Hyaluronic Acid: Benefits for Skin
It seems that almost every skincare ingredient, at one point or another, has its "moment"—when it's the latest or hottest thing available. That's certainly the case right now with hyaluronic acid, with its benefits touted in numerous beauty magazines and skincare ads. As you might suspect, and as we've told you in many reviews and articles, some of these trendy ingredients are more hype than actual results, but hyaluronic acid's fame is well-earned. It is packed with benefits, and can benefit all skin types, especially skin showing signs of aging.Go to Shop
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic Acid (HA), also known as hyaluronan or hyaluronate, is a carbohydrate, more specifically a mucopolysaccharide occurring naturally throughout the human body. It can be several thousands of sugars (carbohydrates) long. When not bound to other molecules, it binds to water giving it a stiff viscous quality similar to "Jello". This viscous Gel is one of the most heavily researched substances in medicine today with thousands of trials mostly in the fields of orthopedics and eye surgery. Its function in the body is, amongst other things, to bind water and to lubricate movable parts of the body, such as joints and muscles. Its consistency and tissue-friendliness allows it to be beneficial in skin-care products as an excellent moisturizer. Because HA is one of the most hydrophilic (water-loving) molecules in nature with numerous benefits for the human body it can be described as "nature's moisturizer".
Scientifically speaking, hyaluronic acid (also known as hyaluronan) is a glycosaminoglycan, a type of molecule composed partly of sugars. Hyaluronic acid is actually a natural structural component of skin, and, in fact, is present in connective tissue throughout the human body.
So why is hyaluronic acid such a big deal? The magic of this ingredient lies in its ability to retain moisture; it's considered to have a greater capacity to hold moisture than any other natural or synthetic polymer. In fact, one gram of hyaluronic acid is able to hold up to six liters of water (International Journal of Toxicology, July/August 2009) This is important with regard to aging because one of the hallmarks of youthful skin is its moisture content. As we age, our skin loses moisture, resulting in a loss of firmness and pliability (Dermatoendorocronology, 2012).
Note: This does not mean that everyone's skin becomes dry with age; it simply means that skin lacks the amount of moisture it had in its youth due to sun damage and/or other factors. Without question, you can still have oily skin in your 60s (perhaps just not as oily as it was in your 20s)Hyaluronic acid can improve your skin's moisture content and at the same time strengthen skin's barrier; that is, the outer layers of your skin. A healthy barrier looks and feels softer, smoother, and plumper—all hallmarks of younger-looking skin! But, with hyaluronic acid, that's not all you get—there are many additional benefits beyond just a more youthful appearance. We know that just about everything, from sun damage and acne to sensitive skin and rosacea, can lead to a damaged barrier, so repairing skin's barrier with skin-identical ingredients, like hyaluronic acid (as detailed in this article), can go a long way toward fixing, or at least minimizing, those issues, which means it's helpful for all skin types. Its lightweight texture isn't an issue for oily skin, and it's gentle enough that it isn't a problem for sensitive skin. Hyaluronic acid is also safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Even better: Hyaluronic acid also provides antioxidant defense against free-radical damage, and reduces inflammation (Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 2012 & Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2012). Now that's what we call a multitasking anti-aging ingredient!
Hyaluronic Acid is found naturally in most every cell in the body and occurs in high concentrations in specific body locations. In each body location, it serves a different function. Unfortunately, HA also has a half-life ( the time it takes for the molecule to get broken down and excreted from the body) of less than 3 days and possibly even as little as one day in the skin. For this reason, it is imperative that the body continually replenish itself with HA. Below are some of the areas in the human body where it is present and critical to anatomical function.
The lips are a core of skeletal muscle covered by skin tissue. The dermal layer of the lips is composed primarily of connective tissue and its components hyaluronic acid and collagen that give the structure (shape) and plumpness to the lips. The HA binds to water creating a gelatinous fluid that hydrates the surrounding tissue and keeps the collagen (responsible for keeping the skin tight) nourished and healthy. The result is healthy well hydrated and plump lips that are well protected from the environment.
Hyaluronic Acid is found in all bones and cartilage structures throughout the body. Joint structureBoth of these structures provide a resilient rigidity to the structure of the human body. HA is especially found in various forms of cartilage but none more than the hyaline cartilage. As you've probably guessed it, hyaline is short for hyaluronic acid. Hyaline cartilage covers the ends of the long bones where articulation (bending) occurs and provides a cushioning effect for the bones. The hyaline cartilage has been called the "gristle cartilage" because its resistance to wear and tear. Hyaline cartilage also supports the tip of the nose, connects the ribs to the sternum and forms most of the larynx and supporting cartilage of the trachea and bronchial tubes in the lungs.
The skin is the largest organ in the body comprising about 15% of the body weight. Roughly 50% of the Hyaluronic Acid in our body is found in the skin. HA and Collagen are vital to maintaining the skin's layers and structure. It is the collagen that gives the skin its firmness but it is the HA that nourishes and hydrates the collagen. Imagine the collagen as the stretchy fibers that restore the skin back to shape when stretched. Collagen is like a rubber band but stretch that rubber band a million times, like what we do with our skin and without any moisture. Eventually that rubber band gets overstretched (saggy) and dried out and will most likely break. This is much the same way the collagen in our skin reacts leaving our skin in need of moisture. Now imagine that same rubber band stretched a million times while under water the whole time. Chances of that rubber band drying out and breaking are minimal. Consider the Hyaluronic Acid as the water that keeps the collagen moist and elastic. Collagen is continuously surrounded and nourished by the gelatinous HA substance. Young skin is smooth and highly elastic because it contains high concentrations of Hyaluronic Acid, which helps skin stay healthy. As we grow older, the body loses its ability to maintain this same concentration in the skin. With decreasing levels of HA in the skin, so goes the ability of the skin to hold water. The result, the skin becomes drier and loses its ability to maintain it's hydration. Hyaluronic acid acts as a space filler by binding to water and thus keeping the skin wrinkle-free.
Because both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate add moisture to the skin, and help it retain that moisture, from skin's uppermost layers down to its dermis layer, they can have the effect of temporarily plumping wrinkles and fine lines (adding moisture to the skin always does that, but these ingredients supercharge the process). Topically applied, neither hyaluronic acid nor sodium hyaluronate can have the same impact on your appearance as dermal fillers, despite the advertising from some cosmetics brands, which imply that they can serve as a substitute for fillers. This doesn't mean they aren't helpful for wrinkles; it's simply that injecting dermal fillers goes beyond what topical application of anything can do in terms of filling deep wrinkles. You can read more about dermal fillers and how they work in our article on the topic here. When it comes to skincare, both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate, when applied topically, can improve the appearance of fine lines, promote younger-looking skin, and help create a healthy skin barrier that can address a number of skin concerns. When these ingredients are combined with an anti-aging, skin-smoothing routine that includes gentle products and daily broad-spectrum sun protection, you'll be ahead of the game when it comes to using skincare products to look younger, longer (and help repair past damage)