If you follow skincare products even a little you know that Hyaluronic Acid is one of the hottest skincare ingredients out there but what is it and what can it do for your skin? And even more importantly what can't it do?
What is it? HA is naturally produced in the human body and is chemically classified as a Glycosaminoglycan. HA molecules that are long and large in size produce a lubricating effect which resists compression and allows our joints and skin to bear weight. HA is found naturally in most every cell in the body and occurs in high concentrations in specific locations in the body. In each location, it serves a different function. Sadly, HA also has a half-life ( the time it takes for the molecule to get broken down and excreted from the body) of less than 3 days and possibly even as little as one day in the skin. For this reason, the body needs to continually replenish itself with HA. Bummer, right?
Hyaluronic acid in the skin - The skin is the largest organ in the body comprising about 15% of our body weight. Roughly 50% of the Hyaluronic Acid in our body is found in the skin. HA and Collagen are vital to maintaining the skin's layers and structure. It is the collagen that gives the skin its firmness but it is the HA that nourishes and hydrates the collagen. Collagen are the stretchy fibers that restore the skin back to shape when stretched and Hyaluronic acid keeps the collagen moist and elastic. Collagen is continuously surrounded and nourished by this gelatinous HA substance. Young skin is smooth and elastic because it contains high concentrations of Hyaluronic Acid, which helps skin stay healthy. As we grow older, the body loses its ability to maintain this same level in the skin. With decreasing levels of HA in the skin, so lessens the ability of the skin to hold water. The result, the skin becomes drier and loses its ability to stay hydrated. Hyaluronic acid acts as a space filler by binding to water and thus keeping the skin wrinkle-free.
The popularity of HA is the result of the introduction of new injectable HA based facial fillers such as Restylane that became the replacement to bovine collagen injections which required testing for reactions and were not appropriate for everyone. Injected into the skin, HA's binds 1000x it's weight in water to plumps up wrinkles and facial folds and lasts about 6 months.
Are there benefits to applying hyaluronic acid topically?
Yes and no. Some products claim the same effects that would be seen with injections and that is absolutely not true. HA is a big molecule and it's not going to penetrate the epidermis to affect facial folds and wrinkles. I would consider HA to be a moisturizer rather than an anti-aging ingredient and even then, only in certain circumstances. HA is a humectant, meaning that it draws moisture out of the air and to itself In other words, while you're not going to see the same results as when injected, HA can be a great moisturizer and dehydrated skin will feel plumper and softer when used topically. HA is also very light and non oily so it could be used on acne prone skin without causing more breakouts.
But here's the thing, if there is not enough moisture in the air, HA can bind water FROM your skin to itself, essentially acting as a desiccant. In dry climates or dry indoor heat in winter, it may leave your skin feeling even drier and tighter!
Should you use Hyaluronic Acid products?
Bottom line - if you choose the right products, use them properly, love them and are willing to pay for them, absolutely! I personally use humectants both HA and Sodium PCA as stand alone products and added to other products to increase their moisture. Two things to look for in an HA product are purity and concentration.
Here's a couple of good ones:
Ageless Pure Hyaluronic Filler
Highly concentrated and botanically derived hyaluronic filler immediately plumps skin and increases moisture for all skin types. 18% Hyaluronic Acid smooths skin while Apricot essential oil provides additional hydration and aromatherapy benefits.
PCA Hydrating Serum
A serum containing a specialized blend of antioxidants and moisture-binding ingredients to leave skin soft, plump and hydrated.