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Last updated April 8, 2020. 3 minute read

Hyaluronic acid: types, benefits, and how to use

The primary benefit of hyaluronic acid is that it helps lock in hydration. Dehydrated skin is low in water content and can look rough, dry, flaky, and dull.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is naturally present in the skin. It functions as a lubricant for the joints and eyes, as an anti-inflammatory that aids in wound healing, and is one of the key molecules associated with skin moisture (Papakonstantinou, 2012).

The reason: It’s super-super-absorbent. “Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule capable of holding more than 1,000 times its weight in water,” says Dr. Brendan Camp, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with MDCS: Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City. “It acts as a humectant by drawing moisture to the skin; the result is skin that appears more plump and youthful.”

Vitals

  • Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally-occurring sugar molecule in the body.
  • It can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water.
  • Because of this absorbency, it’s used in moisturizing and anti-aging products.
  • There are three main types of hyaluronic acid, and it’s an ingredient in many skincare products.

Our skin’s natural storehouse of hyaluronic acid declines as we get older. Why? It’s partly the body’s natural aging process and partly environmental factors such as smoking and sun exposure. This causes skin to lose moisture. That can lead to signs of aging, such as a loss of elasticity, fine lines, and wrinkling (Papakonstantinou, 2012).

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Benefits of hyaluronic acid

The primary benefit of hyaluronic acid is that it helps lock in hydration. Dehydrated skin is low in water content and can look rough, dry, flaky, and dull. Adding moisture to your skin’s surface can soothe this dryness, making your skin less prone to injury. In terms of your face, using a skincare product containing hyaluronic acid may provide anti-aging benefits, like “plumping up” areas that are sunken or wrinkled.

Types of hyaluronic acid

In its pure form, hyaluronic acid has a short half-life and degrades quickly (Saturnino, 2014). So derivatives have been developed to be longer-lasting and more effective for skin hydration.

There are three types of hyaluronic acid you might see listed in the ingredients of skincare products. A product might contain just one of these versions of hyaluronic acid or a combo.

Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid has molecules that are small enough to penetrate the skin. It works on a surface level.

Sodium hyaluronate is a salt form of hyaluronic acid. It has a lower “molecular weight,” or smaller molecules that are able to penetrate the skin more deeply. Sodium hyaluronate is also used in “dermal fillers,” products that are injected into the skin to smooth wrinkles. An example of this is Restylane (FDA, 2018).

Sodium acetylated hyaluronate is a derivative of sodium hyaluronate that holds more moisture and is longer lasting.

How to incorporate hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine

Several different types of over-the-counter skincare products contain hyaluronic acid and can be incorporated into your skincare routine for hydrating dry skin or anti-aging. Those include moisturizers, serums, sheet masks, and eye creams.

Potential side effects of hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance in the skin, and HA products tend to have a low incidence of side effects and are safe for most people. If you experience side effects while you’re using a hyaluronic acid product, discontinue use, and consult a healthcare provider.