We’ve already waxed poetic about acids last week—specifically the exfoliating versions that render skin smooth and toned. Now, while those acids are powerful active ingredients that wage a war on multiple fronts against acne, pigmentation and fine lines, hyaluronic acid is a completely different kind. It is super hydrating, plumping and safe for all skin types.
Hyaluronic acid is a powerful humectant
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a carbohydrate molecule that can hold a thousand times its weight in water, and is naturally found in our skin to retain moisture and keep it hydrated. It is a humectant, which means that it acts as a moisture magnet, extracting water from the environment and delivering it to the cells. Just a single gram of hyaluronic acid can hold six litres of water, but it is able to hydrate smartly, meaning that it pulls just enough water so as to not drown the cells.
Hyaluronic acid is actually present in the body (which is why baby skin is so soft and plump), but its amount keeps decreasing as we get older, like with elastin and collagen—it is present in the fluid within joints, inside the eye sockets and in other tissues, where it helps retain collagen and provide lubrication. Applying topical hyaluronic acid won’t help lubricate these tissues, but diet affects the production significantly. Fruits, vegetables and even bone broth is known to stimulate the production of hyaluronic acid in the body.
How hyaluronic acid can save dry, ageing skin
When used topically, hyaluronic acid hydrates and soothes dry skin. Its humectant properties help keep skin hydrated through the day, which leads to a fresh, dewy visage. Many dermatologists like to explain HA’s anti-ageing properties by giving the example of a grape and raisin. A raisin is dehydrated, which is why it looks shrivelled up, while a grape is plumped up with moisture. Similarly, when skin is hydrated, fine lines and puffiness appear diminished—making hyaluronic acid an essential anti-ageing agent. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, protecting the skin from free radicals and environmental aggressors.
Don’t use just hyaluronic acid if it is too dry outside
Hyaluronic acid fits right into a skincare routine without affecting any steps before or after, and is a soothing ingredient, so it can be paired with peels, retinols and other acids. However, picking the right formulation is key. Sometimes, the molecule is too large to hydrate inner layers of the skin, so make sure that the HA product you choose has micronised HA, or a vehicle to help it penetrate through the skin, preventing it from just sitting on top. It is important to note that if you’re going to be in very dry or arid climates (read: an airplane), HA molecules may not have any outside moisture to pull from, which can lead to them pulling moisture from lower layers of the skin. To counter this, apply a sealing emollient like a face oil or moisturiser to trap in the hydration.
This is why hyaluronic acid is a popular ingredient in fillers
Fillers for the nose, lips and under-eye region (like Juvederm and Restylane) use a gel form of HA to add volume in places where you need it most. Injected with a needle, the gel plumps areas that have sunken due to age, smoothes out fine lines and decreases hollow shadows. The hyaluronic acid encased in the gel creates volume because it draws water to the area, creating a filled-in space. Since the body recognises HA as its own, it is less likely to have side effects other than some light bruising. The HA and gel carrier usually dissolves within a year.
Our favourite topical skincare products with hyaluronic acid
If saggy skin and fine lines are your main concern, the La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum is a fail-safe serum that absorbs immediately without being sticky. The Vitamin B5 helps speed up repair, especially if you have sensitive skin. Apply this one on damp (or even wet) skin to create the perfect environment for the HA to draw up all the moisture it needs. If you’re a frequent traveller, Molecular Cosmetics’ Hyaluronic Acid Ampoules are well worth their weight in gold when applied before a long flight. They contain short and long chain molecules—the former hydrates the deeper levels of the dermis, while the latter sits on the surface and provides instant hydration with a cooling effect.
If you’d rather not use a serum, the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream is a tall drink of water, even for oily and combination skin. The L’Oréal Paris Hydra Fresh Anti-Ox Aqua Balm has antioxidants to neutralise free radicals and HA to leave skin resilient and bouncy, while the Innisfree Hyaluronic Acid mask leaves taut skin happy and balanced. For other areas that may need some TLC, the Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream plumps the thin under-eye skin, which is most frequently plagued with fine lines. For dry and flaky lips, the Laneige Lip Sleeping mask has HA to coat the lips through the night and prevent moisture loss.
Scroll through our gallery to take a look at the best hyaluronic acid beauty products you can add to your skincare closet.
Laneige Special Care Lip Sleeping Mask
Innisfree Skin Clinic Hyaluronic Acid Mask
Molecular Cosmetics Hyaluronic Acid Ampoules
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-cream
La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum
L’Oréal Paris Hydra Fresh Anti-Ox Grapeseed Hydrating Aqua Balm
Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream