What is hyaluronic acid?
Despite the name, hyaluronic acid (HA) isn’t really an acid – at least not in the traditional sense. Unlike the alpha and beta hydroxy acids you’re likely used to, hyaluronic acid isn’t a chemical exfoliant. Meaning, it won’t loosen dead skin cells, dissolve pore plugs, or speed cellular turnover.
Hyaluronic acid is actually a polysaccharide (read: sugar) molecule that’s naturally produced by the body and works as a humectant to keep the water inside that body from evaporating (thus ensuring skin appears dewy and firm). And, as with so many of our other internal processes, hyaluronic acid manufacture slows with age, meaning the body makes less of it.
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Where to find it
Hyaluronic acid is in the skin, as well as in the connective tissues around joints and nerves where it acts as a cushioning agent.
What it does
When it comes to binding moisture to cells, such as collagen, hyaluronic acid has no equal. You’ve likely heard the oft-repeated statistic that hyaluronic acid can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. While there’s some debate as to the veracity of this claim (the amount may not quite be 1,000), there’s no denying that hyaluronic acid is a powerful moisture magnet. Used topically, hyaluronic acid provides immediate hydration, but since it’s also able to draw water out of the air and into skin, you get additional moisturization benefits. The end result is skin that’s plump and bouncy. And since a dehydrated complexion is often quick to show fine lines, keeping it moisturized with hyaluronic acid is an excellent way to minimize the appearance of wrinkles.
Who it’s for
Hyaluronic acid has basically never met an enemy. Lightweight and easily absorbed, hyaluronic acid works with all skin types, including acne-prone. That said, if your complexion tends to be on the drier side, hyaluronic acid will be an especially excellent addition to your skincare regimen. It’s completely fine to apply hyaluronic acid daily or even twice a day, as part of your morning and evening routines. The Switzerland of skincare, hyaluronic acid plays well with all other skincare ingredients, from vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids to retinol.
Who should skip it
Because topical hyaluronic acid is nonirritating and doesn’t typically trigger an allergic response, it should be fine for anyone to use (even those who are pregnant or nursing). Of course, the giant caveat here is that if your skin is the extremely reactive type (either due to eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, or something else), patch test a small area first, to ensure hyaluronic acid is safe for you.