If you’ve shopped for skin care products, you’ve almost certainly stumbled upon at least one — or 50 — containing hyaluronic acid, the omnipresent ingredient that’s basically a celebrity in the beauty world at this point. But as you upgrade your routine and consider the superstar for your glow-boosting rotation, it helps to understand the benefits of hyaluronic acid and how to use it for the most effective results.
There’s actually hyaluronic acid already in your body: It’s a naturally occurring sugar molecule, and it’s found within your skin, eyes, and joints, explains celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, M.D., “The primary function of topical hyaluronic acid is to provide moisture to these areas,” he tells Bustle. But while it is naturally occurring, you’re losing some of it every day. “The weather, environment, and many other external factors strip this moisture from our skin on a daily basis,” says Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Plus, as we age, we naturally lose HA, so the skin becomes dehydrated more easily,” she adds. Hence why hyaluronic acid serves a the hero ingredient in many hydrating serums. Read on for everything you need to know about the molecule and how to work it into your skin care regimen.
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What Does Hyaluronic Acid Do For Skin?
In short: Topical hyaluronic acid is undeniably beneficial, namely because it’s highly hydrating and helps to replenish natural moisture in the skin. “It’s one of the main components of the deeper skin layers," Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Bustle. “Think of it like the stuffing of your mattress.” This “stuffing” analogy is also why dermal fillers are commonly made up of the ingredient, as it quite literally fills — or increases volume — in one’s face (or lips).
Hyaluronic acid also draws water into your skin while you wear it. “It’s a humectant ingredient, which means that it binds to water like a sponge,” Zeichner explains. And it can bind a lot of liquid: “A singular gram is actually proven to hold up to six liters of water, [which] regulate and evenly distribute that moisture throughout your cells,” says Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Because the ingredient is so hydrating, it also helps diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles, making your complexion more supple and smooth. And that’s why you’ll find it in countless anti-aging beauty product formulas.
Hyaluronic acid can even play a role in preventing skin conditions such as acne, atopic dermatitis, eczema, and rosacea, adds Graf.
That said, not all hyaluronic acid products are created equal, and there are best practices when it comes to utilizing the ingredient.
Is Hyaluronic Acid Safe For Skin?
It may have “acid” in its name, but don’t fret: Hyaluronic acid is suitable for all skin types. “It is not an acid that we imagine when we recall science class or burning chemicals — it’s a light fluid that hydrates, and it’s not the kind that strips or exfoliates,” says Graf, who believes everyone should be using HA in their beauty routine. “It is a ‘one size fits all’ type of skin care ingredient that can be used on skin types from oily to acne-prone to dry.” Lancer agrees: “It’s safe for everyone, and often times recommended to patients since it can hydrate and plump skin while also softening the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging, but without added oiliness.”
As noted before, hyaluronic acid can soothe irritation many skin conditions can cause — which is why Edyta Jarosz, master aesthetician at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, says it’s safe (and helpful) for those with rosacea.
How To Use Hyaluronic Acid
Only Use Hyaluronic Acid With Multiple Molecular Weights
Before you run off and buy every bottle that reads “hyaluronic acid,” Dr. Michelle Henry, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in NYC, has words of caution: Make sure it’s formulated correctly, or else it could have the opposite of its intended effect. “If it's not formulated in a way that it could penetrate the skin, it's only sitting on the surface of the skin [and] there's a chance that it can draw moisture out,” she warns, adding that this is especially possible if you’re in a dry environment. If the air is dry, from where else will it pull its moisture?
That said, Henry asserts that many of the hyaluronic acid formulations on the shelves have “gotten smarter,” meaning they’re either fragmenting the hyaluronic acid or using different molecular weights. “When you do that, you get it to penetrate the epidermis, which is right to where we want it.” Therefore, look for HA products that advertise various molecular weights, or “multi-weight.”
Apply Hyaluronic Acid When Your Skin Is Damp
After washing your face (and hands!), Lancer says to leave your skin slightly damp and apply your hyaluronic acid serum followed by a moisturizer and sunscreen. When your skin has a little bit of moisture on its surface, the ingredient is better able to penetrate.
Apply After Your Vitamin C Serum
Typically, experts recommend hyaluronic acid to be applied as your first serum if you’re layering your products — but there’s an exception. If you’re using a vitamin C serum, Lancer says to use it separately from your hyaluronic acid product. If you’re using them together, though, be sure to apply vitamin C first. Once that’s absorbed, Lancer says the HA can help fortify your skin’s barrier.
Always Lock It In With Moisturizer
Zeichner reiterates that while HA does attract and retain water, it’s not necessarily great at “keeping it in place” on your face. And that’s why you’ll need to seal it in with another product. Zeichner recommends layering it underneath a traditional moisturizer for an extra hydration boost. Alternatively, you can use a product that combines hyaluronic acid with emollient or occlusive ingredients to help form a seal over your skin, he says, which will keep the hydration intact.
You Can Use It In The Morning and Night
Hyaluronic acid is safe to use every day. “You can even use it twice a day as long as you're applying it to clean, damp skin, then locking it in with a moisturizer or face oil,” Lancer says.
Shop Hyaluronic Acid-Infused Skin Care
For An Oily Skin-Friendly Buy
Zeichner suggests this moisturizer, which combines four different forms of hyaluronic acid to plump and hydrate the skin without leaving behind a heavy or greasy feeling.
For Heavy Duty Hydration
This product combines hyaluronic acid with niacinamide and specialized peptides for added skin-smoothing effects. “This combination not only hydrates, but also brightens and strengthens the skin,” says Zeichner.
For Sensitive Skin
This gentle serum is perfect for those with sensitive skin. It blends HA with antioxidant-rich green and white tea extracts to protect your complexion along with glycerin, another skin-moisturizing hero.
For Acne-Prone Skin
This gel-based serum is oil-free and recommended for those with oily and/or acne-prone skin types. Jarosz loves that it combines hyaluronic acid with vitamin B5, another humectant, so it serves to restore skin dryness. You only need a small amount — a little goes a long way.
For Skin Healing While You Sleep
Lancer suggests using a heavier product at night, like the Lancer Intensive Night Treatment. This contains hyaluronic acid, peptides, and marula oil, the latter of which restores skin plumpness, he explains — so you wake up with a renewed radiance.
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Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Dr. Harold Lancer, M.D., F.A.A.D., board certified dermatologist and founder of Lancer Skincare.
Dr. Michelle Henry, M.D., board certified dermatologist.