Chances are, you have some hyaluronic acid in your skincare line-up. This hydrating hero has become ubiquitous thanks to its power to give that youthful glowy skin we all crave. However, there is still much misinformation and confusion about how exactly it works and why your skin needs it. Here we spoke to some experts and this is what you need to know.
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a molecule naturally found throughout the body. It is most found in the skin and in other moveable parts such as joints and muscles. Its molecule size varies slightly throughout the body. Also referred to as HA, it is also created synthetically in labs to be included in skincare products. “It’s a long-chain molecule which naturally exists in our skin and is integral to the dermal support structure as well as other tissues such as cartilage,” aesthetic doctor Dr Preema Vig explained. Don’t be fooled by the ‘acid’ in the name, cosmetic doctor Dr Rekha Tailor noted. “Hyaluronic acid is actually a gentle acid and has a pH level of between 5.0 and 8.0, which perfectly complements the skin’s natural pH level.”
Why does the skin need hyaluronic acid?
As we know, hyaluronic acid is all to do with hydration. “It’s famous for its ability to bind water (almost 1000x its own weight), and gives your skin its plump, full appearance,” aesthetic doctor Dr Emmaline Ashley said. Beyond hydration, it bolsters and strengthens the skin. “It helps with skin resilience and maintenance of structure even when the skin is compromised or stressed,” Dr Vig noted. As the skin ages, natural levels of hyaluronic acid decrease which leaves skin looking less glowy and bouncy. These dropping levels are partly due to genetics and partly lifestyle based. “External factors such as smoking, sun exposure and pollution can also affect the amount of it in the skin,” Dr Tailor said.
How does hyaluronic acid skincare help?
As the skin’s natural levels of hyaluronic acid decrease, using products with its synthetic counterpart can help fake that youthful glow. Hyaluronic acid is what skin experts call a ‘humectant’, essentially a substance that keeps things moist. “It will hold the moisture contents by trapping it in the skin and binding water to collagen,” Dr Vig highlighted. “When skin is hydrated properly then skin cell production can take place more easily and so skin is plumper and smoother as a result,” Dr Tailor added.
Who needs hyaluronic acid?
In short: everyone. “It’s non-irritating and safe to use for any skin type,” Dr Ashley explained. However, for those on the drier side, it’s an absolute must. “Due to its amazing hydrating power, if you are prone to dry or dehydrated skin through genetics or environmental factors such as weather, you will particularly benefit from using it in your skincare routine,” Dr Ashley added.
How can you include hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine?
Hyaluronic acid is normally found in products like serums, moisturisers and essences. It’s also added to eye creams, suncare and base makeup products like primers or tinted moisturisers. You can’t overdo it, so there would be no issues using HA in both your morning and evening routine.
What percentage of hyaluronic acid should you look out for?
Skincare products contain a percentage of hyaluronic acid. These numbers can be a little confusing and misleading. “As a rule, you will never have more than 1-2% hyaluronic acid in an over-the-counter product,” Dr Ashley highlighted. While you may see larger percentage numbers, this is likely not to be a true representation of the product and instead a marketing ploy. “They are mostly composed of water instead,” Dr Ashley said. If they actually contained a higher percentage, they would have the opposite effect. “More than 2% hyaluronic acid will have the effect of potentially drawing moisture out of your skin and dehydrating rather than moisturising,” she clarified.
What about molecule size?
Molecule size of hyaluronic acid is something that often pops up on product labels and in marketing messaging. Synthetically hyaluronic acid can be created in different molecular sizes. The smaller the molecule, the further it can penetrate the skin. “Very low molecular weight (small) hyaluronic acid molecules can penetrate into your epidermis,” Dr Ashley explained. However, this isn’t always necessary for hyaluronic acid to work its magic. “Hyaluronic acid does not need to penetrate into the skin barrier to work as an excellent humectant,” she clarified. Whilst in the upper skin surface, hyaluronic acid can work its magic to draw out moisture and give the skin an appearance of looking plumpy and glowing.
How else can you boost your hyaluronic acid levels?
Beyond skincare products that contain synthetic HA, you can give your skin a fighting chance to boost its levels via your diet. Dr Tailor recommends a healthy diet rich in foods that contain vitamin C. “This helps the skin to make more HA and collagen,” she noted. Pack your plate with leafy greens, citrus fruits and soy-based products. Dr Tailor also recommends vitamin C supplements as an additional boost.
What about hyaluronic acid fillers?
Hyaluronic acid is increasingly being offered in clinics as an option for fillers. Used as a temporary dermal filler, they are proving popular due to the fact that they are a more natural option. Used anywhere across the face (even under the eyes), these HA injections plump the skin giving it a smooth looking youthful glow for up to a year.
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