Seems not that long ago when you would notice just a little more facial skin-flaking come winter or a few minor parched-patches after a summer spent in the sun. But now? Name a season and your complexion is dry, itchy, flaky and dull. What’s worse, all that dryness exacerbates every fine line, crease and discoloration. If you knew that one substance could replenish all that dryness and turn back the clock, would you try it? Science shows that hyaluronic acid — the hero ingredient in many beauty products and treatments — will not only do that, but it has major anti-aging perks for our skin. And those perks go more than skin deep. Read on to learn all the hyaluronic acid benefits so you can reap the rewards of its use.
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring compound found in various tissues in the body, with the highest concentrations in the skin, joints, and eyes. It’s well known for its ability to retain water, which helps keep tissues lubricated and hydrated. “Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance that helps retain moisture in the skin and eyes and lubricates the joints,” says board-certified dermatologist Richard Bottiglione, MD. “Levels of hyaluronic acid decrease as people get older, and this may contribute to the physical signs of aging, such as the appearance of wrinkles, dry skin and age-related conditions like osteoporosis.”
Indeed, there are a variety of ways to use hyaluronic acid: some folks take supplements to lubricate joints and skin from the inside out. It’s also available as injections for arthritic joints and as use as a filler in cosmetic procedures. Some mouthwash brands also include it to help lubricate oral tissues. Similarly hyaluronic acid is included in some eye drops to help lubricate eyes. It’s also incorporated into vaginal lubricants to help provide temporary pain relief caused by vaginal dryness, which can be especially helpful for women in menopause. But the most common use is topical application to the skin to help plump it up and minimize wrinkles.
What makes hyaluronic acid so hydrating?
Hyaluronic acid clings to moisture like a magnet and doesn’t let go. It’s also a key ingredient in moisturizers because has the ability to bind up to 1,000 times its weight in water and carry that moisture to the places that need it most. In skincare, hyaluronic acid shows up as either a high molecular weight (HMW) ingredient or a low molecular weight (LMW) ingredient. Although you don’t need to know all of its chemistry, understanding molecular weight distinctions can be helpful, as one or the other will be better for your skincare routine.
Hyaluronic acid with a LMW (sometimes listed as sodium hyaluronate) absorbs more fully into the deeper layers of your skin. That’s because its molecules are so small that they can go farther in penetrating your dermal layers than HMW hyaluronic acid. You might not immediately see results since LMW hyaluronic acid sits deeper in your skin. Also, LMW hyaluronic acid can’t hold as much water as its HMW counterpart. However, LMW hyaluronic acid provides longer-lasting effects on your appearance.
Since both forms of hyaluronic acid have different benefits, when using on skin doctors advise a product that uses a mixture of both. “The combination of both molecular weight hyaluronic acid molecules helps deliver immediate and long-term benefits to your skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, of MDCS Dermatology in New York City. (Scroll down for our favorite picks.)
What are the hyaluronic acid benefits for skin?
Hyaluronic acid has many benefits to hydrating your skin and keeping it dewy and supple. Read on to find out what a few of them are:
1. Hyaluronic acid replaces lost moisture
“By drawing moisture into the skin and being able to hold up to 1000x its weight in water, hyaluronic acid not only helps to retain moisture in the skin but also replaces the lost moisture, too,” says Dr. Garshick. When your skin is properly hydrated, it’s more capable of fighting off the germs and buildup that lead to acne and irritation. Hyaluronic acid also supports your skin barrier to slow the rate at which water evaporates from the skin. This, in turn, reduces the feeling and appearance of dry skin and helps your skin feel healthy and soft again. (Click through to learn how probiotics benefit skin health, too.)
2. Hyaluronic acid reduces the appearance of wrinkles
Hydration isn’t the only benefit of hyaluronic acid — it can also help reduce the appearance of other signs of aging, like wrinkles and ruddiness. Hyaluronic acid is a polysaccharide, which means it has a complex, chain-like molecular structure that works like a ladder or piece of scaffolding. It supports the healthy growth of fresh tissue in the skin, which can help reduce the appearance of aging and fine lines.
When used topically on damp skin (skin must be damp to bind to the product properly), it fills in the wrinkles and fine lines, making them appear less noticeable. “It does this by plumping up the skin, providing a smoother, more even appearance,” explains Dr. Garshick.
3. Hyaluronic acid serums reduce ruddiness
The acid reduces redness on the skin’s surface, mainly when applied as a serum. That’s because it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help protect your skin against what are known as free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to the skin cells, eventually resulting in visible signs of aging. “Some with dry skin may find that it can easily become red and irritated. Since hyaluronic acid reduces dryness, it also reduces that subsequent redness,” says Dr. Garshick.
4. Hyaluronic acid makes skin more taut
By properly hydrating the skin, hyaluronic acid helps the collagen and elastin proteins in your skin become more flexible and elastic. Its tissue-building properties make it a valuable tool for tightening the appearance of sagging skin. Because it captures the moisture in the skin that is often lost to evaporation, it helps keep the dryness at bay, leading to a more youthful bounce back, says Dr. Garshick. “It helps the skin to stretch and become more flexible.”
5. Hyaluronic acid heals minor skin wounds
The skin is our body’s largest organ and needs the most care. If your skin has been damaged due to environmental factors or chronic conditions, hyaluronic acid may be able to help, contributing to your body’s natural wound healing abilities. “It promotes healthy connective tissue and reduces the appearance of damage to the skin,” says Dr. Garshick. Since damaged skin often pulls, cracks or irritates, quick and proper healing is essential to smooth and comfortable skin. “Because hyaluronic acid promotes skin elasticity, nourishment and hydration, it can help your skin resist future damage and improve overall skin health,” she adds.
How can I get the hyaluronic acid benefits?
Adding a serum to your skincare routine is an affordable and effective way to get your daily dose of hyaluronic acid. Experts say it’s best to use it immediately after you wash your face (without drying it) as it keeps the water moisture from escaping the skin.
- After cleansing your face, apply a few drops of hyaluronic acid serum to your hands and gently rub into the damp face with your fingertips
- Wait a moment or two for it to absorb (or use a jade roller to help it absorb faster), then follow with any other serums and your moisturizer
Dr. Bottiglione says if you use any other anti-aging actives, like glycolic acid, use those before you apply the hyaluronic acid. You can also add a drop to your foundation for a hydrating boost! And, doctors say hyaluronic acid is safe enough to use daily and even up to twice daily for the best results. It’s also suitable for all skin types and can be especially beneficial for women over 50 to reverse the signs of aging and dryness and prevent future damage.
The 4 best hyaluronic acid serums
There are several ways to incorporate hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine, whether you need relief from extreme dryness or just want the moisturizing and skin-plumping boost that topical hyaluronic acid offers.
When considering which hyaluronic acid product to get, it’s important to look at the label and opt for one that says 1-2%. One study showed that anything above 0.5% was effective in hydrating skin. A concentration lower than this might not be effective in hydrating your skin, and believe it or not, a higher concentration than 2% could have the opposite effect and pull too much moisture from the skin, drying it out. “You want to make sure it’s a prominent ingredient, not just a trace amount,” advises Dr. Bottiglione.
We tested four tried-and-true hyaluronic acid serums to add to your skincare routine for supple, younger-looking skin.
Mario Badescu Dew Drops (Buy from Mario Badescu, $30)
This water-light gel-serum hybrid has replenishing properties for the skin. It’s formulated with two molecular weights of sodium hyaluronate to attract hydration as Dr. Garshick recommends, niacinamide to help re-balance skin and thyme extract to help boost clarity, leaving your complexion looking dewy and highly hydrated, and a glass-like glow. Amazon reviewers say this product is “light and moisturizing” and leaves skin glowing.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic 2% (Buy from Sephora, $15.70)
This budget-minded serum is a cult favorite comprised chiefly of its star main ingredient, as Dr. Bottiglione recommends. It hydrates with a next-generation hyaluronic acid cross polymer, a cross-linked form of hyaluronic acid that enhances its delivery into the skin barrier and helps support water density.
Olay Deep Hydration Serum (Buy from Olay, $19.99)
This drugstore mainstay makes its “unicorn” product chock full of vitamins like B3. This ingredient is also known to help skin retain moisture, meaning a combination of this, plus, the hyaluronic leaves skin seriously hydrated. Vitamin B3 can also hydrate to help with surface skin cell turnover, regeneration and exfoliation to remove dull skin.
Kiehl’s Ultra High Potency 1.5% (Buy from Ulta, $35)
This concentrated facial serum has seven ingredients to help your skin bounce back with replenishing moisture and intensive hydration. Kiehl’s even studied their product on consumers and says that 89% reported plumper skin in just a week of use.
Nakery Beauty Seductive Comfort Hyaluronic Fragrance Mist (Buy from HSN, $29.95) We love when our daily dose of hyaluronic serves a multitude of purposes in one product. Nakery’s hydrating beauty serum mist refreshes skin instantly which helps diminish the look of lines and wrinkles. As a bonus, you can spritz on body, hair, and linens to benefit from the notes of vanilla, jasmine, sandalwood and bergamot!
Check out this YouTube review by @EscentualCOM to discover what a hyaluronic serum may be able to do for you in 30 days of use:
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