All you need to know about hyaluronic acid
Of late, hyaluronic acid is everywhere: television ads spruik its efficacy, celebrities swear by it, and even your friends who aren’t that into skincare say they can’t live without it.
So what does this acid actually do, and why is it so famous? How do we use it, and more importantly, who should be using it?
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring substance found in our bodies in small amounts. One of its many uses within the body is to lubricate and cushion our joints, acting as a kind of shock absorber. It’s also been used clinically in eye surgery, and to treat patients who have inflammation of the joints, such as arthritis.1
Most acids—like glycolic and salicylic, for example—are exfoliating acids. They slough dead skin cells off our faces to reveal the fresh, new skin underneath. But hyaluronic acid is different: it’s a moisturising acid. It offers intense, second-to-none hydration for your skin.
How does it work?
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant: a substance that draws water into itself to keep moist. When a hyaluronic acid treatment is applied to the skin, it absorbs the moisture that’s around it and pulls it into the surface of the skin. For this reason, we recommend applying hyaluronic acid to damp skin so it can take the water and pull it into your skin. Applying hyaluronic acid to dry skin can mean it pulls water from your skin instead—and we don’t want that.
The benefits of hyaluronic acid extend far beyond moisturising. Hyaluronic acid can also reduce wrinkles, and it’s been suggested that it can be used to treat rosacea2 and dermatitis3. Let’s take a look at some studies:
- A study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology measured how effective hyaluronic acid creams were in treating wrinkles. Patients applied the creams twice a day for sixty days, and at the end of the study there was ‘significant improvement’ in skin hydration and elasticity. Creams that contained a hyaluronic acid with a low molecular weight were thought to have penetrated the skin deeper, and these creams saw a ‘significant’ reduction in wrinkle depth.
- Another study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology looked at the effects of hyaluronic acid on the skin of patients who had undergone recent dermatological procedures. Patients applied a hyaluronic acid serum to one side of the face daily, and at the end of the study the side of the face that had been treated with hyaluronic acid was found to have ‘significant improvements’ in skin hydration, and further improvements in moisture, texture, tone, complexion, and appearance.
- A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology measured the efficacy of a new nano-hyaluronic acid. The study found that after eight weeks of using hyaluronic acid products, patients had seen a 40% reduction in wrinkle depth, a 96% increase in skin hydration, and a 55% increase in skin firmness and elasticity.
Who needs to use it?
If you have dry skin—or if you just want to keep your skin really well-hydrated—hyaluronic acid is the treatment for you. Its moisturising capabilities make it a go-to for anyone looking for extra hydration, and its wrinkle-reducing ability means it's perfect for anyone who wants to combat the signs of ageing.
Hyaluronic acid is usually very well-tolerated, even by those with sensitive skin. It could be the right choice for you if stronger anti-wrinkle treatments aren’t right for your skin, and it might also be a treatment option for skin conditions like rosacea. We recommend speaking with your doctor or dermatologist before using hyaluronic acid as a treatment for any pre-existing skin conditions though.
How do I use it?
Hyaluronic acid can be found in many treatments that are designed to be left on the skin, like serums, creams, lotions, and gels. Keep an eye on the ingredients list, as it may be listed as sodium hyaluronate rather than hyaluronic acid!
It can easily be combined with other active ingredients in moisturisers and lotions—it pairs well with retinol, for example, and can also be used with other powerful skin treatments like niacinamide.
Hyaluronic acid should be used after cleanser and toner, and before any thicker or heavier moisturising creams or oils. Apply it to damp skin, not dry, and it’s completely fine to apply a moisturiser over the top—you don’t need to wait!
Vegans and vegetarians should also keep an eye on the source of their hyaluronic acid. The majority of hyaluronic acid used in skincare is made in laboratories, but some hyaluronic acid is derived from rooster combs. If this is a concern for you, check out the packaging of your skincare product or ask the brand directly where they source their hyaluronic acid from.
What can I expect?
Some people think you can notice a difference almost immediately after applying hyaluronic acid onto damp skin. Your skin should feel plumper, firmer, and more hydrated—you may be able to see these changes as well as feel them!
The studies suggest that you should give every skin treatment about four or six weeks before you can expect to see results. After this time, your skin should definitely feel more hydrated, as well as plumper and firmer. You might see a decrease in fine lines and wrinkles, and you may also notice that your skin looks brighter and glowier as well—this will be a side effect of adding all of that moisture to your skin!
- Goa, Karen L. and Benfield, Paul 2012, ‘Hyaluronic acid: a review of its pharmacology and use as a surgical aid in ophthalmology, and its therapeutic potential in joint disease and wound healing’, Drugs, vol. 47, pp. 536—566. <https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00003495-199447030-00009>, accessed 20 August 2020.
- Schlesinger, Todd E. and Powell, Callie Rowland 2013, ‘Efficacy and tolerability of low molecular weight hyaluronic acid sodium salt 0.2% cream in rosacea’, Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, vol. 12, no. 6, pp. 664—667. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23839183/>, accessed 21 August 2020.
- Schlesinger Todd and Powell, Callie Rowland 2012, ‘Efficacy and safety of a low-molecular weight hyaluronic Acid topical gel in the treatment of facial seborrheic dermatitis’, Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 20—23. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23125886/>, accessed 21 August 2020.