Hyaluronic acid is 2018’s skincare hero, but what does it actually do?

When did we get so damn skincare savvy? Gone are the days where any old cleanser and moisturiser would do. Now we want ingredients, and good ones at that, to plump, hydrate, brighten and erase our skincare woes in one bout.

Retinol has always been an anti-ageing superstar, last year we became obsessed with the brightening prowess of vitamin C and nothing stops acne in its tracks quite like salicylic acid.

But the skincare industry has been shining its spotlight brightly on another complexion champion: Hyaluronic acid.

Pronounced hiya-loo-ron-nick, you may have heard or seen this ingredient praised and printed on many new (and old) products over the past year or so.

So why are we so obsessed with it? Here’s everything you need to know…

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a carbohydrate molecule and a natural component of skin. According to Consultant Dermatologist, Dr. Justine Kluk, it is the KEY molecule involved in skin moisture, with a “unique capacity to bind and retain water molecules”.

“It has been estimated that hyaluronic acid (HA) can hold up to one thousand times its own weight in water molecules”, she says.

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What does it do to the skin?

As we age, our natural hyaluronic acid levels deplete, and that loss of moisture means drier, rougher and lined skin.

By applying the synthetic ingredient topically, “its restorative abilities help to boost skin’s moisture content, soothe and prevent moisture loss”, says Kate Bancroft, Nurse and Founder of Face the Future’s CQC-regulated Advanced Skin Clinic & online shop.

How to use hyaluronic acid…

Like most skincare products, you’re going to see the best results if you use hyaluronic acid regularly.

Kate recommends both morning and night, followed by a moisturiser to keep everything ‘locked in’. “Hyaluronic acid will draw moisture from the deeper layers of skin, bringing it to the surface and potentially exacerbating dry skin symptoms, so it’s imperative to follow with a moisturiser.”

Which skin type suits hyaluronic acid?

Most skin types will benefit from hyaluronic acid’s moisture-boosting properties, which is why it’s included in a lot of skincare. But Kate says dry and dehydrated skin types will notice the benefits most.

Why is it called an acid if it doesn’t exfoliate the skin?

Don’t let the name fool you. Even though it’s called an ‘acid’, HA is the complete opposite of glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids, and won’t exfoliate dead skin cells. The name simply derives from the enzyme that synthesises HA, called ‘hyaluronic acid synthase’.

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What should I be looking for on the label?

Whether you choose to go for ‘pure’ hyaluronic acid or a serum, Kate says to opt for one that contains a ‘variation of high and low molecular weight hyaluronic acids.’

“The varying molecular weights determine how far the HA will penetrate skin. The smaller the molecule, the further the serum can penetrate skin, for hydration throughout skin’s layers and a visibly plumped-up effect.”

When you’re looking at an ingredients list, she also says to keep an eye out for Sodium Hyaluronate.

“Sodium hyaluronate is a salt derivative of hyaluronic acid with all the same benefits, except it is more easily absorbed. Look for a product containing both sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid for the optimum hydration boost.”

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