If there’s one thing you can count on, I thought out loud the other day on social media, it’s that when you’re stressed out, your skin is guaranteed to show it - which is why I need reliable products in my beauty cabinet that will act like a Command + Z on my complexion when I need them. Of course, I’ve got my go-to rash-busters when my skin is really bad - my first aid kit , if you will - but when my skin is feeling just a little ‘meh’ as it has done this summer, there’s only one staple that I turn to: hyaluronic acid .
I’d noticed that over the past few weeks the fun, sun and occasional stresses of the summer had been taking its toll, leaving my skin dehydrated, patchy looking and even starting to break out in under-the-skin spots and bumps in new places, as well as the odd itchy, prickly area here and there; I imagine the combination of a scorching London heatwave, cranked-up air con and my habit of sitting directly in front of a fan wasn’t helping. But fast forward a week of making sure I top up morning and night with hyaluronic acid (HA), usually in a serum, and I’m back to my (dare I say it) almost glowing self. So just what makes hyaluronic acid such a powerhouse when it comes to sensitive or stressed out skin?
Pedro Catala , the pharmacist and cosmetologist behind Twelve Beauty, says it’s all about that weakened upper layer. "Hyaluronic acid topically leaves the skin elastic and moisturised. A high molecular weight (bigger size) creates a permeable film on the skin, which reduces the Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL), which is higher in a compromised barrier.”
Sensitivity tends to go hand in hand with dryness and dehydration, but using a moisture grabber such as hyaluronic acid can fix the issue
Yes, the barrier is the key to healthy skin - whether you’re sensitive or not - but those of us with regular irritation or skin conditions tend to have a very thin or damaged stratum corneum, which means moisture is more easily lost and irritants can find their way in. It’s why sensitivity tends to go hand in hand with dryness and dehydration, but using a moisture grabber such as hyaluronic acid can fix the issue, as Pedro explains: “Stressed, irritated skin loses the ability to retain water properly - in other words, the skin does not function as well as it should. Small changes in water content in the skin (from 10% upwards) can have a negative impact on skin’s health.” This is why hyaluronic acid is the gold standard in skincare; it’s well known that it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, meaning it helps to keep the moisture in your skin - and seeing as our body’s production of it depletes as we age, it’s worth applying it topically to keep complexions quenched, and therefore keep barriers intact.
However, HA on its own isn’t enough - you need to work it into your routine (and choose the right products) to reap the rewards. Pedro favours oils as the perfect pairing: "The skin barrier, known as hydro-lipidic film, is a mixture of water and oil; for this reason HA is not enough to keep the skin completely hydrated. In fact, a great combination is to mix your HA serum with your favourite oil - this way, you are feeding the skin with both the elements needed.” Following it with a smart moisturiser is key, to pack in antioxidants, humectants and replenishing lipids which the HA will help to retain. Ultimately, says Pedro, for healthier, less sensitive skin, “we must keep the skin moisturised at every level, from the lower epidermis to the most external layers of cells on the surface."
Perhaps the main reason I reach for my HA without hesitation in times of tricky skin, though, is that unlike other age-defying super ingredients, it’s rarely blended into over-complicated formulas that are full of potential allergens or irritants; hyaluronic serums and moisturisers have notably some of the simplest INCI lists on the market, making them a dream product for sensitised skin and cautious beauty shoppers. I’m yet to find one I really dislike, but here are the first-class formulas (all fragrance free) that I always know I can count on…
Balance Me Hyaluronic Plumping Mist, £16 for 30ml
There’s a reason this has had so much praise among beauty editors - it combines antioxidant properties with calming chamomile water as well as pineapple fruit extract to help to brighten lacklustre complexions. The mist format makes it versatile (you can use it under or over makeup) and the added natural ingredients make it unlike the others in that it has a soothing, therapeutic effect - not least because of the subtle (non-synthetic) scent of rose.
Pai Back to Life Hydration Serum, £42 for 30ml
The most recent serum launch from Pai explains my love of HA perfectly - it brings skin ‘back to life’. Their hyaluronic offering is of course Soil Association certified, and contains three Australian berries to help the epidermis hold onto moisture. They’ve also omitted propylene glycol, used in many serums, as it’s an organic alcohol which can be problematic for the most sensitive of skins - Pai use jojoba oil instead, which will no doubt get Pedro's approval.
Twelve Ideal Moisture Level Serum, £52 for 30ml
As above, Pedro Catala knows his stuff when it comes to ingredients - which is why this serum is a no-brainer if you have sensitive skin. Pairing hyaluronic acid with saccharide isomerate, it works as a ‘moisture magnet’ and creates a permeable film on top of the skin to keep it protected and hydrated in one.
Pestle and Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum, £36 for 30ml
Another of my early favourites, this has very few ingredients - one being aloe vera - and is even Caroline Hirons approved for creating a ‘moisture sandwich’. Of the lot, this is probably the fastest to sink in - my skin really does lap it up and looks all the healthier for it.
Vichy Mineral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Serum Booster, £25 for 50ml
I have raved about this serum ever since it first landed on my desk - it’s another one I’d bathe in if I could. Despite its watery texture, it feels thicker than most, so much so that I can use a lighter moisturiser over the top. My colleague and GTG’s resident Makeup Maniac Anna Hunter is also a fan for when sensitivities pop up - here’s why she loves it: "Whenever I start burning the candle I know that my skin is liable to kick off - redness, breakouts, blotchiness and a generally depleted skin barrier rear up every time I go through a patch of late nights/ partying/ crap eating/ travelling, and throwing potent masks and treatments at the situation tends to make things worse. The most basic of hyaluronic acid serums, slathered on, puts things to rights almost every time - I've just drained a bottle of Vichy 89, but anything that majors on the moisture-binding molecule without throwing anything too stimulating into the mix tends to have the soothing effect I so badly need.”
Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Liquid Rehydration Serum, £40 for 30ml
This serum is so soft and silky once applied that I am tempted to use it all over, but I’ll restrain myself - in fact, the brand says to use just six drops morning and night. Containing HA and vitamin B5 (and very little else), it’s an instant pick-me-up for tired skin and ideal under your usual moisturiser.
Previse Hydrofoam Hyaluronic Moisturiser, £46 for 50ml
Anything that foams is usually a no-no for me as it tends to mean drying sulphates are involved, but not so with this clean, fuss-free moisturiser. The foaming action is created by the pump packaging, producing a mousse-like texture that is light as air to apply yet just as hydrating as a serum format. Great for oily skins or hot summer days, and especially good under makeup.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Serum, £5.90 for 30ml
Known best for its low price, The Ordinary’s version is one of the newest yet equally one of the most popular. The dropper bottle is ideal for measuring out a small quantity and the texture is impressive - a very thin, gel-like serum - plus the B5 helps to heal and soothe skin in need of repair.
Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Booster Face Serum, £24.99 for 30ml
This serum was my original foray into hyaluronic acid - it was a huge launch at the time and has been on my shelf ever since. It lasts and lasts as you really only need a tiny drop per area of the face, and the squidgy tube makes it ideal for packing into small spaces. Check out their moisture jelly, too, for a double hit of hydration.
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