Until a few years ago, serums, toners and moisturisers were categorised according to skin concern. If you had oily skin, you bought a moisturiser for oily skin; if you had dry skin, you reached for a cleanser for dry skin; and so on and so forth.
Now? As consumers grow more and more savvy about what’s in their skincare, brands are increasingly marketing products according to their hero ingredient, rather than the concerns they treat. (We blame The Ordinary.) That means glycolic acid, lactic acid, retinol and ferulic acid are all having their moment in the sun. (Read our complete explainer of skincare acids here.)
One ingredient that has attracted a lot of buzz is hyaluronic acid.
Search ‘hyaluronic acid’ on Mecca and no less than 700 products show up, ranging from $4 to $1,152. Over on Sephora.com.au, the same search yields 517 results. That’s a lot of hyaluronic acid-infused lip balms, moisturisers, eye creams and masks – and a lot of money.
Before you purchase, let’s go back to basics: what is hyaluronic acid, exactly? And should you really be slathering it on your skin? Here, Dr. Michele Squire, PhD-qualified scientist and founder of Qr8, explains all.
What is hyaluronic acid?
“Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally-occurring carbohydrate found in all body tissues, but especially the dermis, umbilical cord, joints and the vitreous fluid of the eye,” Squire tells Gritty Pretty. “It is also found in tiny amounts as part of the Natural Moisturising Factors (NMF) in the cells of our outermost skin layer.”
“[HA can] absorb huge quantities of water to act as shock absorbers in the body. Hyaluronic acid plays a critical role in wound healing – it is one of the substances that helps collagen form to repair skin after an injury.”
In layman’s terms: HA is a substance that is already found in your body. Applied topically, it draws in huge amounts of water to make skin appear plump and hydrated. It also speeds up wound healing process! What a nice guy!
Who should use hyaluronic acid?
Any person currently in possession of a face should consider a hyaluronic acid serum. Or as Squire puts it: “HA levels start decreasing around the age of 20, contributing to age-related dehydration and loss of elasticity. So most people can benefit from adding HA into their routine, especially if your skin could do with some added plumping.”
Who shouldn’t use hyaluronic acid?
“HA is a very safe and well-tolerated cosmetic ingredient,” Squire explains. “It’s so safe that even pregnant women can use it. This is good news, because HA is so efficient and economical that it has become a widely used ingredient in cosmetic formulations.”
What is the best way to apply hyaluronic acid?
One of the best ways to add hyaluronic acid into your skincare regime is with a serum. However, always follow with a moisturiser; applying a HA serum on its own could actually dry out skin. Why? HA draws water into the outermost layer of your face and if you don’t seal that moisture in, “it will evaporate, leading to dehydration instead of the magical, juicy plumpness you imagined.”
What are the best hyaluronic acid serums?
There are a lot of hyaluronic acid serums on the market – some are affordable, some cost a small fortune.
Generally speaking, the more budget-friendly serums contain a form of HA that reaches the outermost layers of skin and needs to be applied once daily to see the effects. More expensive serums contain HA with a low molecular weight (or multiple molecular weights) to delve deeper into skin.
Squire loves Alpha H Hyaluronic 8 Serum – a product that is new to market. This ground-breaking serum contains a new you-beaut form of HA that has longer-term effects. It also contains a cocktail of collagen building ingredients and antioxidants.
The cult-classic Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair also deserves a mention. This peachy-hued serum is a skincare staple for women the world over – and has been since the ’80s. It contains HA along with a slew of other skin-soothing and anti-ageing ingredients.
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