We are in the midst of a hydration revolution! Over the last year, hyaluronic acid (HA) has become the “it” ingredient in skincare. While I remember using products rich in this now-ubiquitous ingredient over ten years ago, it’s enjoying a new spike in popularity. The catchy claim that this moisture-loving molecule can “hold 1000 times its weight in water” fits in perfectly with the dewy, glow-obsessed moment we’re having right now. However, most HA users know little to nothing about its origins or cosmetic uses. Here’s what you need to know about hyaluronic acid.
What is it?
Hyaluronic acid is a member of a larger family of carbohydrates called glycoseaminoglycans (GAGs for short) that naturally occur in our bodies and reside in the dermis and other tissues. GAGs are often referred to as “ground substance” or “mucin” (yum) and make up much of the acellular component of our skin. They are known as “natures moisturizers” due to their ability to attract hydration within tissues including the skin, joints and muscles. Like “likes” to a thirst trap, water can’t help but be attracted to HA. There’s also some data indicating that hyaluronic acid may regulate cell proliferation and neural signaling. We also know that photodamaged skin has decreased levels of HA, and that could be part of the reason we see loss of firmness and wrinkle development with long-term sun exposure. So why not try to add some back?
What’s it used for?
Hyaluronic acid’s prowess for attracting water and its ability to be formulated into various gel-like polymers has lent to its use as a moisturizing agent in myriad commercial products. It has popped up in countless skincare products promising to hydrate and plump your skin for a fuller, glowier, younger look. HA is also indispensable to cosmetic dermatology: it’s actually the most widely used dermal filler and is the agent of choice for many dermatologists and plastic surgeons when it comes lip augmentation, cheek augmentation and the like.
Where do I start?
My advice would be to choose a serum or facial moisturizer with HA to start with. Serums can be used to pack an extra hydrating punch before your moisturizer of choice. HA-containing gel-cream type moisturizers have also become all the rage in the last few years, and my acne-prone skin couldn’t be happier. These formulations tend to rely on HA to deliver moisture rather than oils which allows for extra hydration without the risk of clogging pores. I’ve also seen some cleansers with HA on the market – I’m not sure these would add that much hydration as you’re taking the water-loving molecule in question and literally washing it away.
Lastly, I’ve seen some debate on the social media about how much HA should be in your products. Most won’t list the percentage of HA in the composition, and I wouldn’t sweat this. There’s no recommended dosing for HA, but you likely only need a small amount, just like any active ingredient in skincare.
We don’t know tbh, but I doubt it. There’s not a ton of data out there about topical hyaluronic acid, but just like with any other new additions to your routine, proceed with caution and try one product at a time to see if it agrees with your skin. As always, a board-certified dermatologist will be the best sounding board for all of your skincare concerns.
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