Hyaluronic acid is found in so many skin care products these days, and many dermatologists swear by it — but what exactly is it?
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a substance produced naturally by the skin. It’s a humectant, which means it can absorb and retain water — kind of like a molecular sponge.
It gives a lot of support and structure to the skin. It brings in moisture, so it’s responsible for a lot of the water content of the skin as well.
In fact, hyaluronic acid can absorb and retain up to 1,000 times its weight in water, making it a powerful hydrator.
Although the body produces hyaluronic acid naturally, the skin is less able to produce it as we age, making it more common for the skin to get drier over the years.
So people often use serums or moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid to get a little extra hydrating boost. The hyaluronic acid in skin care products is a synthetic version of the compound made in a lab.
Dermatologists also sometimes use hyaluronic acid as an injectable filler that plumps the skin and makes it appear younger. It even has some medical uses, including helping with joint issues and healing wounds.
What are hyaluronic acid's benefits?
First and foremost, hyaluronic acid is a fantastic moisturizer. When it’s in creams and serums, it penetrates the skin barrier to help with hydration.
It can affect the skin by making the cells plump up, make it more dewy and more hydrated and moist, and it can minimize the appearance of fine lines.
It can be especially great for people with skin prone to irritation.
For certain people that have a compromised skin barrier, many hyaluronic acid products are nonirritating. They have a soothing effect on the skin, if you have a very sensitive skin condition.
For that reason, hyaluronic acid is often found in combination with other compounds that could be more irritating, like retinol.
It gives the topical preparation more of a soothing property. It can be combined with many different things.
Certain formulations of hyaluronic acid can even stimulate the body to create its own hyaluronic acid.
Does hyaluronic acid have any side effects or risks?
Although it’s called an "acid," don’t let the name fool you. Hyaluronic acid is not an exfoliator like salicylic or glycolic acid. Rather, it’s a kind of carbohydrate produced naturally by the body.
Because hyaluronic acid doesn’t peel or exfoliate the skin at all, it’s generally very safe to use.
It’s very low on side effects. In rare instances, some products can be irritating, probably the ones on the extreme end of the spectrum with extremely low molecular weight … they penetrate and they can cause some inflammation and irritation. But it’s rare.
More often, side effects can occur if you use a product containing hyaluronic acid in combination with other, more irritating ingredients. Hyaluronic acid on its own is almost always safe, and suitable for all skin types.
When trying out products containing hyaluronic acid, recommend testing a small area first to make sure you don’t have a reaction to any of the ingredients.