Does Hyaluronic Acid Really Work?

Hyaluronic acid (HA). The buzzword in the realm of skincare and beauty. “It absorbs more water than water!”, “it is super good”, “the fountain of youth”. You probably have either said this, or heard someone said this before about HA. Some people even spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on this ingredient. Pretty crazy, right! But it is time to shed some light on the reality on HA, and dispel the misconception surrounding HA. Is hyaluronic acid that good? Does hyaluronic acid really work?

We did a deep dive into HA with Dr. Shereen Idriss about the good, the bad, and the ugly about HA. Continue reading on to find out more!


So, What is Hyaluronic Acid?

In scientific terms, HA is classified as a glycosaminoglycan—a carbohydrate molecule responsible for providing structure, plumpness, and elasticity to your dermis.

HA manifests in various forms:

  1. Hyaluronan
    Hyaluronan is naturally present in our skin’s tissue and fluid.
  2. Hyaluronic Acid
    Essentially the same as hyaluronan, it is often referred to as an alias. However, it should not be mistaken for exfoliating acids, as it has an acidic pH.
  3. Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid
    Synthesized HA that has been broken down into smaller molecules.
  4. Sodium Hyaluronate
    A cheaper variant of HA, commonly used by companies to cut costs at the expense of quality. If you examine your skincare products enriched with HA, you will likely find this ingredient in the majority of them.

It is said that the natural HA found in our bodies can retain up to 1,000 times its weight in water. And we all know what proper hydration does for us already do we not? Proper hydration can help our skin to be supple, moisturised, hydrated, and plump.

HA also plays a crucial role in wound repair by promoting blood supply to the wounded site, facilitating healing and regeneration. But there is a catch! The molecular size of the HA you use determines its effectiveness. Unfortunately, this is a piece of advice that the skincare industry conveniently neglects to emphasise.


Size Matters!

We often hear this from brands, “our HA is the lowest and smallest molecular weight in the market so it is able to penetrate the best!” What about this one, “this HA is the lowest molecular weight so it can get rid of fine lines and wrinkles!” But, really, does it?

In its natural state, HA has a high molecular weight, making it unable to penetrate the skin when applied topically. This is why chemists have to hydrolyse it in order to break it down into smaller particles that weigh lesser. This is also what is now commonly known as the “low molecular weight HA”. However, here is probably the untold (and might also be the unpopular) truth: the low molecular weight HA does not even make it past your epidermis. It remains there, unabsorbed, far from reaching the dermis where the natural HA is.


Myths about HA

Myth 1: HA can penetrates deep into the skin

Scientific research has shown that regardless of the molecular size, topical HA will always remain on the skin’s surface.

Myth 2: HA is hydrating

How many times have you heard that HA like an elixir that fixes everything for your skin? The truth is that it is not. HA is a humectant, which means that it actually draws moisture from the skin and increases water loss through the skin’s surface. This is an undeniable face found in dermatology publications. If HA was as hydrating as some companies claim, it would help retain moisture, preventing water from evaporating from the epidermis.

Brands also fail to mention that humectants like HA should be used alongside occlusive ingredients. These occlusive ingredients help to prevent the hydration is locked into the skin.


Where Does Topical HA Get Its Water?

One thing is certain—HA does have the ability to attract moisture. However, it does so in a detrimental manner, depleting your cells of their water content as it absorbs it, akin to a sponge swelling to increase volume and resilience. This is why if you have acne skin, you might find that your acne flares whenever you use a product that is too potent in HA.


How to Effectively Use HA, Then?

The abundance of misinformation surrounding HA has led to the belief that it can be incorporated into every step of your skincare routine. HA is neither a saviour nor a villain, but like many things in life, too much of anything can be detrimental.

Excessive use of HA can contribute to skin issues such as dryness, redness, and irritation. If you have been struggling to identify the cause of recent skin problems, take a closer look at your skincare regimen.

How to effectively use HA in your skincare routine:

  1. Use HA on damp skin
    HA is a humectant and pulls water, so using HA on damp skin would allow for it to absorb more water.
  2. Use an occlusive moisturiser over your HA
    Occlusives are important to make sure that the hydration and moisture gets locked into your skin
  3. Adjust the dose and the frequency
    Access your skin accordingly and make sure that your skin is indeed suitable for the dose and frequency that you are using HA at. If you have acne-prone skin, you might want to stay away from products that are too rich in HA.


Good Luck With That Glow!

So, does hyaluronic acid really work? Those were the good, the bad, and the ugly about HA. A round of applause to the lovely Pillow Talk Derm, Dr. Shereen Idriss, for letting us in on so much tips and tricks about HA. Good luck with your glow!