What is hyaluronic acid?
We hear a LOT about hyaluronic acid skin care these days. It’s in injectable wrinkle fillers like Juvederm, Voluma, and Volbella. And it’s popular in serums like SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel, Retexturing Activator, and Phyto +, just to name a few.
So what exactly is hyaluronic acid? The cosmetics / skin care industry uses the term interchangeably with hyaluronan, hyaluronate, or HA. It is a thick, fluid, carbohydrate naturally present in our connective tissue, joints, eyes, and skin.
About half of the body’s HA is in the skin. It keeps skin plump, soft and supple. But like collagen production, the body’s hyaluronic acid production slows with age. We get drier skin, fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging.
4 Ways Hyaluronic Acid Skin Care Helps Skin:
1. Studies have shown that hyaluronic acid creams and gels help skin stay moist and increase elasticity.
2. HA creams also get excellent results with rosacea. In one study, hyaluronic acid sodium salt cream / Bionect cream reduced papules, redness, burning, stinging, and dryness by as much as 78.8% after 4 weeks of use.
3. HA is widely used because of its incredible ability to hold 1,000 times its weight in water. When applied in a serum, HA actually pulls moisture from the air to improve skin hydration. BUT (and this is a big one!) conversely, in a dry environment like Colorado, it pulls moisture from the skin – and can exacerbate already dry skin. For people with oily skin in Colorado, this isn’t a problem. The oil in their skin works as an occlusive to keep moisture in the skin. However, people with dry skin who live in a dry environment should use hyaluronic acid skin care underneath an occlusive moisturizer. Layering the products prevents dry skin. Learn more about occlusive moisturizers in our post, Why You Should Use Moisturizers Every Day.
4. But those aren’t the only reasons you’ll find HA in skin care products. You see, hyaluronic acid has an amazing ability to penetrate the top layer of skin (the stratum corneum) without going deeper into the dermis and blood stream. By attaching medications to HA, scientists can send the medications exactly where they want them to go.
Solaraze is a great example of a drug delivered by hyaluronic acid. Solaraze is used to treat actinic keratosis from too much sun exposure. Although most cases of actinic keratoses are benign, some studies show that as many as 10% can turn into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. By using HA as the “delivery vehicle,” Solaraze eliminates malignant cells while they are still curable. Previously, doctors had to wait to treat this type of cancer – and risked a much worse outcome.
SkinCeuticals uses hyaluronic acid as a delivery vehicle in several of their skin care products:
Hydrating B5 Gel (shown right) delivers vitamin B5 to the top layer of the skin. B5, also known as pantothenic acid, increases HA’s ability to attract water. But it also relieves itching, pain, and reduces redness. A 2002 “Journal of Dermatological Treatment” study noted vitamin B5 enhances repair of the skin barrier while reducing inflammation. Additionally it acts as a barrier to shield skin from irritation.
Retexturing Activator (shown left) combines HA with 25% hydroxyethyl urea, aminosulfonic acid, and kombucha to gently and evenly exfoliate skin.
Urea is a humectant commonly referred to as hydroxyethyl urea. (Learn more about humectants in our post, Why You Should Use Moisturizers Every Day.) Like HA, urea works as a delivery vehicle for other skin care ingredients. And like HA, it absorbs water from the air to moisturize skin. But it also strengthens your skin’s barrier function – to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. It's a natural exfoliant that can reduce skin redness and inflammation (like in acne).
Aminosulfonic acid, when combined with these other hydrating ingredients, has the exfoliating power of a 20% glycolic acid treatment – but without the usual irritation. This hyaluronic acid skin care product is a great choice for people whose skin is too sensitive to use retinol.
Fortunately, there are many hyaluronic acid skin care products. Because of their clever ability to “deliver” other skin care ingredients, HA serums correct many skin conditions. And remember, even though “acid” is in the name, hyaluronic acid is a very gentle skin care ingredient that can moisturize thirsty skin – especially when layered underneath an occlusive moisturizer.
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.
Learn more about other HA products:
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Baumann, L. (2015). Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients. New York: McGraw Hill Education.
The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!
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