser afterwards to lock in that moisture.
How To Use Hyaluronic Acid Skin Care
This depends on the type of product you choose. If you are using hyaluronic acid as a serum then apply it to wet skin straight after your cleanser. This is the best way for it to draw moisture to your skin. If you are using a toner, acid exfoliant or essence then use these first then spritz the skin with a little water and apply the hyaluronic acid serum.
Creams and lotions are comparatively easier to use. Just apply them as the last step in your skincare routine at night and just before your sunscreen in the mornings. Masks should also be the last step of your at home facial.
Hyaluronic Acid With Active Skin Care Ingredients
Hyaluronic acid is highly versatile and plays well even with some of the most aggressive skin care treatments if you use it correctly. Here’s a detailed look at how to effectively combine hyaluronic acid with some of the most common skin care actives to benefit your skin:
The combination of hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C can hydrate, improve texture, reduce signs of aging and brighten the skin. You can find both these products in serums, creams, lotions and masks either separately or together. If your skin is sensitive, use vitamin C in the morning for its antioxidant properties and hyaluronic acid at night for intense hydration, if your skin is sensitive.
This pairing can dramatically improve signs of aging, texture, and hydration. Retinoids like retinol and its prescription counterparts like Tretinoin promote cell turnover and stimulate collagen and elastin. As such they are powerful anti-ageing, hyperpigmentation and acne treating products. However, they can dry and irritate the skin which hyaluronic acid can overcome. Use retinoids at night time followed by hyaluronic acid creams or lotions. You can also use hyaluronic acid serums before retinoids if you have sensitive skin.
Exfoliants like AHAs, BHAs and PHAs as well as azelaic acid resurface the skin and can help make it smoother, brighter and younger looking over time. These are important skin care ingredients but they can irritate and dry up the skin. Hyaluronic acid can help hydrate and soothe skin when paired with exfoliants. After using your exfoliant, follow up with a hyaluronic acid serum or moisturiser to reap the benefit of this pairing.
In general, niacinamide improves skin texture, brightens and reduces inflammation whilst hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps the skin. These make a great combination for smoother and more radiant skin. You can find them together in a number of lotions, serums and moisturisers. If you have sensitive skin or are new to both, you can also find them separately in serums and creams. If using as serums, apply hyaluronic first then the rest of your products.
How To Not Use Hyaluronic Acid
Whilst hyaluronic acid is very easy to use and generally compatible with most ingredients, there are a few things you should avoid. To get the most benefit out of hyaluronic acid in your skin care consider the following:
- Direct Acids in High Concentrations: Although hyaluronic acid can be used with exfoliating acids, avoid extremely high concentrations of these acids. These might degrade the hyaluronic acid if mixed directly in one routine. As such, its ok to use hyaluronic acid alongside gentle acid exfoliating cleansers and toners. However, if you are using at home peels or acid masks, then it’s better to alternate these with hyaluronic acid or leave a gap between them.
- Oil-based Products: If using heavy, oil-based products, apply them after hyaluronic acid. This is because oils can create a barrier that might prevent hyaluronic acid from penetrating effectively. Additionally, this way around helps seal in the moisture that it attracts.
- Certain Types of Vitamin C: Some unstable forms of Vitamin C (like L-ascorbic acid) can be sensitive to changes in pH. As such, wait a few minutes between applying hyaluronic acid and these products so they don’t negatively with each other.
Although hyaluronic acid is often over hyped, this is because people usually misunderstand and undersell its true benefits in skin care. This very common and highly hydrating ingredient can help quickly improve the appearance of your skin by drawing water to it. Whilst this doesn’t actually treat texture, skin ageing or hyperpigmentation like retinoids or other active ingredients do, it makes the skin look smoother and plumper. This quickly and temporarily reduces the visibility of wrinkles and gives the skin radiance. To get the best out of hyaluronic acid, identify your skin concerns and type to choose the best product for you. In addition, layering hyaluronic acid with other active skin care ingredients, can create a skincare routine that addresses multiple concerns. These include aging, hyperpigmentation, acne and texture. Remember, the key to effective skincare is not just what you use, but how you use it.
At City Skin Clinic, we are devoted to personalised skincare. Our doctor led online skin clinic provides safe and effective prescription-strength skincare treatments like Hydroquinone and Tretinoin to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, melasma and skin ageing all personalised to your needs. Start you online consultation today to take your first step towards great skin.