Like many of the ordinary skin care ingredients found in our products today, hyaluronic acid sounds like some dangerous compound a mad scientist would use to set off explosions. You might even read the name on a moisturizer label and immediately pass it over for something that sounds more “normal” like olive oil.
So, what is hyaluronic acid exactly?
Well, it is a naturally occurring compound and has some very important functions. When it comes to skin care, it’s a total rock-star ingredient that hydrates your dermis to give you a beautifully dewy, plump complexion. Better yet, it's great for all skin types!
Get to know it better and, trust me, you’ll be squinting at ingredients lists making sure it’s on there every time.
What is Hyaluronic Acid and Why It Is Important For Your Skin
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a natural substance found in your skin and other areas of your body.
If you want to get science-y, hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), a group of compounds that make up components of connective tissue. GAGs are polysaccharides (carbohydrates) that function to nourish collagen and elastin in the body. Our bodies use hyaluronic acid to prevent skin aging, for wound healing, to prevent dry skin as well as to reduce the appearance of age-related changes such as fine lines and wrinkles.
When GAGs are combined with water in the skin, they form a gel-like substance (like a gooey molecule) that fills itself up into the spaces between collagen and elastin fibers and gives them turgidity, or bounce (think of how bouncy Jell-O is).
Basically, GAGs make skin plump and hydrated, giving it that velvety-soft, plush, and smooth appearance we all adore in babies.
Hyaluronic acid is a GAG that can be found naturally in most cells and especially in areas like the joints (cushioning them and keeping them lubricated), the skin (where it’s most abundant—your skin contains 50% of all the HA found in the body), and the eyes (giving eyeballs their shape).
HA can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, or 6 liters of water in 1 gram of HA. Wow!
Hyaluronic acid has a half-life (the length of time it takes for it to get broken down and excreted) of only one day in the skin, meaning it has to be renewed and restored often. You need it if you want skin that looks youthful, soft, and hydrated, and plump lips, not to mention if you want to avoid joint pain and ensure that your joints stay lubricated and working properly. And, well, who doesn’t want that?
While its benefits to the skin and joints are clear, this GAG can do far more than keep us looking and feeling young. Because of the evidence showing its ability to promote hydration, hyaluronic acid is also an active ingredient in many eye drops. These eye drops can be used after cataract surgery and to treat dry eye syndrome. Combined with chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid can also reduce acid reflux.
Hyaluronic acid is a much-loved ingredient by the 10-step Korean skin care routine, check out our guide to K-Beauty here.
The Role of Hyaluronic Acid in the Skin & What Does it Do
Unlike your other organs, human skin doesn’t seem like such a big mystery. After all, we see it every single day. But there’s much more to your skin than meets the eye.
Your skin is comprised of three main layers: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat. For our purposes, the dermis is the layer we’ll take a closer look at. The dermis (the middle layer of the skin) is the tier that contains collagen, elastin, and GAGs.
It contains nerve fibers and capillaries, which allow nutrients and oxygen in the blood vessel to pass into cells. The dermis also contains hair follicles and sweat glands, and it helps regulate core temperature.
Why is my hair thinning? RenewSkin Inc. explains.
The dermis is primarily made up of 75-80% collagen and the rest is elastin and hyaluronic acid, fat cells, fibroblasts (collagen production factories), and blood vessels.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body that gives skin its structure and keeps it firm. There are 27 different types of collagen and type 1 makes up 90% of skin collagen.
Elastin is another protein in the dermis that gives skin its stretching ability. It’s essentially what allows skin to bounce back when you pinch and pull at it, like a rubber band. Without elastin, the skin would lose its firmness and become saggy, just like a rubber band that’s been stretched too much.
What does hyaluronic acid do?
As previously mentioned, hyaluronic acid fills out the free spaces between the collagen and elastin fibers to keep collagen flexible (on its own collagen doesn’t have much stretch). It acts as a nourishing anti-aging agent to keep collagen limber and pliable, providing surface hydration and keeping fine lines and wrinkles at bay.
When it comes to skin care products, we need to know what sodium hyaluronate is, the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid. Sodium hyaluronate is a glycosaminoglycan made up of N-acetyl-d-glucosamine, an amide derivative of glucose. Sodium hyaluronate is an important ingredient because it has a lower molecular weight, making it more easily absorbable into the pores (more on this soon!).
Wondering how to increase collagen? Learn how at RenewSkin Inc.
Hyaluronic Acid Benefits
Hyaluronic acid possesses the remarkable ability to bind and retain water molecules and help prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TWL). TWL is the loss of moisture that occurs when water passes from the dermis up to the epidermis and evaporates. It can lead to dryness and more pronounced wrinkles and fine lines.
In addition to maintaining adequate moisture levels and lubrication, hyaluronic acid molecules also take part in certain aspects of tissue repair and wound healing by activating inflammatory cells in order to hasten immune response. Basically, it’s part of the tissue-healing process in case of injury and can help with skin wounds.
According to dermatologists, together, collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid are like the Three Musketeers of skin care (if aging skin was Cardinal Richelieu). They work together to ensure that skin stays well-nourished, plump, and firm.
Hyaluronic Acid Production Declines When We Age
Of course, there’s a catch: as with collagen and elastin, hyaluronic acid diminishes as we age and with UV exposure, particularly after the age 40. If it didn’t, we’d have baby-smooth skin for life!
As HA becomes less abundant in the skin, it leads to more TWL, dryness, and wrinkle formation. Skin becomes etched with fine lines around the eye area and forehead, with deeper folds noticeable around the mouth and between the brows.
How do wrinkles form? RenewSkin Inc. explains.
The Decline of Hyaluronic Acid Leads To:
- Decreased ability for skin to hold water and support collagen and elastin
- Dryer, sunken look
- Increased appearance of skin imperfections and conditions, like wrinkles and cellulite
- Increased joint friction
More helpful reading by Renew Alliance: How to get rid of cellulite on thighs.
How to Replenish Hyaluronic Acid (the Right Way)
There is a difference between hyaluronic acid for skin vs hyaluronic acid for joints.
Let's talk about hyaluronic acid for skin care.
There are two ways to replenish hyaluronic acid in the skin: through topical application and through oral supplements. Topical administration of hyaluronic acid is the most common, as many skin care companies include it in their products, particularly in moisturizers and serums.
But is topical hyaluronic acid better than HA in supplement form? The truth is, for best results, you need both.
More helpful reading: Oily skin routine
Topical Treatments: The Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums, Creams, and Injections
Perfect for all skin types, a topical HA product can help our dermis retain moisture to keep it soft and plump. It allows it to maintain the elasticity that allows it to snap back when pulled, hence preventing sagging. Research has shown time and again that topical hyaluronic acid found in skin care products is an effective treatment for wrinkles in aging skin.
The most commonly known hyaluronic topical applications include:
- Hyaluronic acid cream
- Hyaluronic acid serum
- Hyaluronic acid moisturizer
- Hyaluronic acid face cleanser
- Hyaluronic acid injections
- Hyaluronic sheet masks
More helpful reading: Collagen facial mask by Renew Alliance.
It Turns Out There Are Two Types of HA:
- Higher molecular weight HA and
- Lower molecular weight HA
In one study, 76 female participants between 30 and 60 applied a hyaluronic acid-formulated cream to their wrinkled skin twice a day for 60 days. It was noted that the HA-formulated cream (as opposed to a placebo) provided “significant improvement in skin hydration and overall elasticity.”
However, both high-molecular and low-molecular-weight HA have their perks and are necessary for an overall improvement in skin condition.
Now, where high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid is concerned, the positive effects are in the overall hydration of the skin. High-molecule weight forms a protective layer on the surface of the skin to retain moisture and prevent water loss. It’s a humectant, meaning it preserves moisture and actually attracts moisture from the dermis to the epidermis and from the surrounding environment.
When it comes to hyaluronic acid with a lower molecular weight, its positive effects lie in the fact that it is able to penetrate deep into the dermis where it can tackle more stubborn wrinkles like forehead wrinkles and laugh lines.
Hyaluronic acid with a lower molecular weight was found to have significant benefits on the “reduction of wrinkle depth.” This was believed to be a result of the fact that low-molecular-weight versions of the ingredient penetrate deeper into the dermis layer of skin.
In one study, 33 women with an average age of approximately 45 years applied hyaluronic acid lotion with lower molecular weight, cream, and serum around the eye area for a period of eight weeks. At its conclusion, the research article showed that “a statistically significant moisturizing effect was observed.” In addition, skin roughness and skin elasticity were also improved.
This page of the research article further proved that the smaller the molecular weight of hyaluronic acid, the better penetration, and hydration.
A dermatologist may often use injections of low-molecular hyaluronic acid dermal filler. As part of a good skin care regimen, these hyaluronic acid fillers can help fill up the empty spaces inside the dermis and lift sagging skin. During the injection process, the dermatologist will target areas where you are experiencing a loss of volume to provide you with a more plump and hydrated look.
More helpful reading:
Hyaluronic Acid Supplements
Of course, topical skin care treatments approved by dermatologists are all well and good, but what about hyaluronic acid supplements and their effect on overall health? They, too, are wunderkinds in treating signs of aging skin, and not just for one skin type or one area of your skin, for example, your face.
While topical HA skin care products target only different skin types from the outside (epidermis), hyaluronic acid supplements can help restore the HA in our skin and entire bodies.
Research has shown that ingested hyaluronic acid products can help moisturize the skin and lubricate joints. In one randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, participants with dry skin were given 240mg of hyaluronic acid for six weeks.
Results showed that there were improvements of dry skin throughout the face and body, and a “significant increase of skin moisture.”
Sources of Hyaluronic Acid (and Which Is Best)
Hyaluronic acid can be derived either from chicken or rooster combs or from Streptococcus bacterial fermentation. Because the ingredient occurs naturally, there’s usually no danger of an allergic reaction or any other side effects. Still, for those who want the most effective anti-aging hyaluronic acid supplements (and are vegan, vegetarian, and prefer animal-friendly products), the best option is HA that’s 100% plant-derived.
Best Hyaluronic Acid
'Hyabest' is one of the best types of skin care ingredients derived from non-animal oral HAs with proven science standing firmly behind it. In a study with 42 female participants (20 in the HA group; 22 in the placebo group) who were concerned about skin dryness, sagging, and crow’s feet, it was found that skin moisture content in the HA group was increased significantly as opposed to the placebo group. Wrinkle volume reduction was also significant in the HA group.
Another study found similar results for sixty Japanese people aged 22-59 years with crow’s feet. Following eight weeks of regular ingestion of the Hyabest supplement as part of their skin care routine, the HA group showed “significantly diminished wrinkles” as compared to the placebo group. What’s more, another study found that Hyabest also relieved pain in the knees of people suffering from osteoarthritis. Better yet, none of these people experienced any side effects.
Kind of makes you want to run out and buy a bunch, right? I don’t blame you -- I'm in the same boat!
Resource: Here are the Best Hyaluronic Acid Pills
In Comes Taut Premium Collagen Advanced Formula
If you know me, you know I’m first, a supplement snob, and second, I’m a major fan of Taut’s Premium Collagen Advanced Formula. Dermatologist-tested, this extraordinary liquid supplement contains hyaluronic acid to help you truly get the best skin possible. Taut's hyaluronic acid is sourced from clinically-tested Hyabest HA, which provides the best results. With this daily shot of skin-loving nutrients, I’m always sure my skin is at its 100% potential!
As I mentioned before, those who use hyaluronic acid serum as part of their skin care routine will reduce wrinkles, improve elasticity, and increase skin moisture to have skin looking smoother than a baby’s bottom. These supplements help you look and feel it (trust me—even my mom noticed!).
Taut’s Premium Collagen Advanced Formula also contains another personal favorite and must-have: marine hydrolyzed collagen (potent concentration 13,000mg) to promote firmness. It works in synergy with elastin to promote elasticity, vitamin C (not to be confused with citric acid) to support collagen, and grape seed extract to protect skin cells against free radical damage (unstable atoms that damage cells and lead to wrinkling, hyper-pigmentation, and sagging) caused by pollutants, UV rays, and cigarette smoking.
This delicious orange-y drink is like a weapon against pretty much all of your skin concerns. With regular use of this hyaluronic acid booster, your skin will look radiant, fresh and, well, taut. No more sagging jowls or deep lines etched into your skin screaming your age to everyone in the vicinity. And it can help improve your joints too!
This is as close to the Fountain of Youth as you’ll ever get!
More helpful reading:
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