What Is Hyaluronic Acid & Why You Need It
Of all the hydrating ingredients out there, none have reached the same level of fame as hyaluronic acid. Even those who aren’t skin-care die-hards know what it is — or, okay, have at least heard of it — as its ability to hold 1000 times its weight in water makes it a favorite of product formulators in everything from essences to overnight masks.
But even with its solid reputation, there have been some rumors about certain drawbacks to hyaluronic acid — that it’s drying in certain climates, for one, or that it could draw bacteria into the skin. To help you separate HA fact from fiction, we put together this end-all, be-all guide to all things hyaluronic acid.
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
Think of hyaluronic acid as nature’s moisturizer. “Skin relies on hyaluronic acid’s ability to draw water to itself like a sponge,” explains Rita Linkner, MD, a dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. By pulling in hydration, it keeps your skin cells operating smoothly and efficiently. And though it’s best known for its ability to hydrate skin, soften, and minimize lines and wrinkles, it can also help with wound healing, says Dr. Linkner.
While you naturally produce hyaluronic acid, research shows that the amount of it present in your skin (particularly in your epidermis, the outermost layer of skin) takes a nosedive over the years. This gradual loss — along with that of collagen and elastin — makes skin feel dry, look slack, and become prone to lines and wrinkles. Sun exposure — surprise, surprise — doesn’t help, either. It breaks down hyaluronic acid, leading to moisture loss in the short-term, too.
What Should I Look For?
Not all hyaluronic acid molecules are created equally. In fact, hyaluronic acid molecules can come in five molecular weights, or sizes. Smaller particles can easily sink into the deeper layers of skin, where they help it maintain its moisture content for long-term hydration. The larger particles, on the other hand, stick closer to the surface, where they create softer, firmer skin immediately. A formula that contains at least a few different sizes of hyaluronic acid is ideal, as it keeps skin hydrated at every level.
Is Hyaluronic Acid Bad for Your Skin?
No. One myth making the rounds is that if you apply hyaluronic acid during a flight — generally a good idea, seeing as the plane air is notoriously drying — it can draw in bacteria along with moisture. “Hyaluronic acid can’t draw bacteria into the skin,” says Dr. Linkner. “This is just not its mechanism of action.” Translation: It can’t draw pollution, germs, bacteria, or anything floating around in the air into your skin.
The internet is full of rumors, and another that has caught traction lately is that in dry climates, hyaluronic acid can actually dry skin out when applied. Here’s the thinking: Since there’s no moisture to pull in from the air, it draws moisture out from deeper layers of skin instead.
That’s just not how HA functions. Sure, “when the air is less humid, the environment does draw moisture from our skin, but only the outermost level,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. However, she says, “water doesn’t transfer out from deeper levels of tissue, and hyaluronic acid molecules don’t travel between the different areas, either.”
That said, in super-dry locations, it will evaporate much faster on the skin. To prevent that dissipation, apply an occlusive ingredient that will trap the moisture in the skin so it can do its job plumping, healing, and hydrating your complexion. Plant oils are fab for this moisture-sealing action because they work on the surface of the skin to smooth and moisturize as well.
Is Hyaluronic Acid Safe?
Yes. “Because it’s a naturally-occurring substance, everyone has this as part of their own skin support system,” says Dr. Nazarian. There’s no known maximum amount, either for its safety nor for its efficacy (a.k.a. a point after which its benefits diminish). And since the sugar, which also goes by sodium hyaluronate on ingredient lists, is made by the body, it’s unlikely to cause any sort of allergic reaction. It’s safe for every skin type, says Dr. Nazarian, even those with sensitive skin.
What’s the Best Way to Apply Hyaluronic Acid?
While hyaluronic acid is effective on its own, certain pairings can maximize its efficacy. “Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, which draws in moisture, and it makes sense to pair it with an emollient or occlusive, which locks in moisture,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “The combination makes a great pairing for achieving the best hydration level — by getting water and keeping water in the skin.”
As if you needed another reason to add one of these to your routine, Dr. Linkner says that an extra layer of moisture can offer even better results. “Hyaluronic acid can draw more water molecules from the moisturizer to provide a longer-lasting, more plumping effect,” she suggests. It’s a win-win!
Where to Get Hyaluronic Acid in Your Routine
Naturally, we’ve included hyaluronic acid in every single Glow Recipe product. Incorporating effective hydration in every step of your routine is a mainstay in Korean beauty philosophy, and nothing delivers quite like hyaluronic acid.
For beginners and experts alike, we recommend the Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer. It’s spiked with amino-acid rich watermelon extract and a huge helping of hyaluronic acid, all in a lightweight, cooling emulsion that gives your skin a juicy, plumped-up dewiness. It’s perfect for every skin type, age, weather, and routine.
You can also find HA in our new Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore-Tight Toner, which delivers hydration alongside gentle exfoliation. The springy texture both clears and minimizes the appearance of pores for smooth, glowing skin. (Want to seal in that goodness? You’ll find squalane in Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream, which serves as an emollient.)
Our skin loses 1.5 cups of water a day on average, so it’s important to infuse skin with moisture throughout the day. The Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist is packed with hyaluronic acid—just spritz it over your face every two hours (pro tip: if you have dry skin, hold it closer to your face) to keep skin plump and healthy.
The Bottom Line
Hyaluronic acid offers plenty of benefits — namely, the ability to keep skin smooth, plump, and well moisturized — with few to no drawbacks, particularly if you use it properly. And as proper hydration is the goal of any good skin-care routine, hyaluronic acid definitely deserves a place in yours.
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