It's the ingredient the beauty bloggers and skincare hoarders rave about for saving dry skin - but what is hyaluronic acid? As our skincare market becomes ever saturated, it's more important than ever to get clued-up on the science and ingredients that go into our products - so we can make better-informed choices about what to put on our skin. We chatted to expert Harley Street dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe to find out exactly what hyaluronic acid is, and why (or if) we really need to include it in our beauty routines…
"Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring sugar molecule," says Dr Lowe. "It can be used in both skincare ingredients and in injectables, but it's also found in the body as one of the agents that helps to make collagen. So the collagen in your skin and joints is composed partly of hyaluronic acid, plus protein."
What do we use hyaluronic acid for?
"Its main use in skin creams is as a humectant - which is one of the agents that's able to hold moisture on the skin's surface," he says. "It can actually hold up to 1000 times its weight in moisture! So it's a really good hydrator of the skin."
The Ordinary offer an effective hyaluronic acid serum at great value
"The other main use is as a volumising and line-filling injectable," continues Dr Lowe. "We connect multiple hyaluronic acid molecules together to give a more robust substance, which is then injected under deeper scars, wrinkles and fine lines - it comes in different thicknesses. Because it's injected, it penetrates much further and produces collagen, to more effectively plump and reduce lines."
What else do we need to know?
"Applied topically on the skin, hyaluronic acid makes the skin feel smoother and look smoother - but it is only temporary," says Dr Lowe. "It's an excellent skin ingredient, as it rarely produces any allergies or irritation."
"However some of the other claims about it are probably quite dubious," he warns. "There's a lot of implication in some of the creams that hyaluronic acid can help create collagen. Hyaluronic acid is a precursor for collagen, but only in the body and skin itself. Unfortunately in skincare, it doesn't penetrate beyond the superficial layer of the skin - it can reduce wrinkles, only temporarily, but by hydrating and plumping the outer layer, not by penetrating and producing collagen."
The Vichy Aqualia Thermal Serum is another popular product containing hyaluronic acid
Can anybody use it?
"Hyaluronic acid is a really great product no matter your skin type - in the winter, many people find their skin surface becomes a little dull or flaky, and that's because the outer skin cells are drying out in the colder weather. Those who've been on sunny holidays might also find their skin becomes dry - it's these situations where humectants like hyaluronic acid are particularly useful as they smooth the skin surface, hydrate those skin cells and restore that healthy glow to the skin."
"Look for out for 'hyaluronic acid' or 'sodium hyaluronate' on the product packaging - and always make sure it's high up on the ingredients list to ensure a good concentration."
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