Is hyaluronic acid good for acne?

Hyaluronic acid has a host of benefits for acne-prone skin.

Written by
Ruby Feneley
Medically reviewed by
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If you're interested in skincare at all, you're probably familiar with hyaluronic acid, a famous molecule found in everything from serums to eye creams and moisturisers.

This skin saviour is often recommended for dry skin because of the water-binding molecule's ability to keep skin hydrated [1].

But, if you have an oily or acne-prone skin type, you might wonder if hyaluronic acid is necessary, or even beneficial for you. Because let's face it, those of us who've experienced acne have had our trust broken one too many times by a new skincare active or product that resulted in a bevy of breakouts.

And surely, if an ingredient is designed for treating dry skin types, it won't be appropriate for those of us who battle with blemishes?

While it's logical to assume a product commonly recommended for dry skin types wouldn't be suitable for acneic ones, that couldn't be further from the truth. Hyaluronic acid has a host of benefits for acne-prone skin, particularly when used in tandem with other treatments in your skincare routine.

To learn more about the blemish-busting benefits of hyaluronic acid, read on.

How does hyaluronic acid work?

Before we delve into how hyaluronic acid can benefit acne-prone skin, it's important to understand how the supermolecule works.

In short, hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance found in the human body, which helps it run like a well-oiled machine [2].

It binds water molecules together and produces a substance that aids joint health (acting like a shock absorber), keeps our eyes from getting dry, and maintains our skin health [3].

Hyaluronic acid and ageing

This places us in a bit of a pickle because as we age, we lose hyaluronic acid.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hyaluronic acid production starts to decrease as early as 20 years of age, and by the age of 50, we have lost half of it [4].

Because of its function in wound healing and moisture-boosting, decreased levels of hyaluronic acid can be the culprit behind the fine lines, dullness, and wrinkles that encroach on our faces as we age.

This is why many skincare companies use hyaluronic acid as a key active ingredient in their anti-ageing skincare products.

How hyaluronic acid helps treat acne

It stands to reason that if hyaluronic acid is a great moisturiser, it could be unnecessary for skin that's doing a little too good of a job of keeping itself hydrated.

But, there's plenty of evidence that hyaluronic acid helps acne-prone skin types just as much as it helps those experiencing excessive dryness.

It does this in several ways, and understanding the causes of acne will help us break down just how hyaluronic acid can help.

How acne develops

So how does acne happen? Well, excessive sebum production is one of the first culprits.

Sebum is the secretion in your skin that causes pores to become clogged, resulting in acne [5].

In acne-prone and oily skin, sebum production is higher than in normal or dry skin types, resulting in an excess of oil on the skin.

On top of this, acne-prone skin types have slower cell turnover than those with dry or normal skin types [6].

This means dead skin cells accumulate on the surface, mingle with dirt and debris, and eventually clog pores which can become inflamed.

The more sebum produced, the more risk there is that you will develop acne. Avoiding triggers for excess sebum production is key to treating acne, and that is something hyaluronic acid can help with.

Hyaluronic acid and dehydrated skin

It's counterintuitive, but hear us out. When your skin is dehydrated it means its water reservoirs are depleted. It's lacking water, not oil.

Your skin can't produce more of its own water, but it can produce (you guessed it) more of its own oil. When it identifies that it's feeling a little parched, it will start churning out more oil in an effort to balance things out [7].

This is bad news because as we've discussed, excess oil is a recipe for clogged pores.

Using a hyaluronic acid serum will draw moisture from the surrounding environment, boosting the skin's hydration levels, and sending a message to hit the breaks on oil production.

Hyaluronic acid and inflammation

Skin types that experience dehydration or dryness are more likely to experience problems with their skin barrier.

When your skin's barrier function is impaired, its antimicrobial function is impaired which can result in more sensitive skin, inflammation, and acne [8].

Furthermore, transepidermal water loss has been identified in people with impaired skin barriers and moderate to severe acne, indicating that maintaining the skin barrier and skin hydration levels is essential for avoiding inflammatory disorders like acne and eczema [9]

Hyaluronic acid is known for its wound-healing properties and as a non-sensitising ingredient, it can help your skin repair itself after its barrier has been compromised, and boost its moisture levels [10].

What about acne scars?

The dark spots acne leaves behind can be more frustrating than the acne breakouts themselves, given they can linger for weeks and even months.

One of the first ways to avoid developing acne scars is by avoiding UV rays and using a good non-comedogenic SPF50+, like Software's Daily Sun Defence SPF50+.

The other absolutely essential step is making sure you maintain your skin hydration, something that can become compromised by the skincare ingredients used to treat acne like salicylic acid, retinol, and benzoyl peroxide.

Hyaluronic acid injections are often used to decrease the appearance of acne scars [11]. It's natural to ask the question, can it help with scarring if you don't have a syringe handy? Fortunately, there is evidence that hyaluronic acid can reduce both acne and acne scarring.

How hyaluronic acid reduces scarring

In 2017, researchers applied hyaluronic acid, using a "split face" method, to 20 oily-skinned people. For all participants, the side of their face hyaluronic acid was applied showed a significant decrease in oil production [12].

Less oil means less acne and less acne scarring. Voilà.

Hyaluronic acid can also increase your skin's ability to tolerate more intense treatments and ingredients used to treat acne.

Another 2017 study found that patients who used a hyaluronic acid serum while receiving fractional laser treatments for acne scarring had better results and recovered faster than patients who did not.

The study noted that because topical hyaluronic acid is "biocompatible" — meaning our skin recognises it well — it's fantastic for wound healing.

Indeed, hyaluronic acid adhesive bandages are often used to boost the repair process when skin has been injured.

Because hyaluronic acid is able to improve skin elasticity, it also enhances the skin's ability to "bounce back" from not only intensive acne treatments but also acne itself [13].

Is hyaluronic acid better than salicylic acid for acne?

So, how does hyaluronic acid perform compared to other popular acne-fighting active ingredients like salicylic acid, otherwise known as beta hydroxy acid (BHA)?

The two ingredients do slightly different things, and each can boost the other one's efficacy.

BHAs work within the pores and on the surface of the skin to shift oil and dead skin cells.

Other common actives used when treating acne and acne scarring are glycolic acid and vitamin C; skincare products that use these ingredients all accelerate skin cell turnover and resurface texture [14].

While they're effective, they can cause irritation. This is why products meant to treat breakouts occasionally cause breakouts (unfair but true). This phenomenon naturally makes it hard to keep up with an acne-fighting skincare routine.

Can acne-prone skin types use hyaluronic acid every day?

Yes, and you should!

Using hyaluronic acid every day is a great way to ensure your skin remains healthy as you address acne concerns.

The ingredient provides lightweight hydration and is generally safe for most skin types.

Because hyaluronic acid has natural hydrating properties and helps the skin retain moisture, using a hyaluronic acid moisturiser after applying a serum that contains more powerful active ingredients can help mitigate any drying effects.

This means you can use more powerful actives on a more regular basis, without experiencing some of their less desirable side effects.

Importantly, compared to treatments like salicylic acid and retinol — which are often recommended for those experiencing unwanted spots — hyaluronic acid is safe for people who are breastfeeding [15].

How long does it take for hyaluronic acid to reduce acne?

Hyaluronic acid will help you achieve healthy skin, an essential goal if you're looking to reduce breakouts.

However, it's not going to whisk away blemishes instantaneously.

When using hyaluronic acid you'll notice immediate changes, like plump, luminous skin. You can expect more dramatic differences like reduced breakouts and decreased fine lines over time.

How to incorporate hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine

Fortunately, incorporating hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine is super easy.

You can apply hyaluronic acid morning and night and there are a variety of formulas available.

We've mentioned hyaluronic acid serums a couple of times throughout this article and if you're looking for one to add to your regimen, we're obsessed with our Hyaluronic Complex Serum. Supercharged with 4 different types of hyaluronic acid, it effectively targets dryness, dullness and fine lines, while supporting your skin barrier integrity.

Our Multi-Peptide Eye Serum is another great choice, especially for those wanting to rejuvenate the delicate skin around the eyes.

Formulated with sodium hyaluronate (as well as other nourishing ingredients like acetyl hexapeptide-8 and glycerin), it stimulates collagen production, diminishes dark circles and puffiness, and protects the skin from free radicals.

Finally, for an instant boost of hydration, why not give our Hydrogel Face Masks a go? They're packed with hyaluronic acid and ceramides for rich, long-lasting moisture that leaves skin looking rejuvenated and smooth.

Used regularly as part of your skincare routine, these formulas will increase hydration and see you on your way to your best possible complexion. While adverse effects of using hyaluronic acid are very low, and it's generally well tolerated if you're erring on the side of caution patch test first.

Happy hydrating!

Image credit: Getty Images

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