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hyaluronic acid

Does your skin need Hyaluronic Acid?

In recent years my skin has always benefited from using skincare with Hyaluronic Acid. I love to use serums and hydrating spritzes that contain it; I find it gives my skin a hydration boost, which in turn helps everything else.

I’ve seen varying opinions on Hyaluronic Acid (HA) over the years. Some people raving about it, others indifferent, while others saying it made their skin drier and some inflamed. I’ve noticed a bit more of the latter two recently, so thought it would be a good time to do an updated post and delve a bit deeper.

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

It is a polysaccharide that is naturally found in the human body (polysaccharides are an important class of biological polymers. Their function in living organisms is usually either structure- or storage-related – Wikipedia). It is found all over the body in cartilage, connective tissue, eyes, gums, synovial fluid – it acts as a cushion and lubricant.

50% of the body’s HA is found in the skin, where it plays a significant role in its physiology. Hyaluronic Acid is produced in the skin and is part of the skin’s natural moisturising factor; this is what regulates hydration in our skin. Hyaluronic Acid is a humectant, which means it is like a moisture magnet – it draws water to it (from the atmosphere and from water diffusing out from the skin) and then holds onto it. It is key to a strong skin barrier and also contributes to skin radiance.

Like other elements found in our bodies, the production of Hyaluronic Acid declines with age. This can result in a decrease in elasticity and suppleness (especially teamed with the natural reduction of things like collagen and elastin too). Dehydration becomes more prevalent, as well as a weaker skin barrier which can result in more water loss. Skin can become more fragile.

Other factors such as UV rays can affect HA production.

How can we get it back?? 

It is possible to add it back into the skin topically via skincare, although this is not permanent; consistent product use is required (like it is with most skincare). Applying it topically will give faster, more visible results than supplementing internally – so I have found anyway; I didn’t really see any change when I took it that way. Let me know if you have!

Hyaluronic Acid has become such a favourite skincare ingredient, it is almost easier to count the products that don’t contain it! The question is, which of these products really make a difference and are they all beneficial?

Hyaluronic Acid comes in varying molecule sizes, and each will have different effects on the skin. This piece by Naya Glow explains it really well.

The larger, heavy molecules can hold more water, however they cannot penetrate the skin, so tend to sit on the outer most layer. These are great for a plumping and smoothing effect, however, this is temporary. It will go once the product ‘wears off’.

The smaller molecules can’t hold as much water, but they can go further into the epidermis giving more long-term hydration.

Products often have a combination of different sized molecules allowing them to target the skin in a variety of ways.  

Is it suitable for all skins?

All skins can become dehydrated, so in that sense yes, as HA will help the skin to retain more moisture and thus feel more hydrated. A dry skin can benefit from more hydration as can an oily skin; oily skins have excess oil but they can often become dehydrated so still need moisturising. (Post here to help you decide if your skin is dry or dehydrated).

As I’ve said previously my skin seems to love HA, but as always, what one skin loves, another will not. Everyone’s skin is different and therefore will have different reactions to products.

It also really depends on the formulation – what else has the Hyaluronic Acid been combined with and in what ratios. Also the quality of the HA can play a massive role, as can the molecule size.

As mentioned above our skin generates its own HA, this natural version is of high molecular structure. Hyaluronic Acid plays a major role in wound healing; when skin is damaged HA breaks down into smaller molecules which attract inflammatory cells to help the wound to heal quickly and efficiently.

It can therefore be argued that if we apply products with low molecular HA, it can penetrate the skin further (than the high molecular) and has the ability to cause inflammation. Could this be the reason that some skins report redness and irritation when using it? Dr Shereene Idriss, a New York dermatologist believes this to be the case.

Or could it be that it is just too much of a good thing?

Laura Rudoe of Evolve Beauty says “with Hyaluronic Acid the recommended start point for efficacy is actually quite low – starting at 0.1%. We use 200mg in every bottle of our 30ml HA serum which equates to 0.7% in a mix of low and high molecular weights so we get the benefits of both. A lot of brands are using more, but more isn’t necessarily better.”

Hyaluronic Acid has become such a popular ingredient, that often it is in a few of our daily products. So what if the concentration is high in all of those and they use the lower molecular weight; are we over-using it and is that what is causing irritation sometimes? Too much of anything isn’t going to be great.

Laura also points out that “irritation from a HA serum (for example) could well be coming from some of the functional ingredients in the base of the product.

Ivan Galanin from Adipeau suggests that some brands are using low weight (small molecule) HA as penetration enhancers i.e the HA helps other larger sized ingredients penetrate further into the skin than they could on their own. Is this where the irritation is coming from?

Ivan also says that HA affects the permeability of the skin. He says it creates holes in the skin, by disrupting the corneocytes (the outermost layer of skin cells), this happens when HA creates movement of water in the skin. Dr Idriss agrees that it can affect the lipid barrier, which therefore could lead to dehydration.

Can Hyaluronic Acid make your skin drier?

Dehydration seems to be a common concern of using HA. The very nature of it, is to attract water, so could it be taking it away from the skin? There is a worry that if you apply it to a dry skin, it will draw out the water from the dermis (the lower layer of the skin), causing skin to become more dehydrated. Especially in dry atmospheric conditions such as central heating or air con.

Tule Park from Skin Diligent says “HA’s strength can also be its own downfall. It is estimated that HA can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, making it an amazing humectant (capacity to hold water). But where is the water that it holds coming from? The answer is from its surrounding areas, in other words, from the skin, the air, or the product where it is mixed in. The risk of HAs creating irritation comes from the fact that many formulas contain a % that is too high. Instead of engorging the cells with water, it does the opposite, it absorbs water from the skin, leaving the skin drier than before and leading to skin irritation. 

How to choose the right HA product? Ideally in a water-based serum, pre-treated, and in small %. Most serums that tout ‘various molecular weights’ of HA probably contain high % of HAs. To add salt to injury, some people will find small molecular weights of HA inflammatory, giving them another reason for skin irritation.

Tule believes HAs “are amazing cosmetic ingredients, when used properly.”

Does how you apply it make a difference?

Laura from Evolve says We would always recommend it is applied to clean damp skin (either after cleansing or after using a hydrating mist like our new Age Defying Hydrating Mist) so it is locking in moisture not pulling water from inside the skin, and then following it by a moisturiser or oil to seal in the moisture so it doesn’t evaporate from the skin and cause any dryness or irritation.”

Confused?

Hopefully I haven’t confused you – just trying to give you a good explanation from all sides.

All skins are different and will react differently – to products and to environments. Said skins will also fluctuate from day to day and need different support. (blog post coming on creating your skincare wardrobe!)

If you are currently having some irritation, or don’t think your skincare is working for you, I always recommend stripping skincare back to the basics (jojoba oil is amazing for this). Once skin has settled, slowly add products back in (if needed). That way you can see what is working and what isn’t.

I think also its key to think about why you are dehydrated in the first place. For me, I think it is as I’m getting older so therefore boosting my HA with a topical ingredient is beneficial. However, if dehydration is because you have damaged your skin barrier by too much exfoliation for example, adding HA (or anything really) may add to the inflammation. Reducing the exfoliation and repairing the barrier is going to be more beneficial.

Skin conditions like rosacea and eczema can also affect the skin’s protective barrier. It can also become more fragile as we age, stress and lifestyle can affect it too, as can hormonal changes. It can also change seasonally. Choosing skincare with ceramides and other lipids are brilliant for helping to repair and support a compromised barrier.

You can add all the HA in the world (and from what we’ve discussed above, I wouldn’t!) but if the barrier is compromised, you are still going to get water loss.

There are always going to be conflicted views about everything. It is really important to listen to your skin. It will need different things on different days (and will need different things to other people). We can caught in the trap of just putting the same things on all of the time, and not really noticing what is happening – until we get a reaction…

Some of my favourite Hyaluronic Acid products

These are all vegan. In the past HA has come from animal sources – typically from a rooster comb – but now it can be made via bio-fermentation making it vegan.

Nourish Radiance Rejuvenating Peptide Serumthis is one of my long term favourite serums. The price point is very reasonable (compared to some!!) and I find it just makes me skin better. The HA is blended with lots of other wonderful skin boosting ingredients. Glycerin is very high up on the list – this is another humectant so will help to retain moisture – some argue it is more efficient than HA. Also Tripeptides to boost collagen.

Evolve Organic Beauty Hyaluronic Serum 200I use this serum a lot in my facials. I love to layer it under an oil or moisturiser. The Hyaluronic Acid is blended with organic rosewater, glycerin, organic pomegranate extract and a gentle food grade preservative. It doesn’t contain any added fragrance and it is certified COSMOS Organic. Evolve use a mix of high and low molecular weight.

Haeckles Algae Plump Serum – my skin loved this serum. Along with HA, it contains marine polysaccharides produced through fermentation that can “increase hydration of the epidermis with a hyaluronic-like action”. It also contains niacinamide (vit B3) which has been shown to stimulate the production of both ceramides and HA.

Skin Diligent Cellular Hydration Serum – my skin loved this serum too. This is a water-based serum with a medium size HA in the right % and pre-treated. It is combined with magnesium for electrolytes – together these plump up skin cells from within. It also contains prebiotics, probiotics and a Vit D like compound to help strengthen the skin’s barrier.

Nini Organics Crimson Beauty – Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum – this is such a beautiful serum. Nini use mid weight HA in their water based serum, along with Quora Noni to help balance the skin’s microbiome and Arabian Cotton to protect it from blue light.

BYBI Mega Mist – I love this. Use this underneath your oil or moisturiser as a hydrating boost. I also love to refresh skin with it later in the day.

UpCircle Face Toner with Hyaluronic Acid – this is a kit favourite. I love to prep skin with it before makeup – layer under your oil or moisturiser. It helps to boost hydration and give skin a glow. It also contains anti-inflammatory residual water of green mandarin fruit, a by-product of the juicing industry, and skin-soothing chamomile stem extract, a by-product of the tea industry. Also Salicylic acid to help with congestion.

Does your skin like Hyaluronic Acid? I’d love to know.

Are any of your favourites here?

If you’d like to learn more about your skin why not book in for a skin consultation and facial – I have a small studio in Bromley, SE London. We can also meet virtually to chat all things skin.

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