How does hyaluronic acid work?
Hyaluronic acid is a carbohydrate compound that occurs naturally in the body. It has several important functions, including aiding in wound repair, cell adhesion and joint lubrication. Although it is present in the skin, it is often supplemented topically with skincare products.
Hyaluronic acid acts as a humectant – a hydrophilic substance that attracts water – and it helps to keep skin hydrated. “It works like a sponge – pulling moisture from the air into your skin,” explains CACI trainer Sarah-Jane Morris. In fact, hyaluronic acid is capable of holding over 1,000 times its weight in water.
The ability to supplement the body’s natural hyaluronic acid is important because the body’s creation of the substance starts to slow down from the age of 25. The hyaluronic acid used in skincare is synthetic – it can be created in a lab through the fermentation of glucose and yeast extract.
Topical hyaluronic acid does have limitations. It tends to have a large molecular size, which prevents it from penetrating through to the dermis, meaning it can’t usually provide more than superficial hydration on the skin’s surface. However, some higher end products contain hyaluronic acid of a few different molecular weights, which “will affect the delivery and depth of the absorption” through the skin’s layers, according to Rebecca Jones, Noon Aesthetics trainer and ambassador.
What can hyaluronic acid help with?
Hyaluronic acid has a number of benefits, including:
• Hydration: its ability to attract moisture from the air to the skin means it’s great for treating dehydrated skin. “We are all prone to dehydration from internal and external factors so hyaluronic acid is a vital water source for the skin,” explains Jones.
• Protecting the skin: hyaluronic acid can help repair a compromised skin barrier, or stratum corneum, by pulling water from the air and dermis towards the epidermis. “It can calm skin reaction with its barrier-balancing effects, as well as regulating oil production and reducing shine, supporting youthful skin function and smoothing the surface instantly,” says Jones.
• Tightening effects: “Hyaluronic acid is not going to replace collagen or elastin, but it can help with the appearance of tightness in the skin,” says Shannon Gallagher, owner of Simply Beautiful in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. “As it fills the skin with moisture, hyaluronic acid tightens the overall complexion. It helps firm facial contours for a more youthful appearance.”
How should it be used?
Hyaluronic acid can be used topically in skin serums and moisturisers to help with superficial hydration. It’s best used on slightly damp skin to aid moisture absorption, so clients might want to use it directly after cleansing or using a face mist.
Hyaluronic acid is a stable ingredient so it can often be found in combination with other ingredients in many products – either as hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate, its salt form. “Hyaluronic acid is suitable for all skin types and is a relatively benign, unreactive ingredient,” says cosmetic doctor Catharine Denning, who runs a regular clinic from The Light Centre, London. “For pure humectant hydration, it is often mixed with sodium pyroglutamic acid (PCA), which works synergistically to draw even more water into the skin's layers. It’s also a great vehicle to be used alongside peptides and vitamins in skincare, which can supercharge skin health.”
It can also be worked into a more extensive skincare routine. “You can make the skin's lipid barrier stronger and more resilient by using hyaluronic acid serum, and if you combine it with a serum containing vitamin C, this power duo is going to provide you the same high-level protection from aggressive factors in the environment, like free radicals, which can damage and age the skin,” says Gallagher.
Hyaluronic acid can be used topically in skin serums and moisturisers to help with superficial hydration
“If you are using a stand-alone, pure hyaluronic acid serum, I would follow with a heavier emollient, ceramide-rich moisturiser for dry or sensitive skin,” says Denning. “And don't forget to apply sunscreen at the end of your routine every morning, come rain or shine.”
Along with being a common ingredient for clients to use at home, hyaluronic acid is an industry favourite in professional beauty treatments. Jones says, “It supports all facial treatments from gentle wellbeing facials to the most ablative skin treatments, such as peeling, laser and light therapies. It helps to promote skin healing after treatments because hyaluronic acid and water are muchneeded ingredients in the wound-healing process, helping to support collagen fibre networks post injury to prevent scarring.”
Are there any contraindications?
Hyaluronic acid is suitable for all skin types and concerns, but Morris says it’s “particularly beneficial for drier and more mature skins” where extra hydration is needed. Sensitivity and reactivity are far more of a concern for the likes of vitamin C and retinoids, but it is still a possibility with hyaluronic acid. “Very rarely, someone may be allergic to topical hyaluronic acid, but this is highly unlikely,” says Denning. “Injectable or ingested forms would require a discussion with a medical professional before using.”