With the gazillions of flashy skincare ingredients out there, it’s not easy understanding which are actually ‘good’ for your skin and indeed which will stand the test of time.
But through all the snake venom, snail mucus and bird excrement (yes, really), one ingredient sits there in the background doing plenty of hard work and taking barely any credit. It’s like the Niall Horan of One Direction if you will.
The ingredient in question, is hyaluronic acid (HA). With a name that sounds more like something taken at a hippy festival in the ’60s, than a skin-enhancing beauty ingredient, hyaluronic acid is neither new nor fancy, yet it has something much better to say on its resumé: it works.
So, why is it such a big deal and why do you need it? Allow us to explain. Notebooks at the ready…
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid, or hyaluronan, is a type of polymer known as a glycosaminoglycan, found naturally in the body. Composed partly of sugars, it’s mostly present in the eyes and joints where it functions as a lubricant, but it’s also found in abundance in the skin’s structure where it acts as a powerful humectant – meaning it holds moisture to keep the skin soft, firm, plump and hydrated. If you’re a stat fan, get this. Studies have shown that HA can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. That means just one gram can hold up to six liters of water, making it one of the best polymers in the world (either natural and synthetic) for retaining moisture. Nice work, HA. Oh and it also promotes collagen production, reduces inflammation and fights free radicals as a side-note.
Why HA Is A Skincare Must-Have
Age is a cruel thing sometimes and as with collagen and elastin, levels of HA decrease as you get older. This decrease can start as early as age 18 (eek), but is more significant when you hit 40, when levels start to drop as much as 50 percent.
Depleted levels of HA show up in tired joints, eye problems and in dry, sagging skin, which is why menopausal women will suddenly have an onset of achy joints and notice almost an overnight drop in the suppleness of their skin – estrogen is a molecular signal for HA production, so this figures.
HA supplements and injections have been used for years to relieve arthritis and the like, but there’s also good news for skin because whether at the doctor’s office or in the comfort of your own bathroom, synthetic HA is out there and ready for the taking. Added bonus: as a skincare ingredient, hyaluronic acid is formulated to act like your body’s own, naturally-occuring HA, meaning it rarely causes allergic reactions, so is perfect for even the most sensitive skin types.
How To Up The HA Ante
At Home: Most of your moisturizers or serums contain hyaluronic acid without you even knowing it. Just look on the ingredient list and it’s most likely there, hiding away with your retinols, idebenones and vitamin Es. You should also look out for sodium hyaluronate, which is a salt derived from hyaluronic acid. As a skincare ingredient, hyaluronic acid is a fairly large molecule and, while it can still penetrate the top layers of skin to increase moisture and improve elasticity, sodium hyaluronate has a smaller molecular size so can penetrate the skin on a slightly deeper level.
When it comes to finding winning HA products, the key is to make sure either hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate is high up on the ingredient list. You may already know this, but the higher up the list an ingredient is, the more of it your product contains. Also, steer well clear of fillers like alcohol and fragrances as these will counteract all that fabulous HA and undo all of its hard work.
At The Doctor’s Office: For the biggest boost of HA to your skin, you might want to think about injectable hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylane and Juvéderm. Typically lasting from four to six months, HA fillers are injected deep into the skin, to levels topical creams can only even dream of, therefore helping to replace lost HA immediately and effectively to temporarily restore lost moisture and fullness to the face. Read: farewell wrinkles and fine lines. Fillers are much bigger commitments in terms of cost, but they beat topical creams hands down when it comes to visible results. Your choice.
However you go about introducing more hyaluronic acid into your life, just do it. It’s foolish not to.
Written by: Georgia Gould