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Hyaluronic acid: the “gold standard” skin-gredient for hydration

May 3rd 2017 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru / 0 comment


With an ability to hold 1000x its weight in water, how can you get the most out of this moisture-boosting molecule? From the best hyaluronic serums to what to look for on your labels, here’s what you need to know

When it comes to beauty, trends come and go with many a skincare ingredient often proven unworthy of its surrounding hype. However, when it comes to hyaluronic acid (HA), this is refreshingly not the case.

What makes it so effective? “In terms of hydration and moisture, we do not have any other ingredients that have the ability to hold 1000x its weight in water,” explains oculoplastic surgeon, aesthetic doctor and founder of MZ Skin Dr Maryam Zamami. “For this reason, HA is considered a gold standard ingredient for hydration.”

Naturally made by our bodies, HA supplies dwindle as we get older, leaving skin drier and therefore more susceptible to showing the signs of wear and tear. “As chronic (i.e. a condition that goes on for a long time without being remedied) dehydration is one of the factors that can cause premature ageing, HA is a very important ingredient in terms of anti-ageing,” comments Dr Pedro Catala, pharmacist, cosmetologist and founder of TWELVE Beauty. “It is highly soluble in water, which is why it helps keep the skin tissues so perfectly moisturised – and it is also a key component in the gaps between skin cells, making it a highly compatible and effective skin-hydrating ingredient.”

Who’s it for?

For those with dry skin types, HA is certain to be a particularly welcomed addition to their product labels. Greater hydration means greater suppleness, but also better elasticity, fewer wrinkles and an overall plumping effect. That being said though, with hyaluronic acid levels falling for all of us as we age, it seems most could benefit from topping up our supplies. Dr Catala also points out that it's well tolerated across all skin types, meaning the risk of unpleasant side-effects is minimal. “If a consumer has an allergic reaction after applying a product containing hyaluronic acid, it is much more likely to be because of other ingredients – perfumes being one of the most common irritants,” he comments.

Age-wise? We’ve seen positive improvements to skin texture and hydration levels after incorporating HA-containing products into our regimes from our late 20s, into our 30s, 40s and 50s too. And we’re unlikely to stop any time soon.

MORE GLOSS: Do you know your true skin type?

What should you use?

In terms of your HA-product of choice, a mantra of quality over quantity works best. With the ingredient cropping up in cleansers, moisturisers, serums and more, your money is most wisely spent on products that score highly on the potency and longevity scales. “As cleansers are washed off, this is likely to maintain the least amount of HA on the skin,” explains Dr Zamami. “Similarly, heavier creams and lotions may have other substances or ingredients in them that may hinder the absorption of HA fully.”

Her product of choice? Serums. “While I still advocate using HAs in creams and lotions, I think serums hold and penetrate deeper as they are more lightweight and concentrated in their content,” she says.

Does size matter?

Yes - and of course, how you use it. Generally speaking, the smaller the size of hyaluronic molecule, the greater the chance it will work on a deeper level. However, different types serve different purposes. 
”Low molecular weight means particles of a smaller size and therefore a better chance of penetrating skin more deeply – which is when you achieve that filler/anti-wrinkle action,” explains Dr Catala. “High molecular weight does not penetrate the skin, but instead creates a viscoelastic film that keeps the skin moisturised: this transparent film reduces the amount of water that evaporates from the skin, known as Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL). TEWL, is in my opinion, one of the main causes of premature ageing.”

While low molecular weight HA is considered better for greater long-term hydration, it appears both low and high types can have their place. And while there appears to be a difference of opinion in the industry, combining the two could help better ensure all bases are covered according to Dr Catala: “A mixture of both HA weights is desirable if you want to more deeply hydrate the epidermis and also seal that water in from the outside.”

MORE GLOSS: 6 anti-ageing body creams guaranteed to give dry skin the boot

What should you look for in your labels?

Dr Catala recommends looking out for the following as a general guide:

‘Sodium hyaluronate:’ “i.e. HA converted into a salt. It usually refers to the big molecule (high molecular weight), which is better for creating a film that sits on top of the skin to prevent Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL).”

‘Hyaluronic acid:’ “This usually refers to the small molecule (low molecular weight), which penetrates more deeply.”

‘Hydrolysed hyaluronic acid’: “This normally refers to a low molecular weight of HA, as the big original molecules have been ‘broken’ into small pieces to enhance skin penetration.”

How about HA-containing makeup?

Due to its popularity on our bathroom shelves, it was only a matter of time until HA made its way into our makeup bags too. However, while the use of HA in skincare is generally encouraged, the consensus regarding its necessity in makeup is less clear-cut. Essentially, it depends on the makeup used. According to Dr Catala, its inclusion in lipsticks can be particularly beneficial and HA-based serums can prove valuable as a hydration-boosting primer.

According to Dr Zamami, HA might have a place in your BB creams or foundations, but she believes that serums and creams still provide a better level of penetration. The bottom line? Seek it in your skincare first, your makeup second.

MORE GLOSS: Could cholesterol be good for your skin?

What about hyaluronic acid supplements?

Can HA’s drink-form replenish your skin’s hydration stores from within? With liquid aids having made a splash on our chemist shelves as of late, which is better - supplements or skincare? “I would recommend topical HA as a first line with the add-on of oral HA,” advises Dr Zamami. “There is a place for both in the market of anti-ageing,” she says. Her reasons for this are largely evidence and results-based. “Some studies have found ingested HA improves skin moisture and treatment outcomes for those with dry skin due to its contribution towards increased internal synthesis of HA,” she points out. “However most of these studies have been done in Japan and not elsewhere, so it continues to be a relatively new nutrient to help with dry skin,” she explains. “Topical application of HA shows immediate hydrating effects that have a confounding improvement with longer-term use.”

The hyaluronic acid heroes that deliver

Dr Zamami’s top product picks

Skinceuticals H.A. Intensifier, £82.95


A favourite of Dr Zamami’s and GTG’s, this potent pick contains three forms of HA of differing sizes. Alongside collagen-boosting proxylane, liquorice root and purple rice, it helps to stimulate skin’s own HA production and inhibit its breakdown too.

Buy online.

MZ Skin Rest & Revive Restorative Night Serum, £195


Formulated to decrease wrinkle depth, increase skin thickness, reduce sagging and minimise the appearance of pores, low molecular weight HA combined with vitamin E-rich placenta extract, nourishing kahai oil and detoxifying white asparagus extract give this high end pick a unique point of difference.

Buy online.

Fillerina Filler Treatment, from £89


This no-needle at-home ‘filler’ acts as an excellent topical HA product in Dr Zamami’s opinion. Containing six different molecular structures of varying weights and sizes of hyaluronic acid in three different concentrations, the two-step kit seeks to soften fine lines and wrinkles and increase tissue volume in cheeks and lips courtesy of its precision applicator, Gel Filler and finishing Nourishing Film.

Buy online.

Dr Catala’s top product picks

Twelve Beauty Ideal Moisture Level Serum, £52


Recommended for dry or mature skin types, this silky serum serves as an effective moisture boosting base for your makeup. “It’s proven very popular with makeup artists who use it as a skin soother, smoother, primer and booster,” notes Dr Catala.

Buy online.

Twelve Beauty Hyaluroil Lip Treatment, £28


Dry lips? Meet your perfect remedy. How does it differ to your average lip balm? “It contains the smallest possible HA molecules encapsulated in tiny spheres that keep releasing hyaluronic acid to the lips to add volume and hydration,” explains Dr Catala.

Buy online.

Our Glossy picks

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Serum, £5.90


Providing a range of skin plumping benefits for your pennies, this budget beauty bargain combining low, medium and high molecular weight HA provides multi-depth penetration and hydration for your buck.

Buy online.

Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler Eye Treatment, £22.99


Merging high and low molecular hyaluronic acid with glycine-saponin to encourage natural HA production, this effective eye cream works brilliantly at tackling signs of ageing on the delicate eye area.

Buy online.

Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly, £24.99

Lightweight, fast absorbing and refreshing, this daily moisturiser containing high molecular HA leaves skin softer and suppler after the first use. A double threat of HA and red marine algae helps to hydrate and stimulate blood circulation respectively to maximise moisture delivery.

Buy online.

Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Booster Face Serum, £24.99


For a more intensive treatment that works on a deeper level, this gel serum containing low molecular HA acts as the perfect precursor to the aforementioned Jelly in the range.

Buy online.

Rimmel Moisture Renew Lipstick, £6.49


Mixing colour with care, this 13-shade collection of lipsticks leaves lips both rich in moisture and pigment.

Buy online.

Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronised Recovery Complex II, from £52


A product that’s made countless appearances on many a beauty editor’s skincare edit, we can definitely vouch for the benefits of this super serum. Leaving tired complexions glowing, think of it as a beauty sleep booster in a bottle.

Buy online.

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation, £30


Containing hyaluronic filling spheres and providing seamless coverage, this 15-shade range of mattifying foundations helps to smooth skin in more ways than one.

Buy online.

iT Cosmetics Full Coverage Physical SPF 50+ CC+ Cream, £30


For a daily cover-up, this high SPF CC Cream aims to condition as well as it camouflages. Peptides, HA, antioxidants, vitamins A, B, C and E and other skin goodies help tackle skin tone and texture in one fell swoop.

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