Hyaluronic acid. Although somewhat difficult to say (and even harder to spell), the skin-care ingredient, commonly found in your favorite serums, sheet masks, and moisturizers, is an important addition to your daily skin-care regimen. That's because the ingredient, a molecule that occurs naturally in the skin, binds to water to plump up your skin and give it that dewy, glowy effect. But hyaluronic acid does so much more than boost skin's moisture levels, which is why we asked skin-care experts to better explain the benefits of the ingredient.
What is hyaluronic acid?
"Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule that occurs naturally in the skin, [and] it helps to bind water to collagen, trapping it in the skin, so that skin can appear plumper, dewier, and more hydrated," explains Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Santa Monica, California.
Basically, hyaluronic acid increases hydration in the skin, which can keep your skin looking fresh, full, and bouncy. "The collagen in our dermis forms the structure of the skin," Shainhouse says. "Natural hyaluronic acid is bound to collagen on one side and links to water molecules on the other, giving skin its plumpness."
Why is hyaluronic acid so important?
As we age, we lose collagen and hyaluronic acid naturally, so the skin becomes dehydrated more easily. Also, harsh weather, heaters during the wintertime, certain skin-care products, and underlying skin conditions can cause tiny breaks in the protective skin barrier, allowing water to escape. That's why creating a tailored skin-care regimen with moisturizing products can be extra beneficial.
"Hydrating skin-care ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, colloidal oatmeal, urea, propylene glycol, and sorbitol all act as 'humectants' that attract water to the skin in an effort to hydrate it," Shainhouse says. These ingredients are widely used in products, such as moisturizers, eye creams, and serums, says cosmetic chemist Sandra Bontempo.
By using these products, like the Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydration Booster, you'll firm the skin around the eye area, increase moisture to get rid of puffiness, and soften fine lines on the rest of the face, says Bontempo. "Hyaluronic acid penetrates easily, which is why it works so well when applied topically," she says. "Our skin is the largest organ in the body and absorbs up to 60 percent of nutrients we apply to it."
Additional perks of hyaluronic acid include its lightweight, watery nature, and ability to lock in moisture from the environment and deeper dermis to fully hydrate the skin, Shainhouse says.
Who should use hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is great for all skin types, says Shainhouse. In general, "[the ingredient] is nonirritating and does not trigger acne, rosacea, or allergic skin reactions," she says. There is, however, a small chance of any adverse side effects.
Those with dry and/or more mature skin will benefit the most from using hyaluronic acid, says Bontempo. "As we age, our bodies produce less of it, so replacing hyaluronic acid topically will make the most impact on those of us who are middle-aged and older," she explains.
Hyaluronic acid has the word "acid" in its name, but there's no reason for sensitive skin types to tread lightly — it's safe for everyone. "There are no known side effects of utilizing hyaluronic acid, as again, it's produced in our bodies," says Bontempo. "Definitely talk to your doctor if you do experience side effects from a product that contains it — it could be due to another active or inactive ingredient."
There's also an injectable version.
Hyaluronic acid also comes in the form of an injectable. "In dermal fillers, hyaluronic acid presents as a gel-like product that, once injected, attracts water to regenerate volume and recreate lost structure," explains Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "This, in turn, helps reduce the overall sunken or sagging appearance of the face, and softens the overall look of lines and wrinkles."
Currently, the only Food and Drug Administration-approved hyaluronic acid fillers are Restylane, Restylane Silk, Restylane Lyft, Restylane Refyne, Restylane Defyne, Belotero, Juvederm, Voluma, Volbella, and Vollure. These fillers can be used for nasolabial folds, marionette lines (folds that run vertically from the corners of the mouth down to the chin), cheek augmentation, undereyes, lips, and dorsal hands, says Idriss.
Fillers can vary, so it's important to discuss your options with your dermatologist to make sure you get the right one for you. "The different types of hyaluronic acid fillers are to a cosmetic dermatologist what the various types of paintbrushes are to a painter," explains Idriss. "They are made up of the same ingredient, but depending on the size of the formulas' molecules and how they are strung together, they vary in density, lift-ability and longevity."
Her best example is comparing Voluma, which tends to be stiff in nature and can hold more weight, to Belotero, a finer, more pliable filler for superficial lines and folds.
And it's reversible.
Just because it's injected into your face, doesn't mean it's permanent. Hyaluronic acid fillers are reversible, so if you're not happy with the results, or a blood vessel has been blocked during the injection process, your dermatologist can insert the enzyme hyaluronidase to dissolve the filler within a matter of minutes.
"The enzyme works quickly — the material starts to dissolve immediately, and is completely done within 24 to 48 hours," Min S. Ahn, a Boston-based facial plastic surgeon, previously told Allure. However, he warns, those with bee allergies should use caution — and talk with a dermatologist — before signing up for a hyaluronidase-based procedure, as the enzyme is highly prevalent in bee venom.
Hyaluronic acid fillers aren't for everyone, though.
Hyaluronic acid fillers are for most, except those who are pregnant. There isn't much data surrounding pregnancy and fillers, but dermatologists tend to avoid injecting those expecting for fear of the unknown. Also, skip these fillers if you have an active skin infection. First, treat the infection, and then proceed with your appointment once you've been cleared by your dermatologist.
There are risks with injectable hyaluronic acid.
If you're considering getting hyaluronic fillers, there are a few minor risks to keep in mind. "With any injectable treatment, bruising and swelling are the most common side effects," says Idriss. "The good news is that these shortcomings are just that — short lived." Any tenderness should resolve over a few days.
You can reduce the likelihood of bruising by avoiding blood thinning agents, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and red wine a week or so before treatment. In addition, agents, such as arnica and bromelin, may help decrease swelling and bruising, too. The biggest worry is the unintentional injection into a blood vessel, which may result in tissue death, scabbing, and scarring, says Idriss, but your dermatologist will be able to treat it to prevent damage.
More skin-care terms to know:
- The The Skin-Care Glossary: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything You Need to Know
- Why Glycerin Is the Ultimate Moisturizing Ingredient in Skin-Care Products
- Cica Is the Latest K-Beauty Ingredient Taking Over Skin-Care Products
Now, see how skin care has evolved within the last 100 years: