This powerful anti-aging ingredient is a must-have for any skincare junkie.
If you really want to up your skincare game, the best way to do so is by learning exactly what’s in the products you’re putting on your face. Sounds like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe how many people never even bother to read the ingredient lists.
They’re more interested in the promises a product makes, like “erases wrinkles”
or bye-bye age spots!” There are a LOT of skincare products in the world, and they all need a way to get you to fork over your cash. It makes a lot more sense to get educated about what products are really worth paying the money for. And in the case of hyaluronic acid, one of the power players, you won’t need to pay much at all if you play your cards right.
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a molecule that naturally occurs in the human body. It helps make up the connective tissues in your body and keeps hair, skin, joints, nerves, and eyes well lubricated. It holds a thousand times its weight in water, which is why it’s such a power player in keeping our skin moist and glowy. But as we grow older, our bodies naturally produce less HA. That means skin will naturally become drier and less bouncy as we age unless we replenish what’s lost in our skincare routine. When people go to med spas for procedures like Restylane and Juvederm, guess what they’re getting injected? A gel form of hyaluronic acid.
Before you go grabbing every HA product off the shelves, there are a few other tidbits to be aware of. One, HA works well alongside most other star skincare ingredients (think actives like AHAs and BHAs), so there are no worries about how it will play with the rest of your routine.
Another thing to keep in mind about HA is that it does its best work at what might sound like very low concentrations. Industry standard is between one to two percent, as estheticians confirm that higher amounts can be drying to the skin. We spoke with Stephen Alain Ko, the cosmetic chemist behind skincare blog KindofStephen, to better understand how this magical ingredient works.
“Hyaluronic acid is a viscous polymer, meaning that it swells in water and turns it into a gel,” Ko says. “There are limitations to how much you can put in a product and still have it be usable and elegant. 1-2% or 75% hyaluronic acid often refers to a solution of hyaluronic acid, so 75% of a 1% hyaluronic acid solution would give you 0.75% hyaluronic acid overall. Most products contain about 0.2-0.5% hyaluronic acid by dry weight.”
So there’s more than one type of hyaluronic acid?
Yes–and science tells us that multiple types are a good thing. “Hyaluronic acid has been shown to penetrate to different layers of the skin based on its molecular weight,” Ko explained. “Lower molecular weight hyaluronic acid penetrates the deepest, while higher molecular weight hyaluronic acid forms a film on the surface which slows down the loss of water from the skin due to evaporation.”
The best way to choose a good HA product is to check out the ingredient list. Skincare ingredients are listed in order of amount used, so the higher up on the list an ingredient is, the more of it is in the product. However, as you just learned with HA, it doesn’t have to be in a large quantity to be effective. Also, a side note: HA may also be listed as sodium hyaluronate, its salt form, so look out for that in the ingredient list as well!
Remember that no matter what HA product you use, a key part of making sure the moisture it delivers does its job is to finish off with a moisturizer (sometimes also called an occlusive layer). It seals the prior layers of skincare in like a lid on a boiling pot of water.
What happens when you boil water with no lid? It evaporates–and that’s the same thing that happens with your skincare when you apply a topical product. Sure, some of it sinks in, but it’ll be most effective if you put the lid on the pot.