You may have heard about the wonders of hyaluronic acid and how it can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. Just about everyone is putting it in their products (at times, multiple variations of it in one product) so it must be good, right? Well, yes and no.
In case you weren't sure, what exactly is hyaluronic acid? It's a sugar molecule that's found naturally in our skin and functions to retain moisture in our skin and joints. As we get older, the amount of hyaluronic acid in our bodies decreases. Since it helps to bind water to collagen and traps water in the skin to help it look plumper and more hydrated, decreasing amounts in our body can mean increased dehydration of skin and perhaps a less firm look to the skin.
Never fear, topical hyaluronic acid to the rescue. Hyaluronic acid functions as a humectant which helps to attract water to the skin. If a topical product is formulated right, this can help skin appear more plump and hydrated with improved elasticity. All of this sounds good, right? So what is the issue?
Since hyaluronic acid works to attract moisture, if there's little to no humidity from your surrounding environment, it can actually make your skin worse by drawing moisture away from deep levels of your skin to the surface where it evaporates. Another downside to hyaluronic acid is that it cannot hold water long-term. This is why it's so crucial to never use a hyaluronic product alone and apply an occlusive moisturizer right after your hyaluronic product to seal in the moisture and help keep it from escaping.
People with sensitive or sensitized skin should also be cautious of this ingredient. While people can react to just about any ingredient, from my experience as an esthetician throughout the years, I have seen many clients with sensitive skin react to hyaluronic acid (me included). This often plays out in the form of red, bumpy, and irritated skin which also escalates skin aging. Part of the reason that hyaluronic can trigger skin reactions can be the fact that it also plays a role as a penetration enhancer that allows increased absorption of several ingredients to cause irritation in skin.
Another reason hyaluronic may be sensitizing can be due to the different molecular sizes or weights of the ingredient that have been created to increase penetration to skin. Low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid is the essentially a waste product of the original construct of hyaluronic acid. Since it's not the original form that exist in the skin, chances of it being irritating are higher especially since it was created to penetrate to deeper layers.
However, you don't need to have sensitive skin to react to hyaluronic acid. The hype has driven demand so much that it seems to be in just about everything these days from serums to moisturizers. You can literally be compounding hyaluronic acid of several different molecular sizes with every step of your routine without realizing it. Dosage is another factor that you should watch out for. In these cases, more is not more.
All of this does not mean I am suggesting you stop using hyaluronic entirely, but instead, please be more careful with how it's incorporated into your routine. Do a patch test, start small and increase to higher percentages with caution.
What if you are sensitive to hyaluronic acid and want to avoid using it entirely? Not to worry as there are several amazing ingredients you can turn to instead. In fact, spirulina and some algae species have shown better humectant effects than hyaluronic acid. Ceramides and squalane are also powerful hydrators that also help to strengthen the skin barrier and help prevent trans-eipdermal water loss. These ingredients can actually help keep moisture in your skin long enough to be absorbed. You can look for all of these beneficial ingredients in our upcoming products.
Whether your skin feels more oily or dry, proper hydration is crucial for the health of your skin. For any questions about this post or if you have any skincare or beauty questions you want me to address in a future post of our Lex and Jong Beauty Magazine, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you and don't forget to subscribe!
Such a well written article and jam packed full of really important and useful information
Thank you for this great information, Brendan!
Great article, Brendan! Very helpful to know what to be aware of with hyaluronic acid. There’s more to it than I realized!